India’s Evolving National Identity Contestation: What Reactions to the “Pivot” Tell Us

Despite the massive transformations that have been underway in India’s economic and strategic realms since 1991, this article argues that the changes predicted by the realist theory of international relations have not occurred and are not likely anytime soon. India has posed a difficult case for realists since the country’s independence. Earlier, it bucked the trend of bipolar alliances that were so dominant in the Cold War era; now, it has not engaged in the classic balancing behavior we would have expected over the last decade given its adversary China’s rapid ascent and looming threat in India’s own backyard. I suggest that the missing explanatory variable for India’s puzzling behavior (from a realist perspective) is national identity, something that realist exponents dismiss as epiphenomenon or rationalization.

Although more pragmatic and power-centered contestations are increasingly heard in domestic discourse over foreign policy, what is striking is the persistence of identity-based arguments. Currently, we find challenges to the nationalists from what I term globalists and realists (my focus here is on the latter). However, nationalist identity serves as a constraint on those Indian leaders who want to make a clear break with the past and formulate new policy that reflects a more realist approach: steer the country toward a closer partnership with the United States and develop a more assertive, militarily robust posture vis-a-vis China.

The US pivot or rebalancing of 2011 is a good test case to see how recent Indian thinking is evolving because the new policy (implicitly at any rate) provides an excellent opportunity for India to put into place both of these realist preferences toward the United States and China. My proposition is that India will not seize this opportunity any time soon, not because it does not make strategic sense, but because of the enormous value nationalists place on factors that define Indian national identity: in particular, strategic autonomy and anti-colonial nationalism. Indeed, what this paper more narrowly finds is that the concept of identity gaps (to use Rozman’s term developed for East Asia) is useful to analyze Indian foreign policy toward the United States and China (although I do not focus on China in this paper). But the way the identity gap plays out here tends to go against conventional expectations: a form of identity gap between the United States and India leads to sub-optimal cooperation, and an identity convergence of sorts between China and India leads to higher than expected cooperation. This is not to overstate the relevance of identity gaps per se in these relationships (especially when compared to East Asia), but they are far from irrelevant.

In judging the role of identity, the article cites elite discourse around the rebalance issue. I first show how identity generally matters for Indian foreign policy, reflected in what I call two strains of nationalism (soft and hard). I then describe the realist challenge that is emerging. Next I turn to Indian elite discourse and national identity debates that are being played out on the question of how to respond to the American rebalancing strategy. By juxtaposing American expectations with Indian reactions we can also judge the level of convergence and divergence—and the impact of identity factors. Lastly, I assess the type of policy formulation that resulted and what it tells us about the role of Indian national identity toward relations with the United States and, somewhat by extension, relations with China

Why Identity Matters in Indian Foreign Policy

The framework used in this article is a straightforward dichotomy between policy thinking based strictly on realist security concerns and that premised on attitudes about what has been ingrained as a nation’s inherent identity. To the extent that an appeal is made to what conforms to an established national identity, policy is not likely to be based on national interests. India’s entrenched assumptions about its national identity come also with a longstanding view that it is the United States that poses a special danger of undermining that identity. The existing identity gap, as seen from the Indian side, makes it more difficult to disentangle this relationship from non-realist considerations.

In an earlier work, The Worldviews of Aspiring Powers: Domestic Foreign Policy Debates in China, India, Iran, Japan and Russia, I mapped India’s evolving worldviews along various “schools of thought” and the actors and institutions that promote them.1 I outlined the main foreign policy schools of thought in India, their historical roots, and their likely impact on critical regional and global issues—from dealing with India’s neighborhood, to relations with major powers including the United States, and the use of force. Our assumption was that while structural conditions strongly influence the strategic options that states face, these structural conditions do not determine the choices that states make. On relations with the United States, I proposed that how coordinated Indo-US policy will be, is strongly conditioned by domestic attitudes in India about the nature of US power and preferences.

