Pragmatism in Indian foreign policy: how ideas constrain Modi


In the post-Cold War era, a number of scholars have observed and encouraged greater ‘pragmatism’ in India’s foreign policy. A ‘pragmatic’ foreign policy has been understood as one that rejects India’s earlier reliance on Nehruvian ‘idealism’ or ‘moral posturing’, and instead pursues power and material interests. In the wake of his election to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, has been celebrated by scholars and the media as a pragmatic leader who will be able to dispense with earlier ideas and ideologies and bring about radical changes to Indian foreign policy. In this article, we problematize these ‘substantive’ readings of pragmatism. Instead we present an alternative, ‘procedural’ reading of foreign policy pragmatism that emphasises the selection and fusion—rather than the abandonment—of different ideas and ideological commitments in order to effect foreign policy change. By demonstrating procedural pragmatism at work in two case-studies under Modi’s leadership—the resolution of India’s territorial dispute with Bangladesh, and the establishment and public celebration of a UN-recognized International Day of Yoga—we show how Modi’s pragmatic approach to foreign policy-making is responsive to both Hindutva (Hindu nationalist ideology) and entrenched foreign policy ideas in India. Our central argument is that Modi is neither unique nor uniquely pragmatic, and like many Indian leaders before him, his pragmatism cannot simply abandon ideas and ideology, but is compelled to respond to them in response to domestic and international political logics.

Post description: 

  • Publication year: 2017 
  • Content type: Journal article 
  • Form of cooperation: Comprehensive 
  • Cooperation context: Multilateral
  • Region (country): N/A
  • Sector: Multisectoral 
  • Institution (publication): Oxford University Press 
  • Written by: Manjari Chatterjee Miller and Kate Sullivan de Estrada
  • Keywords: South-South Cooperation, Pragmatism, Foreign Policy 
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