Three Years of Modi’s Foreign Policy

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Three years of Modi’s Government has shown a policy reversal in the domestic front while the foreign policy was not a total departure from the past. Since foreign policy is evolved from the past tradition and history, it is more of an identity a country portrays to the world. The secular democratic system continued from antiquity and the post-colonial nationalism have prepared certain parameters for India’s foreign policy making. The consecutive governments after Nehru have proved that ‘national identity’ is not a water-tight compartment and national interests and strategic concerns are to be prioritised, simply termed as ‘pragmatism,’ eulogised by the makers of International Relations theory. Congress led governments have been reluctant in extending its engagement with Israel but Modi broke the impasse by being the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. Though Modi government has been pragmatic in its foreign policy approach it has not mentioned that Palestine goes into the back-burner.

Modi has been successful in enhancing India’s position abroad with his regular visibility in different parts of the world; especially when India did not visit these countries for decades, for example Canada, Fiji, Israel; to name just a few. Modi government has involved a large Indian diaspora in showcasing India abroad. However, it is too early to measure if these visits have reaped any benefits and rash to judge whether Modi Doctrine is a policy reversal from 70 years of India’s foreign policy. The study of foreign policy has never been this interesting due to the changing geo-strategic scenario, India’s rapid economic growth and its bid for energy security, the heightened tension with China and Pakistan, multiple actors/competitors in the Asia-Pacific region further complicated the power dynamics in the 21st Century. Modi followed many of the UPA initiatives, most significantly; the Indo-US engagement carried out with equal verve and vigour. Modi government’s clarity of approach towards China is seen when India rejected to attend Belt and Road summit by standing firm on issues of sovereignty but has agreed to become a full member of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Pakistan has become a bone of contention for India, with increased cease-fire violations, terror attacks and infiltration in the POK region, yet India has no real solution to solve this problem. But this did not stop India from becoming active in global politics unlike earlier times.

Link-West, Act-East, Neighbourhood First have not been mere rhetoric under the Modi government. The Modi doctrine is a ‘doer doctrine’ which was seen from the oath taking ceremony, where the neighbouring countries’ premiers were invited. The ease in business with India is being restored at a faster pace but the proverbial bureaucratic inertia that lead to delay and/or denial of policy implementation is yet to be tackled. India’s maritime prowess has got an uplift at the International Fleet Review at Vishakhapatnam in February 2016. India is fast pacing its naval strength on the Indian Ocean and is also expanding its capabilities of patrolling and surveillance as far as the Pacific Island countries.

India’s relations with countries on a bilateral basis is gaining momentum, starting with Japan. Modi Government has yet to prove its relationship with Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar the closest of neighbours to India’s advantage. India’s Act East depends upon how well the Northeast India is infrastructurally developed and politically aligned to the trans-border initiatives. Mainstreaming Northeast India is a major task of the Modi government. Though the India-Iran initiative to build the Chabahar Port is nearing completion leading to more trade and friendship; India should carefully draw its engagement with Iran, a traditional partner vis-à-vis the United States and Israel. One aspect the Modi government has not given much impetus is to Australia. Though India and Australia have great potential in being strategic and economic partners in the Indo-Pacific regional space, the effort is visibly missing. The confusion is clear when India refused Australia to participate in the Malabar exercise-2017 (US, India and Japan are permanent members) but is having regular naval exercise with Australia on a bilateral basis through Exercise AUSINDEX which was started in 2015. Australia participating in Malabar exercise should not anger China since Australia already is engaged in many naval exercises with US, Japan and India.

Finally, the major concern that laid unattended by the Modi government is Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Many scholars have been in a hurry to write the obituary of NAM but the fact is that NAM is very much alive and kicking. The very reason why NAM will stay on is due to its large membership, which is next only to UNO. While UNO itself requires restructuring due to the manipulation of the permanent 5 with their veto powers, NAM can act as a counter mechanism until India, Japan and Germany becomes a part of UNSC. Moreover, NAM had not only elevated India’s position as a ‘world class leader’ but portrayed India’s exceptionalism as manifested in India’s spirituality. Modi government has conspicuously remained aloof from NAM meetings. Is it because NAM was a Nehruvian legacy? Though NAM and Nehru were intertwined NAM remained just a movement of Cold War days, and the successors of Nehru had a lukewarm approach to NAM. India’s alienation from power dynamics has not remained for long, since India is growing economically and militarily amidst severe border disputes with nuclear capable countries like Pakistan and China. Therefore, India’s core defence and security strategy is to solve issues with China and Pakistan, individually or together. Hence the importance of NAM, where China is an observer (but has bilateral trade relations with quite a few of NAM countries) and Pakistan is one of the members. The modification of NAM from a movement to an institution of like-minded countries should be enhanced. There is an urgent need to rejuvenate NAM, with strong leadership, and by reorganising its structure and objectives and with India’s lead NAM can reach new heights and become one of the major negotiators for ‘peace and disarmament.’ India’s leadership and the expertise in dealing with multi-lateral forums would help in several ways apart from only to get a membership in UN Security Council and Nuclear Suppliers Group. Moreover, the principles of NAM were not just to stay away from military alliance but had a broader agenda for peaceful co-existence, disarmament, non-interference, respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and non-discrimination, which are always relevant and essential for human existence. Modi government’s major emphasis should be to understand the number game and use its expertise to have a role to play in global politics.