What the Worldviews book gives is a framework to identify, collate, and compare foreign policy thinking across countries systematically. The concluding chapter analyzed the key cross-national trends in domestic foreign policy debates in rising and aspiring powers in Asia and Eurasia. The chapter found three key patterns: 1) the cross-national similarity of the spectrum of relevant foreign policy schools, 2) the tendency of the center of gravity within that spectrum to be located on its realist and/or nationalist side, and 3) the cross-national trend away from idealism toward realism and/or nationalism in general and, in some cases, toward their relatively pragmatic variants in particular.

The book did not develop a way to assess how and under what conditions identity plays a role in foreign policy. It also does not specify any mechanism through which to consider bilateral or multilateral relations that take identity thinking into account beyond noting whether foreign policy thinking is aligned or not, bilaterally or regionally. To move the Worldviews approach forward in this direction in a more testable fashion, Rozman’s identity model is very useful. Without applying his complex multi-dimensional structure, I have extracted his concept of identity gap to illuminate foreign policy choices and outcomes for India.

To give some relevant background, in the Worldviews book, I characterized the Indian foreign policy schools thus: nationalists, great power realists, liberal globalists, and leftists.2 The nationalists (largest and most important) were further narrowed into three sub-groups: standard nationalists, neo-nationalists, and hyper-nationalists. My interpretation was that hyper-nationalists and leftists are less influential than the other perspectives. I also believe that a pragmatist strain, which is mostly made up of great power realists and liberal globalists, has gained strength over the last two decades though it is by no means dominant. In this article, I collapse the nationalists into two more easily recognizable categories: soft (comprising the so-called standard nationalists and neo-nationalists) and hard (hyper-nationalists) making the vocabulary less unique to India.

If realist logic is applied, India should have chosen the path of most other weak states and joined military alliances during the extremely polarized Cold War era. Instead, India formulated non-alignment and left itself militarily vulnerable. It then went on to engage in “underbalancing” behavior right through the 1950s and 1960s despite rising tensions with China, including a disastrous border war in 1962. When the regional equation dramatically shifted in 1971 with a perceived highly threatening Pakistan-US-China axis, India moved closer to the erstwhile Soviet Union, but refused a formal alliance. Its pursuit of nuclear weapons was done in a halting, almost unconvincing, manner for nearly 25 years. Finally in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and India lost its most dependable strategic partner overnight, there was no rush to embrace the United States as the new patron. This was true even though India abandoned its protectionist economy for liberalization and integrated into the US-led economic order. At some critical points, leaders have shown appreciation of power politics, but Indian diplomatic history records many instances when power imperatives have been ignored to the country’s detriment.

Structural variables, thus, cannot explain Indian choices well. Randall Schweller, in one of the few works on underbalancing, finds realist theory lacking and instead suggests a domestic political process model based on the level of elite consensus and cohesion, social cohesion, and state strength.3 In the case of India, the puzzle is that the dominant Indian posture has tended toward underbalancing despite variations in the domestic sphere as well. Thus, whether we look at it from a parsimonious realist view or a more complex domestic political approach, Indian behavior needs further explanation. I argue that identity variables, which have a long historical and cultural basis, inform policymaking more than most international relations analysts allow.

From an identity perspective, it is instructive to find that the most serious domestic contention over India’s foreign policy direction did not come until 2005 (a good decade and a half after the end of the Cold War). This was marked by the US-India civil nuclear accord, where clear battle lines were drawn over how close India was drawing to the United States.4 The real issue was not the nuclear accord at all, rather that India was about to surrender its political sovereignty to an untrustworthy imperial power, to become “a poodle” of the Americans. Never mind that the United States expended an enormous amount of its political capital to get the Indian “exception” from the US Congress and other nuclear states, and that India had been railing against nuclear sanctions slapped on it by the United States since its 1974 nuclear test.

