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Mathew Kandall asked: Is there any influence of religion (i.e. Hinduism) in shaping Indian foreign policy-making or its discourse in the past or today?

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  • P.K. Gautam replies: A good question. The questioner must also link this with the reply of Ashok K. Behuria of IDSA at to the question on possible impact of India’s religious demographic profile on its foreign policy.

    India is a secular, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious nation. Now if Hindus are a majority religion, it does not mean there is a Hindu culture of foreign policy. An atheist can be a Hindu and vice versa. Buddhism and Jainism are atheistic religions. Even before the birth of the three Abrahamic rooted religions, during and after the consolidation of Mauryan Empire in the 4th century BCE, books on statecraft, such as Arthashastra by Kautilya, were influencing the foreign policy making in India. Western authors loosely mention that this was Hindu policy, whereas Emperor Chandragupta Maurya died as a Jain. His son Bindusara was a Hindu and grandson Emperor Ashoka became a Buddhist.

    In theory, foreign policy is built up of four Upayas (approaches): Sama- Dana- Bheda - Danda, meaning conciliation, gifts, rupture and force. Application of foreign policy consists of six Gunas or policies: (i) Sandhi, making a treaty containing conditions or terms, that is, the policy of peace (ii) Vigraha, the policy of hostility (iii) Asana, the policy of remaining quiet (and not planning to march on an expedition) (iv) Yana, marching on an expedition (v) Samsraya, seeking shelter with another king, and (vi) Dvaidhibhava, the double policy of Sandhi with one king and Vigrah with another at the same time.

    Similarly, conquest is of three types: Dharmavijay (just war), Lobbhavijay (war of greed) and Asuravijay (conquest like a demon). Yudh or war is also of three kinds – (i) Prakash-yudh, ‘open fight’ in place and time indicated (ii) Kuta-yudh, ‘concealed fighting’ involving use of tactics in battlefield, and (iii) Tusnim-yudh or ‘silent fighting’. Based on these traditions, with realties of today’s world, India’s foreign policy is influenced by its extant ancient traditions and indigenous knowledge. Statecraft is a-religious. National interest, like in any other country’s foreign policy, remains the key driver of India’s foreign policy as well.