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Anurag Chaturvedi asked: Does India's religious demographic profile play any role, vital or trivial, in framing its foreign policy, especially towards Muslim states?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: India is known for its diversity. It is regarded as an ethnic, cultural, religious and racial melting pot. Its ethnic and linguistic overlaps with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka do influence its policies towards these two countries. It is natural that India's foreign policy, especially in so far its relations with its neighbours are concerned, will be influenced by its demography to a significant extent.

    Keeping in mind the percentage of Muslims in India (about 12-13 per cent), and the historical legacies of trade and commerce with the Muslim world, as well as the scars of partition on communal lines, it would be natural to expect that the 'Muslim' factor would play its due role in the making of India's foreign policy, especially towards the Muslim world. This explains India's bid for membership in the Organisation of the Islamic Countries (OIC) and delicate handling of its relationship with the West Asian and North African countries. India's disinclination to send troops to Afghanistan, despite its improving relationship with the US, is also partly ascribed to the government's sensitivities to the feelings of the Muslims at the domestic level.

    Nevertheless, while these demographic factors are significant, one should not exaggerate the importance of demography on foreign policy making, because the prime drivers of such policy are national interests, as defined through a dynamic assessment of national aspirations and needs through a perpetually evolving democratic consensus.