From a realist perspective, this turn of events has to be ironic: consensus on policy fractured more in response to a perceived ideological shift, rather than a structural shift. The release of a major new policy report and recommendations in early 2012 entitled Nonalignment 2.0 by a cohort of well-respected former government and military officials, journalists, think tank analysts, and business leaders is the latest salvo in a slow moving but important debate over the direction of Indian foreign policy. As the title suggests, it is a concerted move to stem the fragmentation of India’s nonalignment identity, and the report states up front that “strategic autonomy has been the defining value and continuous goal of India’s international policy…that value…continues to remain at the core…even today…in a world that has changed dramatically since the mid-twentieth century.”5 The new report can be viewed as a strong reaction to increasing realist discourse advocating greater integration into the US-led world order (even at the possible cost of some autonomy).

The identity that I discuss is India’s state identity. We can see state identity as one type of identity that denotes a conception of what the state is and what it represents. In doing so, it is not necessary to view the state as a unitary actor with identity as a property of a state. Rather, it can be seen “in the form of a concept perceived by individuals involved in foreign policymaking: i.e., what their country is and what it represents.”6 Similar to individual identities, state identities are not static and may be modified over time through interactions with other states and international organizations, as well as through its own cultural and domestic environments. State identity is, therefore, relational and social.

This brings up the question of the relationship between India’s self-identity and how other countries perceive India’s identity, or the level of identity gap or convergence. In the immediate South Asian region, India’s soft nationalist identity narrative is not the version that its neighbors see. Rather, the dominant view tends to be that India behaves in a manner dictated by hard nationalism.7 This would suggest that there is an “identity gap” between India and its neighbors, which itself is a source for regional conflict.8 While there are important identity gaps in the South Asian region that drive conflicting policies (especially between Pakistan and India), here my focus is on India’s relations with the United States.9 India’s recent policies in the Asia-Pacific suggest a form of identity gap with the United States (and an identity convergence of sorts with China). I argue that understanding the role of identity helps us to explain the underbalancing that we observe in Indian strategic policy generally, and its response to US rebalancing in particular.

Key Sources of Identity

India’s “dominant ideas” have remained fairly resilient through major global and regional structural shifts: for example, the shock of the 1962 war with China and exposure of military weakness; the strategic isolation in the 1970s; and the end of the Cold War in 1991 and India’s greater global weight. So-called “dominant ideas” tend to get ingrained in public discourse and bureaucratic processes that make them survive. In a parallel we can make with India, Zheng Wang argues that while outsiders think that China’s rise has healed wounds of past national humiliation, it is an incorrect assumption. His point is that we cannot view China’s rise through military or economic growth only; rather we need to view it through a more comprehensive lens, which includes national identity and domestic discourse.10 Indeed, key components of India and China’s national identity are highly consistent with each other, especially on values of sovereignty, autonomy, and civilizational entitlement (though I am focusing only on India here). The result is a combination of values and normative outlook that produces a strong nationalist impulse in the foreign policies of both countries, even now. This goes a long way in explaining why at times the new US-India strategic partnership, as imagined by policymakers in Washington, has proven to be “impossible,” and why, on the other hand, India and its “rival” China have a meeting of the minds on a variety of global issues.11

India’s national identity is best seen through the dominant ideas of two variants (one major and one minor) of Indian nationalism: what I call soft nationalism and hard nationalism.12 The two differ most over the latter’s emphasis on material power to promote a nationalist agenda versus the former’s attachment to normative values for a different version of the nationalist agenda. As alluded to earlier, nationalists of both varieties are coming under pressure from an emerging realist, power-centered discourse. This discourse can be seen as a proxy for the structural argument. If the latter proves to be durable, the biggest impact will be on the soft nationalists who have held sway for most of India’s post-independence life. Hard nationalists have been a small but vocal group.13

