Friday, January 27th, 2023 09:44:03

India’s foreign policy under Narendra Modi

By Ravi Mishra
Updated: July 30, 2020 3:11 pm

Recently Congress leader  Rahul Gandhi while speaking on China criticised the Narendra Modi government over Foreign policy through a video on Twitter. Rahul Gandhi said that our relationship with the outside world used to be with multiple countries. We had a relationship with America, strategic partnership with America and that is very important. We had a relationship with Russia, Europe. And these countries used to help us manoeuvre in the world.”

“Today, our relations have become transactional. We have a transactional relationship with the United States, we have disturbed our relationship with the Russians, we have a transactional relationship with Europe,” he added.

Countering this Comment made by Rahul Gandhi, External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar through Twitter countered Gandhi saying, “our major partnerships are stronger & international standing higher. Witness regular summits & informal meetings with the US, Russia,  Europe & Japan. India engages China on more equal terms politically. Ask the analysts.”

“We speak our mind more openly now. On CPEC, on BRI, on South China Sea, on UN-sanctioned terrorists, etc. Ask the media. And address the border infrastructure imbalance legacy. Compare 2014-20 with 2008-14. Budget up by 280%, road building by 32%, bridges by 99% and tunnels by 6 times. Ask our Jawans. The Hambantota Port agreement between Sri Lanka and China was concluded in 2008. Ask those who dealt with it,” EAM Dr. Jaishankar added.

“Difficult ties with Maldives, after India watched President Nasheed being toppled in 2012, now stand transformed. Ask our businesses. A settled land boundary (2015) with Bangladesh; opens path to more development and transit. And terrorists no longer find safe haven there. Ask our security, ” he added.

“Nepal after 17 years is getting Prime Ministerial visits. And a swathe of developmental projects: power, fuel, housing, hospital, roads, etc. Ask their citizens. Bhutan finds a stronger security and development partner. And unlike 2013, they don’t worry about their cooking gas. Ask their households. Afghanistan sees completed projects (Salma Dam, Parliament), expanded training and serious connectivity. Ask the Afghan street,” EAM Dr. S Jaishankar further added.

“And Pakistan (that you skipped) surely notes the difference between Balakot & Uri on the one hand, and Sharm-el-Sheikh, Havana & 26/11 on the other. Ask yourself,” said Dr. Jaishankar while countering Rahul Gandhi’s accusation.

Now coming to the point, the reality of today’s world is that the era of the military might is almost over and it is the era of economic supremacy. Here, it does not mean that one should not focus on the military. Military will always remain the most important necessity for any country, but surely it is not as decisive as it used to be. The best example we have is China. China has not fought any major war and its military is the most inexperienced force in the world, yet it has become a threat for the world. Why? it is only because it is occupying the world economy (mostly illegal ways). On the other hand it is also modernising its forces. But, the important factor is that even the most sophisticated military modernisation needs a strong economy. Therefore, it is clear that this is the era of economic supremacy.

In 2014, When PM Narendra Modi got a huge mandate, he invited SAARC leaders in his oath-taking ceremony. Again in 2019, when he came to power, BIMSTEC leaders were invited in his oath-taking ceremony. So, foreign and neighbourhood policy have been among the first priorities of PM Modi. In 2014, in his first visit to the US, PM Modi addressed Indian community at Madison Square Garden and urged people to invest in India saying it is the land of immense opportunities. Not only in the US, he addressed the Indian diaspora and business community wherever he went. along with that, In 2018, on the occasion of Republic Day, ASEAN leaders were the chief guests. Therefore, it cannot be gainsaid that from east to west, foreign policy has been among the first priorities of the Modi government to bring India on the global stage as a decisive force.

Having said that, as it is the era of economic supremacy, trade and investment have greater influence over strategic relations. This is the reason why we are witnessing India-US relations on its highest level as for the US, India is the land of opportunity and a fresh market where demand is high and it is also strategically important to counter Chinese monopoly over the market. On the other hand, for India, the US is important for investment. The US is not only India’s biggest trading partner with USD 87.95 billion, But, India has a trade surplus of USD 16.85 billion with the US and this is not in case with China which was India’s biggest trading partner till recently. And India’s trade deficit with China is also estimated to be USD 48.7 billion. Due to growing ties with the US, it is selling its sophisticated weapons to India. Therefore, it categorically points out why PM Narendra Modi is focusing so much on the US.

As Rahul Gandhi said that India has destroyed its relations with Russia, in this context, it is important to look at the data. Despite growing ties with the US, Russia is still a major defence partner of India. And how India went against the US to buy the S-400 missile system from Russia, shows the importance of Russia for India.  And most importantly, Russia is also supplying the most required ammunitions and weapons amid ongoing border dispute with China. Here it is worth mentioning that China is the bigger trading partner of Russia than India.

