• Sanskriti IAS - अखिल मूर्ति के निर्देशन में

India being a pole in the international system

  • 23rd November, 2022

(MainsGS2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.)


  • The ongoing war in Ukraine on the one hand and the confrontation between Russia and the United States and the West on the other have increased the frequency of the question of whose side is India on.
  • India refuses to take sides because it views itself as a side whose interests are not accounted for by other camps or poles.

‘India as a pole’:

  • When great powers seek India’s support during geopolitical contests, such as the one over Ukraine, they end up facing a stubborn India that is reluctant to toe the line. 
  • The inherent reason behind Indian reluctance, however, is not stubbornness but a sense of self which views itself as a pole in the international system, and not as a satellite state or a camp follower. 
  • Some reflections on ‘India as a pole’ is perhaps appropriate at a time when India assumes the chair of the G20 and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), two institutions that are geopolitically significant today.

Unique foreign policy identity:

  • The origins of this thought can be found in the character of the country’s long struggle for independence; the pre and post-Independence articulations of leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhiji, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak among others on international politics.
  • India enjoyed primacy as the legatee state of the British empire in South Asia; India’s larger than life civilisational sense of self; and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) experiment, have all contributed to India’s desire for a unique foreign policy identity and a voice in the comity of nations.
  • India’s view of itself as a pole is evident in the manner in which it used to pursue non-alignment for several decades after Independence.
  • Modern India’s largely endogenous moorings have lent themselves to the self-assumed identity of a unique pole in a multipolar world.

Different view:

  • The classical view of polarity is one of domination of the international system by the great powers, the balances of power by them, and alliance-building based on ideology or distribution of power for the purposes of such balancing. 
  • India has a different view of itself as a pole as it has not actively sought to dominate the South Asian regional subsystem even when it could ; its balancing behaviour has been subpar, it has refused to build alliances in the classical sense of the term, or sought camp followers or allegiances. 
  • As a matter of fact, even its occasional balancing behaviour (for instance, the 1971 India-Soviet Treaty during the Bangladesh war) was contingent on emergencies.

India’s idea of being a pole:

  • India does believe it has a strategic periphery in South Asia where it has a natural claim to primacy and it discourages interference by other powers in that space.
  • India often tends to speak for ‘underprivileged collectives’, physical (South Asia) or otherwise (NAM, developing nations, global south, etc. in varying degrees); and it welcomes the rule of law and regional order. 
  • India’s historical focus on the region has been more of a provider of common goods than as a rule setter or/of demander of allegiance.
  • Notwithstanding the geopolitical difficulties that India faces today, India is a pivotal power in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, with an ability to help tackle security, climate and other challenges of global consequence.


  • As India becomes the chair of the G20 and the SCO in 2022, it will further seek to assert itself as a major pole in the international system, and dissuade demands to follow one camp or another. 

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