Generally speaking, all nationalists emphasize self-reliance and self-strengthening. However, nationalists may embrace these goals not only as a means to an end to meet foreign threats, but also as a goal in and of itself. They may view the rise of their nation as a matter of pride and as a moral obligation. First, some nationalists of the soft variant are not interested in their country’s rise internationally. In pursuit of self-reliance, what they desire from the rest of the world is to be left alone. All types of nationalists tend to share an emphasis on protecting their country’s sovereignty and often perceive the rest of the world as at least potentially hostile to their country. Second, nationalists are skeptical of international alliances in general, and of accepting a junior role in those alliances in particular. They emphasize the downside of alliances: the loss of autonomy. Moreover, nationalists perceive a junior partner role as an affront to national pride. Third, many nationalists (typically soft nationalists) emphasize domestic over international concerns. They prefer a foreign policy of limited scope and tend to perceive international initiatives as distractions from internal issues and problems that they perceive as more pressing.14

In foreign policy terms, the most important source for India’s state identity has been colonial humiliation. A recent detailed and convincing study of India and China by Manjari Miller puts it thus: “…the study of international relations is radically incomplete if it fails to systematically account for colonialism and its legacy…[and] states that have undergone the traumatic transformative historical event of extractive colonialism maintain an emphasis on victimhood and entitlement that dominates their decision calculus even today.”15 Miller’s comparative assessment demonstrating the similarities in Chinese and Indian foreign policy discourse despite their considerable differences is supportive of the argument of my article. Anti-colonial nationalism has dictated India’s international outlook beyond other factors and continues to have a strong hold despite the decades that have passed, the huge structural changes in the international system, and the political transformation domestically from an effectively one-party democracy to a proliferating multi-party governance system. The division of India into India and Pakistan in 1947 only accentuated the sense that dominant western powers were bent on weakening the country by taking advantage of India’s multiple internal divisions, i.e, a continuation of the divide and rule policy. But overlaid with these is India’s long civilizational heritage that serves to counteract the idea of India as a powerless country.

This particular combination of colonial trauma and civilizational status has led to the key value that its overall historical experience—pre but mostly post colonialism—has dictated for the country, i.e. autonomy in the global arena. Much like China, India does not see itself only as a “normal nation state” but rather, as a civilization. This civilizational outlook is supported by a dominant historical narrative that sees India as being domestically tolerant and pluralistic and externally non-aggressive and non-interventionist, with its sphere of influence based on culture, values, and to some extent, trade. Soft nationalist identity owes much to this type of historical interpretation. As late as 2012, in response to external criticism that India is not implementing reforms fast enough, the External Affairs Ministers replied: “I must gently remind the critics that India is a civilizational entity and change occurs sometimes at a very slow pace.”17 Nonalignment was the dominant political expression of this type of post-colonial nationalism—and, in some important ways, nonalignment crosses both soft and hard nationalist variants.18

Consensus and Contestation on Identity

The soft nationalist narrative has become increasingly vulnerable since the mid-1990s regarding the idea of a values or ideals driven foreign policy, especially the value of autonomy at any cost.19 Realist discourse seems to be finally providing a foreign policy alternative. This discourse is coming from some Congress revisionists, globalists who view international economic integration more favorably, pro-US intellectuals and politicians who want India to take the China threat more seriously, key business leaders and industry groups (whose influence has significantly risen over the last decade), government officials in the finance ministry, and sections of the military brass.

Realist thinking had been actively shunned by the Indian leadership, especially by Nehru’s dominant Congress party that held uninterrupted national power during 1947-1977. India’s leading realist proponent C. Raja Mohan laments that Indian leaders failed to adequately recognize the country’s hard power history: “… it is not just the West that is ignorant of the security legacy of the British Raj; India’s own post-colonial political class deliberately induced a collective national amnesia about the country’s rich pre-independence military traditions.”20

Reactions to the US Rebalance

To what extent is realist discourse influencing Indian foreign policy thinking against the soft nationalist identity narrative? Reactions to the US “pivot” or rebalancing provide some clue to the importance of nationalist values and what they portend for India’s relations with the United States and China. Whether the pivot is seen as a strategic opportunity (realists) or strategic concern (nationalists) for India sets up a good test between the realist and identity explanations.

