Accelerating internal economic reforms is the key to India playing a leadership role in the rapidly changing global order, according to a leading foreign policy expert.
For that, India has to play a more active role in south and southeast Asian regional institutions, said C. Raja Mohan, director of Carnegie India, at a speech on "India in a changing Asia: Towards a forward policy", organised by the Society of Policy Studies (SPS) as part of its Changing Asia lecture series here on Wednesday.
"To meet the regional expectations for leadership, India will need to accelerate its internal economic reforms, deepen its integration with its South Asian neighbours, seize the opportunities for strengthening physical connectivity with different parts of Asia, play a more active role in the regional institutions and intensify its defence diplomacy, " Raja Mohan said.
He said that there was widespread disappointment with India's recent record in southeast Asia.
However, the Act East policy adopted by the government in the wake of the Look East policy might hopefully prove to be a redeemer, he said.
"India's 'Look East' policy came in the wake of its economic reforms initiated at the turn of the 1990s was not surprising, " said Raja Mohan, who is also a visiting research professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore and was a member of India's National security Advisory Board.
"Reconnecting to Asia, Delhi recognised, was critical for the modernisation of the Indian economy that had fallen behind the rest of the region and to rejuvenate its foreign policy in the new era, " he said.
He pointed out that India has made considerable advances in connecting with Asia by being part of the major regional institutions, expanding economic and trade links and stepping up its security cooperation with most Asian nations.
"Asia's regional dynamic - in economic, political and strategic domains - has moved much faster than Delhi's readiness to adapt, " Raja Mohan said.
"Asia today hopes that the 'Act East' policy unveiled by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will bridge the gap between India's promise and performance. "
According to Raja Mohan, with Asia entering a period of great churning, the question of India's role in the region has become an important one.
"The great potential and persistent challenges to India's role in Asia can be seen in terms of a paradox: through the ages, India was both a self - contained subcontinent in itself as well as the geographic pivot between different parts of Asia, " he said.
Raja Mohan is of the view that India's dilemmas in coping with the strategic consequences of China's rise and US's response to it are similar to those that confronted its fellow Asian states.
"Until recently, East Asia believed that the rise of China is most likely to be peaceful and bet that Beijing can be 'socialised' through a network of regional arrangements, " he said.
India, according to Raja Mohan, which was deeply uncomfortable with the Western and Asian embrace of China in the past, is now staring at a rare opportunity to shape the Asian balance of power and confronts on the other the real danger of being drawn into the conflict between the world's foremost power and the rising challenger.
Pointing nine potential ways in which the regional order could evolve, he said the most likely scenario for the near future is the slow but certain build - up of the Sino - US rivalry in the region.
"Delhi cannot afford to miss the unprecedented opportunity to accelerate Asia's march towards prosperity or disavow the historic responsibility to shape its future political order, " Raja Mohan concluded.