--- Manoj Saxena
BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, developed jointly by Russia and India (Image: Wikimedia Commons).
India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru saw science and technology as a vital component to the national interest of developing countries in the post colonial era. Since Nehru had himself witnessed the British use of advanced technology for controlling India he was suspicious of relying overly on the west, and emphasized on building self-reliance. The first Indian cabinet also envisaged scientific cooperation with countries which would not impinge on India's sovereignty — an understandable position considering that India had only recently gained independence from British rule in 1947. In Nehru's view, science was one of the major means with which the post colonial world could reduce its dependency on the more advanced countries of the west thereby ensuring minimum outside interference and maximum strategic autonomy.
However, technological primacy ultimately lay with the west and realism dictated the Indian government to forsake some of its post colonial ideals in order to forge alliances with the western world for progressive cooperation in various fields of science and technology. India's initial allies and enablers in its scientific endeavors included western countries such as the United States of America, Canada, and, indeed, the United Kingdom — its former colonial occupier. During Nehru's time the Indian Parliament also passed the Science Policy Resolution in 1958, which confirmed that the Indian leadership was concerned with urgent procurement of scientific knowledge and was eager to ensure that the country had an adequate number of competent scientists to meet its aim of eventually becoming a self-reliant great power.
Cooperation with the Soviet Union, too, had begun to surface during the 1960s and the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was signed in 1971. Article I of the treaty emphasized mutual respect for state sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs, conditions that India traditionally sought from its bilateral partners and still does. Articles VI-VII of the treaty include scientific and technological cooperation. This treaty is of special significance since technological aid from the UK, US, and Canada had largely subsided after the Indian Smiling Buddha nuclear tests of 1974, and the Soviet Union remained India's most significant scientific partner until it was dissolved in 1991.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War India embarked upon financial reforms under the stewardship of finance minister Manmohan Singh in 1991, and gradually embraced market-oriented economy. An increase in foreign investment from both private sector enterprises and state actors accelerated annual economic growth. The technology sector was among the prime beneficiaries of these reforms and India registered rapid growth in the telecommunications, information technology, and biotechnology sectors. The country was also able to endure a brief period of western sanctions following its Pokhran-II nuclear weapons tests in May 1998, and even registered economic growth in the aftermath of the tests. In 2005, India managed to secure a civil nuclear agreement with the United States, a measure which was seen as having granted a degree of legitimacy to its position as a responsible nuclear power.
In the 21st century, India's scientific cooperation with several members of the international community saw it assume the role of both the benefactor and the beneficiary in different cases. India provided technological aid to Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Palestine. India also accepted advanced technology from countries such as the US and Japan to aid its own infrastructure building and scientific advancement. Between 1999-2015, India's space program had launched satellites for 51 foreign countries, including scientifically advanced countries such as the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and Israel. However, India's quest for self reliance in the defense sector was largely unsuccessful as its Light Combat Aircraft program failed to take off and its Dhruv military helicopters repeatedly crashed in Ecuador.
In May 2014, Narendra Modi of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected to the Indian parliament and appointed as India's 15th Prime Minister after a successful performance in the largest democratic elections in the country's history. Even prior to the elections the BJP's manifesto (p. 36) stated that the party intended to use science and technology to 'build a new and resurgent India'. The document further read that the party 'will ensure that science and technology truly uplifts the Indian people and indeed all humanity.' Modi had previously served as a three time Chief Minister of India's Gujarat province and had acquired a reputation as an able technocrat and an efficient administrator. Following his victory in the 2014 Indian general elections his science and technology initiatives did not disappoint.
By January 2016, the Indian Prime Minister had convincingly embarked on a series of initiatives such as Digital India, Make in India, and Startup India. Bilateral agreements for the promotion of science, technology, and infrastructure were inked with not only with India's traditional partners but also with countries such as China — with which India had been pursuing a steadily successful rapprochement since the 1970s. Agreements with China in the field of infrastructure building and for the Indian project of smart cities highlight the fact that the two Asian giants had departed from their previously held position of overt hostility and were eager to pursue normalization despite an outstanding boundary dispute.
The Indian PM has also shown a keen interest in frequently meeting CEOs from leading science and technology enterprises from around the world — adding a touch of personal diplomacy to his attempts for securing multinational investment in India. In the Modi administration, social media also plays a part as an effective tool which connects the Indian government to both its people and with leaders abroad — a feature hitherto missing from Indian diplomacy. Indian ministers such as the External Affairs Ministers Sushma Swaraj or Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu have been known to respond quickly to civilian calls for assistance made via Twitter. In a first for India's international diplomacy, Modi announced his surprise stopover to Lahore, Pakistan on Christmas day last year via Twitter.
This is not to say that the situation on the ground in the country itself has changed dramatically since the Modi administration has come into power. The reforms initiated by the Modi administration will take time to manifest into tangible achievements and some of the reforms will be difficult to implement given the unpredictable nature of India's chaotic democracy. Also, a federal structure which grants substantial power to the state governments may limit some of the impact of these reforms. Furthermore, several of India's opposition politicians still favor traditional socialist style policies and are wary of abandoning their long-cherished ideals.
Although India has been able to develop substantial scientific, technological, and industrial capabilities its overall national development and economic standard remains sub-par due to slow implementation of reforms, often enforced by a corrupt and inept bureaucracy. However, the country has managed to reach its current levels of progress without any significant losses to its strategic autonomy — a cherished principle of Indian diplomacy. Neighboring Pakistan has — in contrast — made considerable concessions to western powers and China in order to advance its own national progress, losing a large portion of its state sovereignty and strategic autonomy as an outcome.
In many ways science and technology in Indian diplomacy makes for a vexing study in paradoxes. Modern India sent its Mangalyaan mission to Mars in the very first attempt but its Dhruv helicopters repeatedly crashed in Ecuador, embarrassing the country. The country's Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has been credited with building a sound road infrastructure in Afghanistan yet the quality of Indian roads largely remains sub-par. India has a large workforce well-versed in modern science and technology but the county's best scientific minds often migrate outside its borders in absence of suitable opportunities in their home country. India's role on the world stage, too, is of a country which itself seeks modern technology from friendly advanced countries but also aids its lesser-developed allies in their pursuit for scientific advancement.
As India emerges on the world stage as an economic power more collaboration and more partnerships with countries and private enterprises can be expected. Foreign manufacturers from the defense sector have already shown an increasing interest in undertaking joint ventures with Indian companies to manufacture defense equipment in India. Ultimately, only time will tell how well the country manages to engage with the world in the field of high science and technology while clinging on to its long cherished ideals of maximum strategic autonomy and non alignment.