From a realist vantage point, there was every reason to think India would actively favor the pivot as an opportunity.21 In an authoritative assessment of India’s national security environment, the Foundation for National Security Research in New Delhi described the period prior to the rebalance as a period of China’s growing military and economic power and assertiveness vis-à-vis countries on its periphery. It further noted that “India has been one of the targets in this respect,” and gave a series of examples.22 The Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands openly spilled over in January 2013 and China again showed its assertive side, sending another warning signal to India. Indian realists had been harping since the early 2000s about the Chinese designing a “string of pearls” around India, encircling, and threatening it.23 They continually pointed to China’s construction of Pakistan’s Gwador port and talk of building a trans-Himalayan highway; to its unprecedented ties with Sri Lanka, including construction of the Hambantota port facility in 2010; to its cultivation of ties with Bangladesh through critical energy and infrastructure projects; and to its consolidation of relations with Myanmar.24 These relationships are all along India’s critical sea lanes in the Indian Ocean. Further afield in Afghanistan, as the US withdrawal looms, China is seen as becoming more active—particularly in its quest for mineral resources.25 All this is occurring even as China pulls ahead of India in military capability. Thus for realists, India’s power gap with China and looming threat should push India into a closer and clearer partnership with the United States. Conversely, India’s relations with China should be much more hard-nosed.

When US policy was rolled out in 2011-2012, the emphasis was on military initiatives in the region. The Obama administration explicitly identified the broad Asia-Pacific region, from India to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands to northern Japan and the Korean peninsula as a geostrategic priority.26 It gave India exceptional importance; in the 2012 defense guidelines laying out the rebalance, India was the only country singled out as a “strategic” partner by name while allied countries were simply grouped together under “existing alliances.” According to the report, “The United States is investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region.”27 There is no doubt that the United States counted on India to be among the most receptive to this shift. Traditional alliances along with the budding partnership with India would be used to offset China’s rising military power and assertiveness.28 Thus, expectations were high in the Pentagon that India would be eager to engage with the United States in this initiative.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made his first trip to India in July 2012 as part of an Asian tour to define the new US strategy. During two days of high-level visits, including meeting with his counterpart A.K. Antony and Prime Minister Singh, Panetta described the role he visualized for India: “We will expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia. Defense cooperation with India is a linchpin in this strategy. India is one of the largest and most dynamic countries in the region and the world, with one of the most capable militaries…In particular, I believe our relationship can and should become more strategic, more practical and more collaborative.”29

If realist sentiment was displacing nationalist identity, such a strong endorsement of US-India defense ties at the level of the Secretary of Defense should have received a warm welcome. Instead, the Indian Defence Ministry’s response to Panetta’s description of India as a “linchpin” was practically a snub. Instead of welcoming his remarks as a historic gesture and unprecedented opportunity for India, the Ministry quickly released a short statement that “Antony emphasized the need to strengthen the multilateral security architecture in the Asia-Pacific and to move at a pace comfortable to all countries concerned.”30 In a nod to the United States, the statement also conveyed that India supports “unhindered freedom of navigation in international waters,” but it has insisted that it was “desirable” that “contentious” bilateral issues be settled by the two nations “themselves.” The Indian statement came just one day after Beijing had relayed its displeasure at the US announcement, terming the “prominence” being given to the strengthening of “military deployment and alliances” as “untimely.”31 This outcome came despite the fact that Singh himself was seen as having moved closer and closer to US positions over his own tenure.

Official Indian policy sentiments seemed to remain steadfast even just one month after the Sino-Japanese East China Sea hostilities broke out menacingly. In February, India’s ambassador to the United States delivered a lecture at Brown University on “America’s ‘Asian Pivot,’” worth quoting at some length.32 Speaking about India’s own history with the Asia-Pacific, she said “In our view, more than geopolitical or geo-economic, this was a geo-civilizational paradigm—a creative space with revolving doors where civilizations coalesced and did not clash…We see that as a rough guide to our future.” On the pivot and India’s role, she clarifies that “Many observers are tempted to view the India-US engagement in this region as directed at China. I do not believe that such a construct is valid or sustainable…” She then goes on to raise the desirability of what some regional analysts have called an Asian “Concert” of powers, noting: “This would require mutual accommodation between the countries concerned. This is an ‘inclusive balancing’ where the US simultaneously engages all the regional powers like China, India, Japan and Russia working to see a multipolar order that reduces the risk of military confrontation.” Rao was effectively challenging the implicit, if not explicit, goal of the pivot.

