The Many Colours of the Peacock

As a lot of the world starts looking inward and talks of de-globalization become commonplace, it would perhaps be prudent to look at the cultural values that shape foreign policy to analyse the extent to which talks of protectionism and de-globalization are rooted in deeply ethnocentric value systems.

Globally, the clash that we witness is an echo of the original Huntington- Fukuyama debate that has continued to play out in global international relations; nearly a decade after their books came out. If one locates the core of the current convolutions in foreign policy to this debate, it then sets them on the path to deciphering the value systems behind these lines of thought. Upon analysis, it would seem that Huntington’s argument is rooted in the assertion of a cultural identity along civilizational lines, and the re-orientation of ones perception of the globe, along these new, boundaries.

Alternatively, Fukuyama’s perception of the world is based on his reading of history as a whole and as a progression from the modes of production and cultural ideals of old, to the post 1990 triumph of the liberal ideal of a largely capitalist economic model backed by  liberal social values. Fukuyama goes on to explain the relationship between the two and the extent to which this cooperation shapes modern democracy. He then, rather controversially, goes on to declare this combination as the end of history, and hence concludes his own perception of the world and its future being shaped by modern, liberal democracies, that came together based on the economic exchange of goods and services, as well as a similar liberal value system held in place by the elite within these nations.

It is from this point that we must then depart, to understand Indian Foreign Policy and the circumstances under which the Nehruvian philosophy bloomed. It is precisely this philosophy that led to the Non-Alignment movement, as well as the Panchsheel, that arguably, held India in good stead through the bipolarity of the Cold War, and allowed it a degree of freedom in navigating its nascent stages of democracy, while also allowing it to play the role of a leader of non-aligned nations.

As is the case in all democracies however, there were several disagreements from both, within the Indian National Congress (that led the country through a majority of the pre 1990 years) as well as from the political fringe that has grown to take centre stage now. The conflict then, that we continue to see to this day, is one deeply rooted in both economic and cultural value systems.

From within the Congress, the domination of socialists and central planners was met by suspicion by C Rajagopalachari, who advocated a model that encouraged competition and the private sector. Similarly, the ideals of satya (truth) and ahimsa (non-violence) were contested by SC Bose and his more militarist supporters. Finally, culturally, the Congress system of old, was challenged by both, the Communists (who advocated for class struggle) as well as the Jana Sangh and its cultural roots in the Hindutva of MS Golwalkar and VD Savarkar.

Over the passing of the years, the economic differences seem to have been ironed out, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in Europe, and the collapse of the Communist parties within the country. As the country electorally develops a general consensus around market based solutions, the value contention that has emerged has primarily been cultural, and it is here that we must go back to both Huntington and Fukuyama, to locate a value system that would serve the purposes of an independent foreign policy in both possible scenarios.

India’s present dilemma lies in the unprecedented dominance of previously fringe propositions of VD Savarkar and MS Golwalkar that have gained currency. Calls to reimagine the nation as one that is innately Hindu and repurpose domestic and foreign policy to represent the same, have grown louder, finding a great degree of support in the several National and State level Ministries.

While many have attempted to sidestep questions regarding the parochial religious conservatism of “Hindutva” espoused by these thinkers, by defining the term “Hindu” as geographic or cultural more than religious, direct extracts from Golwalkar, clearly read that the “hostile elements within the country pose a far greater menace to national security than aggressors from outside”. He identifies three major “Internal Threats: I: The Muslims; II: The Christians; III: The Communists” in his book “Bunch of Thoughts” and later goes on to question the patriotism of these groups and their “future aggressive designs on our country”

That such a view is xenophobic is almost self-evident, however its impact on domestic and foreign policy lies in the several shackles that it places on policy makers in terms of engagement in religiously diverse regions. Hence, if one truly holds on to this conceptualisation of India, one not only, disparages its deep, and historical civilizational diversity, but also limits and endangers relations within internal minority dominated regions, as well as external engagement with Muslim and Christian dominated countries.

Such a conceptualisation would also stand in direct contradiction to Fukuyama’s liberal ethic; a contradiction which often creates a space for bad economics driven by parochial politics instead of national welfare maximisation. The reason for this conflict lies, fundamentally in the idea that a politics that reimagines the nation state by religion, must necessarily make decisions, both economic and political, that serve to pander to this religious conceptualisation and not to national welfare, leading to increased conflict within the former and ineffectiveness and limitations in the latter.

Keeping in mind, present cultural conflicts and the atmosphere of de-globalisation, we could choose to prioritise Huntington’s framework over that of Fukuyama’s. However, even if we look at the picture through Huntington’s lens of “civilization”, then India, if seen in its civilizational entirety, would have to represent the deeply intricate weave of a culturally and religiously diverse people that have come together as a nation. The massive soft power that such an imagination entails is rooted in the various geo-political ties that could take shape through an exchange of shared cultures. The mosaic that is India, has fragments from various cultures of several nation states, and it is in the utility maximisation of these ties that India can truly navigate Huntington’s clash of civilizations.

Such a proposition however, is not to presuppose a certain finality to either Fukuyama’s or Huntington’s conclusions but in fact, to articulate, that, even if present cultural and civilizational conflicts were to be further exacerbated, India would be best placed to navigate these waters by not necessarily holding onto the out-dated ideals of Nehruvian foreign policy or by succumbing to narrow reactionary reconceptualization’s, but instead, by relying on its own understanding of civilization and secularism that has both pre-dated and outlasted both these formulations.

The author is a public policy commentator who writes for a clutch of publications, with a special focus on development and social policy in the South Asian subcontinent.



Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York :Touchstone, 1997.

Fukuyama, Francis.. The end of history and the last man. New York: Perennial. 2002

Golwalkar, M.S. Bunch of Thoughts, Bangalore, Vikrama Prakashan, (1980)  (reprint)

Ganguly, Sumit, and Manjeet S. Pardesi. “Explaining sixty years of India’s foreign policy.” India Review 8, no. 1 (2009): 4-19.

Bajpai, Kanti. “Indian conceptions of order and justice: Nehruvian, Gandhian, Hindutva, and Neo-Liberal.” Order and Justice in International Relations (2003): 236-61.

Smith, Donald Eugene. India as a secular state. Princeton University Press, 2015.


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