Too soft on USA, too hard on China
Three days before Narendra Modi completes his first year in the northern corner of South Block, at the prime minister’s office, this column will try and understand what have been the results of the frequent flier miles he notched up. Considering geostrategy is born from the relationship between ways, means and ends, this examination remains a valid exercise.
Till now, Modi has not given a single speech that could give the people of this country an idea of how he saw the travels he undertook. In other words, what are his foreign policy goals and how it is linked to a larger national security plan that is constituted of the geostrategic and geopolitical play.
The two-way stations of these trips have been his interactions with Barack Obama on two occasions and his two meetings with Xi Jinping. These meetings are important in terms of he engaging in major power politics.
His recent journey to China has made one point clear: that he has reflected the supposed suspicion the people of this country have about the ‘near abroad.’ A question can be asked whether <g data-gr-id="110">stoking</g> these doubts signal his leadership agenda. And whether the primary focus of that agenda is to take a hardline with a nation in geopolitical terms of the sub-continent. Remember, he sought to emulate Chinese model during his chief ministerial days for launching an economic growth plan for Gujarat.
Does this prove a bias towards the other major power, the USA? Is it influenced by the majority conservative nature of the Gujarati diaspora, who he thinks to be a financial resource pool as the non-resident Chinese were in the early years of Deng Xiaoping-led economic restructuring plan?
Let us examine these two postulates. The bias towards the USA is clearly evident. They are located in the three basic joint documents the two leaders signed on. It can be said that the ‘US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region’ is both to hedge bets by New Delhi and Washington. The USA, of course, is securing its hegemonic vision in the regions of East and South East Asia and in a way, maintaining its freedom of influence on the Indian Ocean.
An important and widely acclaimed strategic expert had once called the Indian Ocean <g data-gr-id="115">an ‘</g>American
Lake.<g data-gr-id="135">’</g> For India, a piece of <g data-gr-id="134">action</g> it desires in the Indo-Pacific region can satiate the dreams of its elite to spread a vision of ‘Indian exceptionalism’ on which Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s fundamental beliefs are based.
There are naturally expectations of economic gains to be had out of this process. Questions have been raised already though whether a South Korea would actually commit resources in the country or is Malaysia or Indonesia capable of investing in India.
Similarly, will the moneyed diaspora – living in the developed parts of the world - walk the talk? In real terms that would mean they investing their wealth in the country – even a Manmohan Singh desired and expected. Barring a Lakshmi Mittal or an Anil Agarwal, non-resident Indians did not go beyond adding to the foreign exchange reserve of the country through their remittances.
That could change if Modi adulation can be turned into a ‘patriotic’ fervour that leads to NRI investments for a ‘Make in India’ concept. An approximation of this nature about the high-pitched enthusiasm, can be made from the strategy of hard-line about China and Pakistan – while it must be said that the contentious Line of Actual Control and the Line of Control are a valid issue for Indian angst – is calibrated to trigger these emotions.
This is indeed a ‘realist’ world view; <g data-gr-id="109">tied</g> to address the domestic political constituencies too. The Indo-US Delhi Declaration of Friendship could be seen as pious assertions in the lines of Panchsheel formulation of Sino-Indian origin. While the high idealism of these documents are based on notions of friendship that get really tested on the anvil of hard realities, by what can be called conflicts of ‘national interests.’
Elite-defined national interest, which has been pushing the country towards supposed shared values of ‘liberal democracy’ with the USA – to the extent that even a party like the CPI (M) sought to blame its electoral debacles on the supposed abandonment of the UPA I on the basis of its Prakash Karat party line of ‘anti-imperialism’ (shorthand for American geopolitical behaviour) – is becoming a phenomenon.
The author is a senior journalist