Former Foreign Secretary and current National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon also weighed in on the idea of an Asian concert of powers and directly challenged the notion of the United States as a “sea-based balancer” in the Indian Ocean. He asked pointedly: ”Which major power would not like to play the role of the balancer, given the chance? For a superpower that is refocusing on Asia but finding the landscape considerably changed while she was preoccupied with Iraq and Afghanistan, this would naturally be an attractive option. But is it likely that two emerging states like India and China, with old traditions of statecraft, would allow themselves to remain the objects of someone else’s policy, no matter how elegantly expressed? I think not. Instead, what is suggested is a real concert of Asian powers, including the United States which has a major maritime presence and interests in Asia, to deal with issues of maritime security in all of Asia’s oceans.”33 This push for a multipolar Asia fit in well with China’s vision, but not with the US agenda.

Even the media which tends to have a strong nationalistic bent and is known for anti-China rhetoric did not fully warm to the idea of India playing a role in America’s pivot. The influential Hindustan Times’ editorial cautioned that India “is not yet big enough to be treated as a viable balancing partner by smaller countries in the region…the game is about trying to preserve sufficient autonomy or action for other Asian countries that they can resist when Beijing lapses into aggressive or bullying behavior.” Others noted that the US long-term presence in Asia could not be taken for granted and that India should strengthen its own military capability to play a role in regional stability.34

Instead of viewing American overtures to India as a strategic opportunity, India became consumed with a debate about how the US vision threatened India’s strategic autonomy. The continuing reluctance and even aversion to embracing the rebalance strategy in any meaningful way cannot be explained without bringing in Indian state identity. As noted earlier, the highest priority is given to strategic autonomy as a value driving foreign policy.

The Director-General of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), the most influential government funded foreign policy think tank in India, and the forum where Panetta delivered his speech, hardly found the rebalancing attractive. As he put it, “The US will support India’s rise…However, Indian planners would be cautious about an open US embrace as India does not want to be drawn into a US containment policy, which is how China perceives US rebalancing.”35 It is clear that India does not want to become involved in any conflict not of its choosing; moreover, it is loathe to appear to be linked to US “containment” strategy in any way. Arun Sahgal, senior retired army officer, writing soon after Panetta’s speech, sees a strong opinion in India that would “like India to follow an independent course in concert with its concept of strategic autonomy.” As he sees it, “The challenge for India is how to leverage its policy of engaging China with that of close strategic cooperation with the US while maintaining its strategic autonomy.”36

The greatest strategic concern seems to be that active rebalancing might force India to choose sides and thus restrict its foreign policy options.37 Against this, the strategic opportunity that realists find in American rebalancing stands little chance of gaining policy traction. One big difference between the nationalists and realists on close ties with the United States is that realists are willing to make short to medium term adjustments and concessions on autonomy while nationalists will not tolerate any diminution.

Meanwhile, soft nationalist opinion that seeks to avoid even the appearance of balancing against China (let alone active balancing) is what is reflected in Indian policy. On China, the sentiment expressed in Nonalignment 2.0 seems to dominate Indian policy: “The challenge for Indian diplomacy will be to develop a diversified network of relations with several major powers to compel China to exercise restraint in its dealings with India, while simultaneously avoiding relationships that go beyond conveying a certain threat threshold in Chinese perceptions.”38 India’s decision under the Congress government to accept the invitation in 2010 to join the ADMM+8 (ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting) was described by a close observer thus: “Despite India’s hitherto aversion to be part of any multilateral security alliance, it decided to join the ADMM+8 partly because it was primarily ASEAN driven, and partly because it was only a cooperative security forum that poses no threat to any major power.”39 Again, we see a consistent identity based policy, rather than any clear break toward realist thinking.


