Three Years Of PM Modi: A Look At Foreign Policy
NEW DELHI: The NDA government -- led by PM Narendra Modi -- completed its three years in power recently. Thus, 60% of the current tenure is over, with the term coming to an end in 2019.
It is therefore a good time to analyze the kind of approach that this government has taken towards foreign policy issues. Though, it is famously said that foreign policies of a country doesn’t change with the change in regime, atleast Indian foreign policy doesn’t. Though, each time there is a regime change, there is a certain ‘shift’ in the foreign policy.
Let’s analyze from the start, i.e the year 2014, when the current government came into power. After a gap of three decades, a majority government had come into power and therefore it was expected that the current regime would not have the headache of satisfying its coalition partners while taking bold decisions. Indeed, a ‘bold move’ was seen when to the surprise of many, Narendra Modi called his counterparts from all SAARC countries to participate in his oath taking ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Barring Bangladesh, all the heads of SAARC countries graced the ceremony with their presence which included Nawaz Sharif from Pakistan. A lot of hype was created in the media that this was a ‘paradigms shift’ in the Indian foreign policy without even understanding what ‘paradigm shift’ means. Thomas Kuhn defined Paradigm Shift as a process in which the current paradigm can’t sustain the anomalies occurring against the paradigm itself and therefore the paradigm is thrown into a ‘state of crisis’. As a result, a ‘new paradigm’ is born.
In the case of invites being given to all SAARC countries, definitely a ‘new step’ was taken but it wasn’t a paradigm shift. Coming back to the point, PM Modi by inviting his SAARC counterparts emphasized on his ‘Neighborhood First’ policy. He stated the importance of cooperating and having a cordial relationship with all the neighbours which would be mutually beneficial to both India and its neighbours. He also mentioned the usual catchphrase in foreign policy that one can change its friends in foreign policy but not its neighbours. Therefore, cooperating with the neighbours, however hostile it is, is a necessary step towards the promotion of peace, harmony and good-will in the region.
Analysts of international relations must have thought that this ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy might go on to define this government’s foreign policy in future. Three years since then, a lot has happened. Pakistan has become an even bigger headache than it used before. Indo-Pak relations have seen a roller coaster ride in last three years. From inviting Nawaz Sharif to PM Modi’s oath taking ceremony to Modi paying an impromptu visit to Pakistan on Nawaz Sharif’s birthday, from Pathankot attack to Uri Attack, from Pakistan backed terrorism in Kashmir valley to Surgical Strike, the list goes on. The latest being Indo-Pak faceoff at International Court of Justice regarding Kulbhushan Jadhav’s case. Clearly, ‘Neighbourhood First’ is turning into ‘Neighbourhood lost’. India’s other neighbours are constantly being wooed by China which is investing a lot in almost all the India’s neighbours.
India doesn’t have the economic capability to invest that much in the economies of its neighbours. Therefore, India is not able to attract its neighbours as compared to China, which has been investing heavily in nearly all the neighbouring countries of India, thereby trying to gain a ‘geo-economic’ as well as ‘geo-strategic’ advantage over India.
Last three years of Modi government has went off in futile chest thumping over the fact that India’s position in international arena has suddenly taken a ‘giant leap’ in the last three years since the current regime has been at the helm of the affairs. A ‘hoopla’ has been created that India, which used to punch below its weight has suddenly emerged as a power which doesn’t shy away in flexing its muscles whenever required.
The example of this machoism is given by referring to the two ‘surgical strikes’ which India conducted in Myanmar and Pakistan in 2015 and 2016 respectively. These surgical strikes were presented in a manner by a section of Indian media where it was made to believe that these ‘strikes’ are first of its kind, which never ever has happened before in the history of independent India. It was only later that Indian public came to know that such strikes used to happen earlier too but they were kept discreet from public.
Last three years would also be remembered for the frequent number of foreign visits being made by the Indian Prime Minister since he took charge. Since assuming office in May 2014, Modi has made 56 foreign trips, starting from his first trip as PM in June 2014 to Bhutan. This is the highest number of foreign visits paid by any Indian Prime Minister in history. Though, there is a large section of foreign policy analysts and media who believe that these foreign visits are highly required for India to make its ‘presence felt’ as an emerging power in the international system.
It is also argued that PM Modi, through these visits makes ‘personal equations’ with the leaders of other states, which will help India to secure good ties with these countries thereby ensuring both political as well as economic benefits. India’s entry into MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) has been widely attributed to current government’s robust efforts in the field of diplomacy.
When India hosted the BRICS-BIMSTEC summit in 2016 at Goa, India tried to simultaneously engage with multiple states of different groupings. The BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) is a grouping of mostly south Asian countries, excluding Pakistan. This meant that India tried to shrewdly isolate Pakistan among the SAARC nations. India’s relations with great powers like USA, China and Russia have not been very amicable either.
Russia, which is considered to be India’s all weather ally seems to have been drifting away from India and tilting towards Pakistan. Writing on this issue, India’s strategic expert C Raja Mohan said, “As Russia conducts its first ever military exercise with the Pakistan Army this week, Delhi has to reckon with the prospect that Russia might not necessarily remain India’s best friend forever. Rethinking Russia’s position in India’s strategic calculus will be heart-wrenching for many in Delhi”.
Similarly, India’s relations with China have not shown much improvement in the last three years. China’s Silk Road diplomacy has successfully wooed India’s neighbors, most of whom are participants in China’s “One Belt One Road” Project. India decided not to be a part of this project as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a part of this project, which passes through PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir), which is claimed by India as its own territory. CPEC is definitely a headache to India’s policy makers as this gives both Pakistan and China a strategic advantage over the sensitive region of Kashmir.
India’s engagement with US has seen a major jump under Modi government, atleast the effort put by PM Modi is very evident considering the fact that he has already paid 4 visits to US since he became Prime Minister. Setting out a new vision for the future, he proclaimed that finally Indo-US ties had ‘overcome the hesitations of history’. India’s eminent strategic analyst Harsh V Pant has analyzed Indo-US relations by opining that “From resolving the prickly issue of civil nuclear energy cooperation to significantly upgrading defence cooperation, and in arriving at a common understanding on a range of international issues, Indo-US relations seem to have reached an ‘extraordinarily good place”
To sum up, India’s foreign policy is in a transitional phase where new friendships are being made while the old ones seems to be drifting away. India’s relations with its immediate neighbours have been a matter of concern while India’s engagement with the outside world has been improving. Increasingly, India’s stature in international relations is increasing as India is making desperate efforts to be a part of all the major groupings in the world. Overall, the foreign policy under Modi government is more of continuity from the previous regime as compared to the discontinuities.
(This article is an opinion piece that appears in YOUNG CITIZEN. It does not necessarily represent the views of the publication).