India After Nonalignment

Why Modi Skipped the Summit

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures while speaking at Madison Square Garden in New York, during a visit to the United States, September 28, 2014. Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Throughout the past several decades, it would have been heresy to suggest that India’s foreign policy was based on anything other than nonalignment. The doctrine, which had its origins in the early Cold War and was based on the idea that its adherents could steer a course between the two superpowers and establish a more just and peaceable world order, had an almost talismanic quality for India’s foreign policy establishment. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this sentiment was the publication of Nonalignment 2.0 in 2014 by several highly regarded former Indian policymakers and noted analysts, who sought to give the doctrine new life. Even now, the Nonaligned Movement is known for passing hoary resolutions calling for Security Council reform and for a more equitable global economic order.

That is why Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to skip the Non-Aligned Summit in Margarita, Venezuela, last week has elicited a fair share of commentary in New Delhi. The summit, which India has attended annually, is ostensibly meant to address a range of common concerns among the membership. In reality, it is best known for overblown rhetoric and little or no substance.

Most commentators have lamented Modi’s decision. Writing in the widely read online Indian newspaper The Wire, one commentator, Arun Mohan Sukumar, stated that, “the fact is that the Nonaligned Movement is a multilateral institution that still holds promise for Indian diplomacy.” Those who disagree with Modi’s move have sought to attribute it to one or two possible motives. One argument holds that Modi is self-consciously attempting to distance himself from the foreign policy legacy of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was the principal architect of independent India’s foreign policy. According to this line of thinking, Modi is charting a different course because he is personally skeptical of Nehru’s legacy, which he sees as much too idealistic and lacking an understanding of the role of material power in international politics, but also believes

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