Does India’s UN Vote on Jerusalem finally confirm the new trajectory of its Foreign Policy ?

If India frowning at Trump’s unilateralist stance on Jerusalem as seen in its UN vote came as a surprise to a few, the continued pace of warming of Indo-Israel relations in spite of such a vote should not ! So we have Netanyahu visiting us in January 2018 even while Modi plans his Palestine visit thereafter.

So why is Israel being able to take India’s unsupporting UN vote in its stride ?

First, Israel could do with as many friends across the globe, especially if these are emerging powers that India is, with which it has much in common both being democracies although Israel is often alleged to be a racial political regime.

Hence, friendship with India is a coveted one with a public acclamation of it having come forth after a long wait, only under the Modi regime. The decades-long Indian reticence and hesitancy met patiently by various Israeli administrations tells us that this is a friendship that runs deep roots and doesn’t necessarily require careful nurturing from the Indian side unlike how India indulges Iran for example. The natural Israeli affinity also stems from the historical truth of Indians having never practiced anti-Semitism.

Second, with only nine states voting in favor of Jerusalem as the exclusive capital to Israel clearly tells the Tel Aviv administration that it cannot hold a grudge against the hundred and twenty eight states that didn’t, India being one. So it is business as usual for Israel on its inter-state relationships with little to cheer on the UN voting results.

Third, India while voting against Israeli interests was probably confident that Tel Aviv would understand, if not appreciate, where India comes from. India, after all, has its own geopolitical constraints — maintaining good ties with Israel’s fiercest foe Iran ( to counter Pakistan, for energy security and as a route into Central Asia) and with the Arab World even while it needs to cater to the sensibilities of its largest minority, the Indian Muslims.

In any case, with a civilizational heritage rooted in composite nationalism, and with a constitution well inclined toward liberal internationalism, India is uncomfortable with one-sided and unilateralist modus operandi of resolving disputed issues. And so the discomfort in going along with the Trump administration on the status of Jerusalem.

Finally, but most importantly, India genuinely feels for the Palestinian cause and has done so consistently from the time Indian Foreign Policy was born – on ethical foundations. Nehru recognized Palestine as a “free, independent Arab country”. Gandhi’s words described Indian empathy towards the Arabs: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French.” As a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) India saw in Palestine its own past.

However, India’s UN vote on Jerusalem points to a larger picture. It confirms what many analysts have only conjectured so far, that India has indeed changed the trajectory of its foreign policy — from non-alignment to multi-alignment, from it being a mere tool that preaches moral overtones to the international community to one that helps India in fulfilling its material national interests.

Also, while Indian Foreign Policy has always been fiercely passionate about retaining its autonomy barring few exceptions like when Indira Gandhi was unable to openly air her disapproval of Soviet-intervention in Afghanistan, there is now a difference . The difference being that India is being able to retain its historically autonomous stance even while it consciously moves into a busy international space, from a shying, isolationist third-world country to an active emerging power.

Ever since, India is seen tapping as many inter-state relationships across myriad areas of interest — Defense (Russia, USA, France, Israel ), Energy Security (Iran, and now Israel) and Water management (Israel) and more.

More interestingly, as India goes galloping into a crisscross of such relationships, its nuanced Asiatic thinking allows it to conveniently circumvent tensions that exist between its various partners. So India continues to extend an “unwavering support for the two-state solution”, even as it alongside begins to de-hyphenate Israel and Palestine.

Similarly, India is seen happily lap up Israel’s offer to explore latter’s gas reserves, in the backdrop of Iran retracing on its Farzad-B gas field commitments. Such quick switchovers send a clear message that India is driven more by its ‘enlightened’ national interests and less about inter-state dynamics that exist independent of India. Hence, we see a confident India, though not obtuse to the bitter animosity between Iran and Israel, dealing comfortably with both in the same breath and with little qualms in doing so.

As says Dharmendra Pradhan, minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, “India stood with Iran during its difficult days and will continue to do so in the future also. But, at the same time, we also expect our economic interests to be protected.” Who can question such an openly pragmatic foreign policy especially if it doesn’t violate ethical codes of conduct.

And no doubt, India has maintained this delicate balance so far, recently seen in its choice to stand by Palestine on Jerusalem even as India takes its strategic friendship with Israel to the next level, expanding beyond defense and water management to energy security.

In a nutshell, Indian policy makers are beginning to recognize that India does matter in the international system, enough for it to openly pursue a ‘realist’ foreign policy that favors material achievements without having to forgo its most key cornerstone ie STRATEGIC AUTONOMY and more importantly, without having to worry in advance on adverse repercussions, if any. So it comfortably votes in favor of Palestine ignoring the threats of Trump administration while being smugly assured that its recent strategic partnership with USA, as part of the Quad, would remain intact.

Truly, Indian Foreign Policy is coming of age with a new avatar seen that may aptly be termed as ‘consciously multi-aligned, even provocatively proactive yet able to remain strategically autonomous’ — a far cry from Nehruvian times when a non-aligned Foreign Policy was adopted by a fledging nation-state lacking in material power, fearful that doing otherwise would have India fall prey to interference from the more powerful states. A sound policy for its times, its viability much debated of course but most would agree that it left the country largely isolated.

But times have changed, and so has India which no longer can afford to remain isolated considering its growing stature, more so if it aspires to continue growing at this rapid pace.

Yes indeed Nehru would approve of this long over-due change of trajectory in Indian Foreign Policy, from non-alignment to multi-alignment, while not forgoing its strategic autonomy and ethical foundations as confirmed in India’s UN vote on the status of Jerusalem.

(Gold Medallist) Masters in International Politics - Jamia Millia Islamia; MBA-Marketing & Sales, IMT Ghaziabad; B.Com (Honours), Sri Ram College of Commerce