Atal Bihari Vajpayee introduced policy corrections that reflected the end of the Cold War and the new global balance, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Friday and noted that the former prime minister sought a modus vivendi with China that was based as much on mutual respect as on mutual interest.
He also said the winds of change are most apparent in the Indo-Pacific region and it is there that the diplomatic creativity which Vajpayee inspires should be most strongly applied.
"We are looking at a complex set of transformations that are simultaneously underway. The Indo-Pacific is witnessing both multipolarity and re-balancing," Jaishankar said in his opening remarks at the Second Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture, which was delivered by Michael Fullilove, the Executive Director of the Lowy Institute of Australia.
The Indo-Pacific region is seeing great power competition as well as "middle power plus" activities, and orthodox politics, including territorial differences, is in sharper play, side-by-side with currencies of power like connectivity and technology, the external affairs minister said.
In fact, no other landscape illustrates the widening of our definition of national security better, he added.
Talking about Vajpayee, Jaishankar said, "If we are to look at the essence of his approach to international relations, it is evident that it focuses on responding effectively to global changes."
Where the United States was concerned, the former prime minister introduced policy corrections that reflected the end of the Cold War and the new global balance, he added.
"At the same time, he kept India's course steady vis-a-vis Russia, despite the turbulence of that era. With China, whether as the foreign minister or as the prime minister, he sought a modus vivendi that was based as much on mutual respect as on mutual interest," Jaishankar said.
With Pakistan, Vajpayee strenuously tried to dissuade the neighbouring country from its path of sponsoring cross-border terrorism, he said.
"All this, of course, was underpinned by his belief that India must develop deeper strengths at home. This found an expression in the exercise of the nuclear option as it did in the economic modernisation that he presided over," the external affairs minister said.
In his lecture on "Australia, India and the Indo-Pacific: The need for strategic imagination", Fullilove compared diplomacy with cricket, saying a game of cricket is in many ways similar to the great game of relations between States.
"Like foreign policy, cricket is a long game. A Test match can take up to five days.... Things are opaque in cricket as in diplomacy. Sometimes a draw can be a win. Cricket and foreign policy require many of the same qualities, including intelligence, skill, patience, discipline, toughness and imagination," he said.
Fullilove said wealth and power are shifting eastwards toward India and Australia.
"Impressive Asian economic growth in recent decades has transformed the region and lifted more than a billion people out of poverty. Emerging Asia is the most dynamic part of the world, accounting for more than half of global growth, despite representing only a third of the global economy," he said.
"The bilateral relationship between New Delhi and Canberra has the character of a long innings, we started slowly but now that we have settled in, we are taking our shots and the runs are flowing," Fullilove said.
He suggested the establishment of a high-level economic dialogue between Australia and India.
The two countries should improve the interoperability between their armed forces, Fullilove said, listing a slew of suggestions to strengthen their partnership.
Citing a study, he said neither the US nor China would be able to wield undisputed primacy in the Indo-Pacific region.
"A bipolar future beckons. In this future, the decisions made by other Indo-Pacific powers, including Australia and India, will be highly consequential. Our actions may well constitute the marginal difference," he said.
Speaking on the occasion, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said, "As the waters of the Indo-Pacific seek a new equilibrium, India and Australia are drawn by a natural affinity in political systems, economic endeavours and, above all, values."
"As two major democracies of this region, our partnership is of enormous significance in the building of a rules-based global order, with a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific as its fulcrum," he added.
The rapid momentum that the India-Australia relationship has demonstrated in recent years is testimony to this, Shringla said.