According to the data both India and Russia are working to increase bilateral investment to US $ 50 billion and bilateral trade to US $ 30 billion by 2025. From 2013, the total trade between the two countries was on a downward trajectory till 2016, and witnessed a positive increase in 2017, wherein the trade grew by 21.6%. The year 2018 continued to witness the positive trend in growth, with an increase in 17.25% over the previous year and reached a figure of USD 10.969 billion. In 2019, total bilateral trade between the two countries from January-September, 2019 stood at USD 7.55 billion.

As per the data available, Russian investment in India in 2017 reached USD 18 billion and India’s total investment in Russia reached USD 13 billion. According to the data, the Indian investments in Russia, (bulk of which is in hydrocarbons sector) was about US $ 8 billion for the period 2000-2014, while the cumulative Russian investments in India over the same period were about US $ 4 billion, mainly in automotive (KAMAZ) and telecommunications (AFK Sistema) sectors. Therefore, it is very much evident that along with defence relation, both countries are also focusing so much on trade and Investment.

Now coming to Southeast Asia, due to the ongoing dispute with China on Line of Actual control (LAC), Southeast Asia becomes more important. It is a fact that the Narendra Modi govt since the beginning had given much more priorities to Southeast Asia.

Speaking exclusively on India’s Southeast Asia policy, Hemant Adlakha, Professor of Chinese and South East Asian Studies, JNU said that 70 years of India’s relationship with Southeast Asia is best summed up, and can perhaps be best understood from landmark Asian Relations Conference in 1947 to Narasimha Rao’s ‘Look East’ Policy in the early 1990s to PM Modi’s current ‘Act East’ approach.

“It is indeed true the seven decades have been largely dominated by the Cold War and as far as India was concerned remained in a state of cold storage. However, in the remaining three decades following the end of the Cold War, it is of import to first make an  assessment of the trajectory of the India-Southeast Asia ties before one gets the idea of the direction in which the headwind is blowing. Such assessment may be done on the basis of the following two criterion: first, with China’s overarching economic dominance in the region and its closer geographic, geopolitical proximity to the countries in the region, the Southeast Asia in its entirety and not just the ASEAN, looks up to India as a counterweight to China both in its political symbolism as well as economic necessity on the one hand, and on the other hand if India views a greater sense of priority and speed in balancing relationship with ASEAN or India’s ‘Act East’ policy is different from the previous ‘Look East’ policy in both its strategic essence and in cultural substance, and at the same time aims at much more nuanced engagement with the ‘eastern neighborhood’ as a whole; second, more recently, due to fast changing geopolitics in the Indo Pacific region, compounded with the balance of power ongoing contestation in the South China Sea (SCS), as reflected in the statement of Mike Pompeo recently, ie, India is America’s strategic partner, India’s relationship with the Southeast Asia in general and ASEAN in particular will be determined by New Delhi choosing to take side with ASEAN and oppose Beijing,” said Prof Hemant Adlakha.

“On the SCS, against the backdrop of India’s hostile relations with China, it will be prudent  for India to betray its past position, and in the face of mounting anti Beijing domestic pressure, display courage and conviction by first supporting the international arbitration award on the SCS and stand on the side of the Philippines or ASEAN, whichever the case may be, keeping in mind the view that just last month the ASEAN Chairperson issued a statement expressing full faith and trust in UNCOLAS. Will India explicitly reject China’s unilateral claims on the SCS Islands, and push back Beijing’s aggressive posturing on ‘nine dash line’,” he further added.

India’s relation with West Asia has also improved under PM Narendra Modi’s government.  Speaking exclusively on India’s foreign policy towards West Asia, Dr. WAIEL AWWAD, Senior International journalist and political analyst, said that India and the Arab world are natural allies and bonds are so strong that is difficult to break and India is  a trusted  ally by most of the capitals of West Asia and North African Arab nations. The significance  of the Geostrategic and Geo-economics of the region made India a major player in the Arab welfare. No doubt that India contributed to the welfare of the prosperous Arab countries mainly in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) where there is a large number of Indian Expats in many fields for decades and hence stability in the region is of a prime importance for India.

“However India Act West Asia policy post Gulf war 2 and toward the end of Bi polar world have witnessed a dramatic changes and more of economic engagement and less of political involvement .The emergence of extremism and terrorism post USA – UK invasion of Iraq and Arab Spring has given a jittery to the current government to tackle the menace of terrorism and insure stability in the Persian gulf for the Energy Security,” Dr.  AWWAD added.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, inter-fighting among Arab countries and rising tension between the US and Iran are good advantages for India as an emerging soft power. It should be more than a diplomatic gesture by India to strengthen its ties and assist the region to fight the Pandemic .The security vacuum created by US withdrawal of warships makes India a natural candidate as a stabilizing force in the region. Other challenges will be to deal with the reduction of the working force in GCC as a part of demographic balance started by Kuwait and should be dealt swiftly and gives more opportunities to skilled workers and professionals with post pandemic recovery,” Dr.  AWWAD added.

The fact of the matter is that India’s foreign policy at the present juncture under Narendra Modi government is at its highest level and India’s election as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for a two-year, winning 184 votes in the 193-member General Assembly demonstrates this fact.


By Ravi Mishra

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