In just over 18 months after becoming prime minister, Modi has already visited 30 countries, three of them – the United States, France and Nepal seeing two visits each. Though Modi has not yet touched base on the African continent, the historic India-Africa Summit was held in New Delhi in October at which all the 54 African nations were represented – perhaps the first time this has happened outside the continent. Modi also held bilateral meetings with several African leaders during the event. Modi has addressed the UN general assembly and actively participated in other multilateral meetings such as BRICS, East Asia Summit, Shanghai Cooperation Organization and G20. For many in India, PM Modi is country’s best brand ambassador. His foreign visits have certainly generated plenty of interests.
The Prime Minister’s foreign policy interventions reflect efforts to institutionalise the norms his government articulated in its first year. These interventions also indicate areas of foreign policy where the Prime Minister’s Office is likely to invest political capital. Non-alignment served India well during the difficult years from the mid to the late 20th century, but had apparently outlived its utility. Several reasons can be adduced for India’s shift from non-alignment to multi-alignment. Undeniably, policies adopted by India since the beginning of this century had helped generate a climate of trust across the spectrum of warring nations and long-time antagonists. A spirit of accommodation and constructive solutions to major regional and international challenges had also made India more acceptable to most nations. India came to be seen as a positive, stabilising influence as far as the global and the regional environment was concerned. Non-alignment clearly had no place in this milieu.
Ties with Russia have also become stronger. Statements made between the two nations reveal the determination on both sides to reinforce the strategic ties that date back to the Cold War years. The list of agreements drawn up between the two countries covers nuclear, space, energy and defence. Russia has also committed to building additional nuclear reactors at Kudankulam and in Andhra Pradesh. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to India proved to be more than a strategic interlude, with defence, foreign policy, and economic aspects all receiving attention. Japan’s willingness to cooperate on peaceful nuclear energy will have the same kind of positive impact as that which followed the iconic India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement of 2008. Japan’s willingness to acknowledge India as a reliable and trustworthy nuclear power, despite not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is again certain to have a positive impact on nuclear establishments across the world. Japan’s willingness to share defence equipment and technology, facilitate the exchange of classified military information, and arrive at an understanding of emerging threats in the Indo-Pacific — implicit in the India-Japan Agreement with regard to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea — has opened a new chapter in relations.
Another huge success experienced this year was the sharp upsurge in ties with the U.S., elevating the strategic partnership to unprecedented levels. India’s expanding relations with ASEAN and East Asia under Act East Policy are yielding rich dividends. However, China continues to be a challenge that India will have to contend with in the coming years. China’s growing political, military and economic prowess make it increasingly assertive in areas where India’s interests are involved. Beijing’s support for Pakistan, notably with the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that crosses territory claimed by India, has led to a further straining of ties. India has always emphasized that the bilateral relationship will not reach its full potential if India’s core sensitivities are not respected.
However, in dealing with India’s neighbours, the Modi government has demonstrated a mix of imagination, strength and resilience. Ties with Bangladesh are in a sweet spot today, but more work is required for resolution of the Teesta River and other issues. Bilateral relations with Sri Lanka are stable, but little progress on the fishermen’s problems has occurred. Maldives has continued to be a big challenge, more so now with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and evidence of new Chinese designs. This neighbour requires priority attention. So does Myanmar, now undergoing transition to a dyarchy composed of Aung San Suu Kyi and the Army that may co-rule the county.
Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan will demand special handling. Mr Modi’s drop-in at Lahore suggests that he may have a plan, devised after internalising lessons from previous mistakes. It could succeed, provided national consensus is re-built within India and the plan to normalise relations is sold to the Pakistan Army. As regards China, both a neighbour and a companion at “the high table”, the policy of cooperation and competition will continue, along with the resolve to maintain peace and tranquility on the border.
India’s foreign policy has been continuous and dynamic. With the focus on commerce and economy the government is looking forward to harvest the economic benefits of diplomacy. It is being predicted that this government would be less emotional and more prudent and practical in dealing with global powers and issues. Experts say that Indian foreign policy has remained the same, only perspectives and priorities have changed from time to time. The present government has put forth the National Interest in India’s Foreign Policy on a priority mode without undermining India’s historical, cultural and social ties with its neighbours and the rest of the world.
India’s Foreign policy is now an attractive package both for India and the investor countries. The dynamics of foreign policy are more challenging and interesting. However, there is a lot to be done. Going by the trends, Foreign policy is one of the strengths of this government. Much will also depend on India’s economic performance. The government’s test will be in ensuring that multilateral regimes can accommodate India’s concerns on various issues, while balancing requests to move to selective and plurilateral arrangements.