India reacted with predictable vigour on Friday to defend non-alignment saying there was “no question” it had a “firm and abiding commitment” to the concept that moulded much of India’s foreign policy through the decades since independence.
“India remains committed to its ideals,” spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs Navtej Sarna said a day after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice questioned the relevance of the concept. “Today, its relevance continues in promoting South- South cooperation and the democratisation of the international system,” Sarna said when asked to comment on Rice’s remarks.
Speaking at the 32nd anniversary celebrations of the United States India Business Council in Washington, Rice said non-alignment “had lost its meaning” and “made sense during the Cold War when the world really was divided into rival camps.”
She went on to ask, “as fellow democracies with so many interests and principles in common at a time when people of every culture, every race, and every religion are embracing political and economic liberty, what is the meaning of non-alignment?”
Rice urged Indians to “move past old ways of thinking and old ways of acting,” and asked, "How can we not afford to join each other, on a global scale, to support opportunity and prosperity and justice and dignity and health and education and freedom and democracy?"
While many analysts in India have privately questioned the relevance of non-alignment in formulating policy in today’s world, no officials were willing to come on record.
Rice’s comments that India and the United States should align their interests as democracies further aggravated the UPA government’s Left allies, while raising hackles among sections of the foreign policy establishment, which viewed them as an attempt to mock the foundations of India’s independent foreign policy and “infringe on” the country’s sovereignty.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asserted that non-alignment was relevant in today’s world and the 116-nation Non-Aligned Movement, of which India was a founder-member, played a conciliatory role in today’s “highly uncertain, insecure world.”
On his way to the NAM summit in Cuba last September, Singh said, “non-alignment is a state of mind, to think independently about our options, to widen our development choices.”
That the US Secretary of State spoke of the US-India Civil Nuclear Initiative as one of the “keys to our partnership” in the same speech in which she questioned the relevance of non-alignment has been construed as an attempt to pressurize India ahead of crucial negotiations for the 123 Agreement to operationalise the bilateral civil nuclear deal.
Much like earlier comments by US lawmakers on how India should conduct its relations with Iran had raised tempers even in Parliament.