May the force be with Modi
On October 5, Twitter was abuzz with photos of a historic handshake between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. More than the handshake, however, the media was quick to notice the similar shades of blue both leaders had donned at the outset. Twitter was soon whirring with witty one-liners about the coincidence, some hailing it as the color of trust between the two “natural allies”. Coincidence or not, it is clear that this harmonisation between the two leaders goes beyond their attire.
Over the past year, the two leaders have not just interacted at various international forums but also hosted each other in their home countries. This summit-level Inter-Governmental Consultations (IGC) between the two leaders sought to unlock the potential of strong bilateral ties. By the end of the second day of her three-day visit, Merkel sanctioned 1 billion Euros for solar energy development in India. Meanwhile, India promised to fast-track business approvals for German firms, and the two leaders inked 18 MoUs in various fields including higher education, civil aviation, defense, railways and food safety.
Both India and Germany are in a transitional phase as far as foreign policy is concerned. Merkel and Modi share a common desire to position their respective countries as global leaders. India’s presence in the international arena has never been more pronounced as it is now. It is clear that Modi wants to look beyond South Asia and is striving to develop a global foothold. In Europe, Narendra Modi is seen as a “can-do-politician,” someone who gets the job done.
Similarly, under Merkel, German foreign policy has begun to acquire a set of new characteristics. With a relatively stable economy and strong leadership, Germany has been at the helms of the European Union. More importantly, Germany is “looking east”. It has begun to grow out of the transatlantic straitjacket and European encirclement and seeks its place in a world of multiple powers. Germany’s engagement with India is indeed very much part of that strategy.
The credit rating agency Moody recently upgraded India’s rating. In addition, India has regained its position in the list of top 10 destinations for foreign direct investments (FDI) in 2014, according to a report released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). India is ranked 9th in the latest report; it was 15th last year. In short, at a time of global slowdown, India represents a bright spot for investments and opportunity and Germany has been quick to exploit that fact. As a result, bilateral trade between the two nations stands close to $20 billion. Approximately 1,600 German companies are currently operating in India. Together, they have invested about 9.8 billion Euros and created roughly 400,000 jobs in the Indian market. What makes this alliance even more special is that both nations acknowledge their personal shortcomings and are forging the alliance in a complimentary manner. Germany offers India the vocational education expertise that has turned it into an engineering giant. India, on the other hand, is replete with a skilled workforce that Germany lacks. This solves Germany’s manpower problem and reinforces Modi’s “Make in India” campaign.
Many eyes are looking towards the performance of the Modi government in propelling the economy forward and how he positions India in the international climate talks. How to reconcile radical ecological principles with large scale industrial schemes and the “Make in India”- the campaign will be one of the many challenges the Modi government will face. At the IGC, Merkel declared, “Energy cooperation is very much in the foreground, particularly exploring and developing rural areas is very much on our agenda.” So, in what appears to be at the cornerstone of bilateral engagements over environmental issues, Germany has offered 2 billion Euros to the Indian government to develop solar projects and a clean energy corridor. This is particularly important following India’s commitment to Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals identified by the United Nations in September last month.
A strategic Indo-German alliance will be mutually beneficial. India can leverage its position with Germany to reassert itself on international forums. Germany has already made its commitment to the revival of negotiations for the long-pending India-EU Free Trade pact. For the uninitiated, talks on the pact had commenced in 2007. In her bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC), India already enjoys the support of all permanent members, barring China. Germany has also unequivocally supported India’s bid for a permanent seat. For Germany, India’s seat at the UNSC will mean greater influence at the table through a “natural ally.”
Modi was very vocal in declaring that both India and Germany see eye-to-eye on matters of counterterrorism and radicalism. The two leaders have also used IGC as a forum to deliberate on a host of regional and international issues. Both nations have also underlined the importance of maritime rights, by the accepted principles of international law. Such a claim was in an apparent reference to China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. Beijing’s military ambition seems to have grown unchecked, and her neighbors and their allies are tense. Perhaps Germany also realises that India is the only counterweight to China in the South Asian region. India’s location, strategic ties with other nations in South Asia and a stable economy give her the requisite strength to challenge Chinese ambitions if the need arises.
In conclusion, relations between India and Germany have substantially improved and deepened in nearly all fields. What had once been a policy of ‘benign neglect’ has turned into a vital and vibrant partnership, especially the constant and frequent exchanges at the ministerial level and between heads of governments, signaling India’s growing importance to Germany. Indeed, it is a time that much heralded common values shared between the two nations and their unflinching commitment to democracy become more than just words. These elements must play a pivotal role in political relations, from which common policies and ideas can emanate.
(Yashvardhan Verma is a geopolitical analyst working with <g data-gr-id="69">Mitkat</g> Advisory Services, a premium Risk Management Consultancy based in Gurgaon. Views expressed are personal)