I have sought to show the deep-seated nature of India’s soft nationalist identity narrative and how it continues to play a role in conditioning and even determining Indian foreign policy. From this identity narrative, the chief value to which India’s elite has been committed over the years is “autonomy.” Since the late 1990s, a realist discourse has also emerged, questioning the utility of pursuing autonomy for the sake of autonomy.

By looking at Indian reactions to the US rebalancing strategy, which gives India a prominent place at the same time that China’s threat has been rising in India’s neighborhood and beyond, we are able to concretely test realist and identity explanations. Evidence strongly suggests the continuation of identity based policy preferences, something that may be seen as surprising given the strategic opportunity that the rebalancing offers to India. Realist discourse is increasing but it is some distance away from eclipsing the nationalist identity narrative. There is still strong, shared belief in the conclusion offered by the authors of Nonalignment 2.0 that “India’s adherence to values will be a great source of legitimacy in the international system.”40 In particular, the value placed on strategic autonomy acts as a brake on developing a consequential strategic partnership with the United States, as imagined by the framers of the US rebalance—and the new Indian realists.

1. For an extended discussion of the different foreign policy schools of thought in India, see Deepa Ollapally and Rajesh Rajagopalan, “India: Foreign Policy Perspectives of an Ambiguous Power,” in Henry R. Nau and Deepa Ollapally, eds., Worldviews of Aspiring Powers: Domestic Foreign Policy Debates in China, India, Iran, Japan and Russia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

2. For previous attempts at such taxonomy, see Kanti Bajpai, “Indian Strategic Culture and the Problem of Pakistan,” in Swarna Rajagopal, ed., Security and South Asia: Ideas, Institutions and Initiatives (New Delhi: Routledge, 2006) and Amitabh Mattoo, “Inching Closer to A Great Reconciliation,” Times of India, January 21, 2010.

3. For an explanation of the concept of “underbalancing,” see Randall L. Schweller, Unanswered Threats: Political Constraints on the Balance of Power (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 6-13.

4. The debate was so acrimonious that Prime Minister Singh was forced to face a no-confidence vote in the Indian parliament to get the US-India nuclear deal passed. The debate was extensively covered in both countries. See The Washington Post, July 23, 2008.

5. Nonalignment 2.0: A Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the Twenty First Century, 2012, iv,

6. Kuniko Ashizawa, “When Identity Matters: State Identity, Regional Institution-Building and Japanese Foreign Policy,” International Studies Review 10 (2008): 576. Section draws on her approach.

7. Stephen F. Burgess, “India and South Asia: Towards a Benign Hegemony,” in Harsh V. Pant, ed., India Foreign Policy in a Unipolar World (New Delhi: Routledge, 2009), 231-235.

8. Gilbert Rozman, ed., National Identities and Bilateral Relations: Widening Gaps in East Asia and Chinese Demonization of the United States (Washington, DC and Stanford, CA: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Stanford University Press, 2013).

9. Stephen F. Burgess, “India and South Asia,” 231-235. I have coined the term “geopolitical identity” to describe this state of affairs in South Asia in Deepa Ollapally, The Politics of Extremism in South Asia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

10. Zheng Wang, “Post Colonial Consciousness and China’s Rise,” IIAS Newsletter, no. 59 (Spring 2012), 32.

11. See for example, “Reactions to the 2012 Nonalignment Summit,” Policy Alert #35, Rising Powers Initiative, Sigur Center for Asian Studies, September 14, 2012.

12. See Ollapally and Rajagopalan, “India,” on which this formulation is based.

13. Hard nationalists will become more empowered if the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party ascends to power in the national elections scheduled for late spring 2014.

