The belief in India as an Asian leader and a model for other countries in the region has been deeply ingrained in Indian thinking for centuries. The 1947 Asian Relations Conference and the 1955 Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung—which served as the launching pad for the Non-Aligned Movement—advanced India’s aspiration to emerge as the leader of formerly colonized nations. That hope, however, was never fulfilled. Instead, India remained bogged down in South Asian politics and security challenges, first from Pakistan and later from China. Slow economic growth also impeded India’s efforts to play a greater role on the world stage and resulted in an inward orientation for more than four decades. In the early 1990s, the end of the Cold War triggered both domestic and international changes, compelling New Delhi to implement economic reforms and rebuild relations with countries in Southeast and East Asia.
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