The Indian foreign policy under the new government is on a roller coaster ride and is proving successful and rewarding. On display is a diplomatic blitzkrieg by the Modi government with the neighbors, strategic partners, and other friendly countries who are willing to engage India.
The new government in New Delhi has every reason to celebrate several successes in the first four months in office, and the Indian public is rejoicing the new leadership by chanting ‘Na Mo’, short name for the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Likewise, the Indian foreign policy under the new government is on a roller coaster ride and is proving successful and rewarding. On display is a diplomatic blitzkrieg by the Modi government with the neighbors, strategic partners, and other friendly countries who are willing to engage India.
It all began with heads of states from five of the six South Asian neighbours and Mauritius who were present at the swearing-in ceremony clearly suggesting that the neighbourhood is of primary interest to India. The outcome of Modi’s bilateral meetings established a strong bonhomie and a political ‘chemistry’ with South Asian leaders. Pakistan appears to have disappointed the new government over a number of issues including raising the Kashmir issue in the United Nations General Assembly.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his debut in multilateral diplomacy with an engagement with the BRICS heads of states at Fortaleza. In fact, Modi set the agenda for India’s future diplomacy focused on multilateralism and practical approach to global issues such as reforms of the UN Security Council, international financial institutions, and the announcement of the BRICS Bank.
Modi-Abe chemistry was on display in all its finery in Tokyo and both leaders took upon themselves to take the bilateral relationship to new heights. Tokyo promised USD 33 billion in investments and announced its intention to expand the strategic partnership and intensify political dialogue and cooperation. The new element in Indo-Japan relations is the Japanese decision to expand the bilateral defense cooperation beyond classic maritime security to sale of civil-military hardware and the related technology. Further, India’s two decade old Look East policy centered on the ASEAN countries has now expanded to include Japan and Republic of Korea and rechristened as Act East.
Perhaps the most complex and challenging foreign policy engagement before the new government in New Delhi is China. Prime Minster Modi and President Xi Jinping met in New Delhi in the background of border tensions with both militaries standing their ground and accusing the other of intrusion along the un-demarcated boundary in the Himalayas. Yet, both leaders discussed contentious issues and agreed to address them keeping in mind mutual sensitivities and concerns, ensure peace and stability along the borders and develop harmonious relations.
The recent Modi-Obama meeting resulted in a host of bilateral engagements covering political, economic relations, technology and security. These can spawn new joint ventures between government and commercial enterprises. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the visit was the labeling of the relationship as ‘global partnership’ and turning the vision of the partnership into a lasting reality.
In recent years, the bilateral transactions between New Delhi and Washington generated some discordant notes in the bilateral relations between India and Russia. However, the two sides were quick to seek remedy which is evident from the current state of political and diplomatic exchanges. It will be fair to say that India and Russia enjoy a special relationship built on long years of mutual trust and critical support during difficult times. Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with President Putin at the BRICS Summit was noteworthy where he assured him that Russia remains top on India's foreign policy priorities.
Although the bilateral relationship is substantive, it has been businesslike and driven purely by national interests. There are little or no soft elements such as ‘natural partners’, ‘democracy’ and Diaspora, the three buzzwords in Modi’s articulations in the US which helped Modi connect with highly influential political personalities and captains of industry in America. This may not be the state of play in Russia where the Diaspora is limited and far spread.
In the 21st century, India exudes far greater confidence and is investing significant technological and fiscal capital to build a new India where the mantra is ‘Come, Make in India’ built around joint development projects, transfer of technology and even export to international customers. India is free to make its foreign policy choices and there is a strong belief in India that it would not like to be caught in a situation where it has placed ‘all the eggs in one basket’ and the forthcoming visit to Russia in 2015 would put to rest any apprehensions between the two partners.