India's reinvigorated foreign policy
Modi’s ambition has imparted a new dimension to India’s foreign policy since 2014, elaborate Rapti Ray and Buddhadeb Ghosh
'The Prime Minister stays in foreign countries and occasionally visits India.' Such is the allegation of opposition parties against Narendra Modi. But they are not admitting the fact that India's foreign policy, for the first time since 1947, has reached a youthful stage after 70 years of childhood!
The Modi government certainly has not altogether reversed the path of the foreign policy followed in previous decades as it is neither feasible nor desirable. No country's foreign policy can be partisan, and there can never be a tectonic shift when governments change. It is a continuum, at best modifying the path followed by all the previous regimes. However, despite this inevitable fact, Narendra Modi's ambition has imparted a new dimension to India's foreign policy since 2014.
The very approach of Modi is 'India First'. That is, to draw the maximum out of foreign policy for the economic development of India as a whole and move towards the NDA government's goal of 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas' – a Hindi slogan which Narendra Modi coined from his Lok Sabha Election campaign since 2013. Added to it is the great Sanskrit dictum from India's great historical past: "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam." This is a phrase and a philosophy that inculcates an understanding of the whole world as one family. This verse from Maha Upanishad is engraved at the entrance of Parliament.
This slogan became so popular that then US Secretary of State John Kerry, prior to his India visit in 2014 (after the Modi government came to power), mentioned it and said that America shared this goal and was willing to work in full cooperation with the new government to realise it. He arrived in New Delhi to prepare the ground for Modi's US visit, which was uncertain at that time. What a contrast to what was a reality some ten years back.
In 2005, Modi was denied a US visa by the then US President George W Bush. America's allegation against Modi was his violation of human rights when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. But in the Lok Sabha elections, Modi's landslide victory proved that he has to be given due importance at international level. In fact, the succeeding US President, Barack Obama, was the chief guest for India's Republic Day celebrations in 2015. This could not be imagined earlier. After Obama, Modi also met Donald Trump and is engaging in talks with him on trade, purchase of aeroplanes, natural gas imports, and combating terrorism among other issues. In addition to this, Modi's visit to Israel has created enormous possibilities for India's defence, which is very unsettling for our neighbours. The main pillars of India's foreign policy under the Modi's government may be stated as follows:
Firstly, there is the 'Act East Policy'. The Look East Policy initiated during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's time has been rebranded as Act East Policy. During the times of Look East Policy, some strategic partnership initiatives and cooperation in the field of security had been started with South East Asian countries. But the Modi government wants a more dynamic policy, as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said, "India is not just looking East, but acting East as well." The Act East Policy is based on the Modi government's stress on 'Neighbourhood First' policy, which focuses on immediate neighbours in South, South East Asia, and Asia-Pacific regions.
Secondly, India wants to counter China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, which is aimed at capturing the market along the entire traditional Silk Road. However, India is against it as the proposed roadway passes through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Some other nations have also opposed it as it is alleged that their sovereignty is jeopardised. Many experts are of the opinion that China's main objective is to dump low-quality goods in entire Asia and Europe by opening up the roadways and enhancing maritime connectivity. However, many are unable to see through China's policy, as it is building up infrastructures in those cities and spending annually $10,000 crore. In response to China's 'aggression' in trade and commerce, India is giving more importance to its maritime neighbours along the Indian Ocean Region.
With the same objective, that is, to counter China's OBOR project, the Narendra Modi government has introduced Project Mausam. Historically, trade along the Indian Ocean Region, stretching from South East Asia to East Africa proceeded through sea routes, which naturally depends on seasonal climatic conditions. The Government of India has strategically given the name Project Mausam to stress that India is no less important than China in trade, commerce, and also in enhancing security.
Thirdly, there is the West Asia Policy and Link West Policy with the Arab and Gulf region. These are complementary to Act East Policy. India depends on these countries for its oil import and for providing employment to many Indians.
Fourthly, relationship with Britain and France in particular, and Europe as a whole. For example, in 2015, Modi visited Germany and inaugurated the 'Hannover Fair', which is the world's largest industrial fair. India was a partner country and the Modi government stressed on cooperation in Digital India and Clean India initiatives.
Regarding Eurasia, Modi inked agreements on long-term oil and gas cooperation between ONGC Videsh, Essar Oil of India, and Russia's Rosneft and Gazprom. Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to install ten more nuclear reactors in India in the next 20 years. Russia will also export raw diamond to India directly, not through mediators like Dubai and Belgium. In the area of defence too, the two countries have signed a technical cooperation and investment agreements. There is also cooperation with France and between Indian Navy and Mauritian coast guard. Many Indians earn their living on the African island of Mauritius and that is why the government is giving additional importance to this country.
The entire pinpoint of Modi government's foreign policy is to bring in economic development and advance its Make in India, Digital India, Soil India, and Smart city programmes by pursuing diplomatic policies. This objective of linking India's foreign policy to domestic transformation is surely a paradigm shift in the Modi regime. However, a word of caution at this point is that increased insurgency may pose a threat for the smooth operation of India's foreign policy. So, greater importance should be given to combat terrorism and associated unrest for the sake of advancing India First Policy in foreign relations.
(Rapti Ray is a senior journalist based in Kolkata and Dr.Buddhadeb Ghosh is a scientist with ISI Calcutta, Central Observer, MGNREGA & BADP Projects, NITI Aayog, New Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)