14. Nikolai Mirilovic and Deepa Ollapally, “Conclusion,” in Nau and Ollapally, eds., Worldviews of Aspiring Powers.

15. Manjari Chatterjee Miller, Wronged by Empire: Post-Imperial Ideology and Foreign Policy in India and China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 2. Miller uses content analysis and statistical analysis to empirically demonstrate the widespread presence of this idea.

16. See for example, S. Settar and P.K.V. Kaimal, eds., We Lived Together (Delhi: Pragati Publications, Indian Council of Historical Research, 1999).

17. S. M. Krisha, “India Now,” speech delivered at the Carrington Endowed Lecture Series, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, October 3, 2012, www.indianembassy.or/includes/page.php?id=2038.

18. For Jawaharlal Nehru’s concept of nonalignment and Indian foreign policy identity, see Priya Chacko, Indian Foreign Policy: the Politics of Post-Colonial Identity from 1947 to 2004 (London: Routledge, 2012).

19. See Deepa Ollapally and Rajesh Rajagopalan, “The Pragmatic Challenge to Indian Foreign Policy,” The Washington Quarterly 34, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 149-151.

20. C. Raja Mohan, “The Return of the Raj,” The National Interest, May/June 2010, 1. An early exception is K. M. Panikkar. See for example, India and the Indian Ocean; Asia and Western Dominance (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1959).

21. See Deepa Ollapally and Yogesh Joshi, “Indian Debates on America’s Rebalance to Asia,” Policy Brief, Sigur Center for Asian Studies, July 2013.

22. Satish Kumar, ed., India’s National Security Annual Review 2011 (New Delhi: Routledge, 2012), 1.

23. For representative “realist” works seeing an intensifying Chinese threat to India, see Brahma Chellaney, Water: Asia’s New Battleground (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013); Mohan Malik, China and India: Great Power Rivals (Boulder, CO: FirstForum Press, 2011); and Harsh Pant, The Rise of China: Implications for India (New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

24. For realists, Sri Lanka is a good example of how India is unable to outplay China even diplomatically: with Sri Lanka holding a “China card,” it looks like India is having to accommodate the Sri Lankan position on the democratic rights of Tamils over which India has leverage, rather than the other way around. See The Guardian (Sri Lanka), November 6, 2012,

25. Brendan O’Reilly, “China Searches for an Afghan ‘Pivot,’” Asia Times Online, November 21, 2012,

26. Robert G. Sutter et al., “Balancing Acts: The US Rebalance and Asia-Pacific Stability,” Policy Report, Sigur Center for Asian Studies, August 2013, 1.

27. RUS Department of Defense, “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” January 2012, 2.

28. See for example, Washington Post, June 1, 2012.

29. Leon E. Panetta, “Partners in the 21stt Century,” speech at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, June 6, 2012.

30. The Indian Express, June 7, 2012.

31. The Indian Express, June 7, 2012.

32. Nirupama Rao, India’s Ambassador to the US, “America’s ‘Asian Pivot’: The View from India,” lecture delivered at Brown University, February 4, 2013.

33. Shiv Shankar Menon, “Maritime Imperatives of Indian Foreign Policy,” speech at National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi, September 11, 2009.

34. Hindustan Times, November 20, 2011; and Times of India, November 22, 2011.

35. Arvind Gupta, “America’s Asia Strategy in Obama’s Second Term,” IDSA Comment, March 21, 2013.

36. Arun Sahgal, “India and the Rebalancing Strategy for Asia-Pacific,” IDSA Comment, July 9, 2012.

37. Ollapally and Joshi, “Indian Debates on America’s Rebalance to Asia.”

38. Nonalignment 2.0, 13-14.

39. S.D. Muni and See Chak Mun, “ASEAN-India Future Relations,” ISAS Special Report, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, May 25, 2012, 11.

40. Nonalignment 2.0, 69.

  1. […] Deepa Ollapally, Research Professor of International Affairs and the Associate Director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, recently published an article in The ASAN Forum titled “India’s Evolving National Identity Contestation: What Reactions to the ‘Pivot’ Tell Us.” […]