Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar’s capital city, had a brush with history when prime minister Narendra Modi told world leaders at the Asean Summit that his government accords high priority to turn India’s erstwhile Look East policy to an Act East policy. The look east policy was introduced by the Congress government of PV Narasimha Rao in the early 1990s to bolster the growing influence of the People’s Republic of China. It was the culmination of a long needed change in political circles and efforts were put in place to cultivate long term economic and strategic relations with the South East Asian nations.
The need was to portray India as a regional power especially after the Indian economy had been opened with the incoming of the New Economic Policy. Narendra Modi’s approach towards bilateral nations has been a shift away from the mainstream. He began his foreign engagements with a country as miniscule as Bhutan. It must be noted that the Himalayan nation is an all weather ally partially also because India remains influential over its foreign policy, defence and commerce. Next came in Nepal and the PM ensured that his visit be treated as remarkable.
With a grant of $1 billion for various development purposes and by insisting that Indian immigrants in Nepal are not a threat to its sovereignty, Modi offered a handshake deal whereby the possibility of an open border being treated more as a bridge than a barrier signalled that India wanted to move ahead from acrimony towards a strategic relationship. Japan came in third and with an investment deal worth $35 billion, the Indian PM clearly made his intentions of strategic relations with the former imperialist power known.
As he returned, the Australian PM Tony Abbott was hosted by New Delhi. All this happened within the first 100 days of the new government. What is significant here is the fact that Modi gave his regional neighbours more significance than the western powers especially the United States. He even gave China a miss initially but duly called on the Chinese president Xi Jinping at home. In the present scheme of things, Modi again is on an eastern sojourn. If Myanmar was the first stop, Australia became the second. By being the first Indian PM to visit the continent nation in 28 years, Mr Modi was accorded the best of Australian hospitality. With the G-20 summit scheduled in Brisbane, the Indian PM sure knows that he has a task cut-out for him. Australia in a landmark agreement earlier this year resolved to solve India’s nuclear energy woes by agreeing to supply Uranium. With the final stop at Fiji, a nation with a sizeable Indian immigrant population, Mr Modi has further ensured that his focus is not just the big nations but smaller ones like Fiji too.
While India has enjoyed good bilateral ties with nations like Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand among others, the two former prime minister’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh did their cursory best to engage with the eastern axis nations. If one is to really talk about a paradigm shift in these relations, credit must be given to the present Indian PM Narendra Modi who commended the initiatives taken by the Asean Summit of nations in disaster preparedness and response. In what can be touted as an optimistic approach, Modi also said that no other forum brings together such a large collective weight of global population, youth, economy and military strength. He further emphasised on how the Summit has taken truly admirable steps towards ensuring peace stability and prosperity in Asia-Pacific and the world.