By Dr Subhash Kapila
India’s foreign policy hit a new and welcome high in mid-2014 with assumption of power by Prime Minister Modi. India’s foreign policy directions stood jump-started and assumed dynamic directions after the paralysis of a decade.
Significantly and unprecedentedly, India with the assumption of political leadership by Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly surged in the global strategic consciousness. Within six months India would have hosted global leaders from Russia, China and the United States besides the Prime Minister’s highly successful and strategically substantial visits to Japan and Australia.
Such recognition of India was generated by the global leadership’s assessment that India under Prime Minister Modi’s personal leadership would henceforth be expected to be more dynamic and decisive in the pursuance of both its foreign policies and economic policies.
Foreign policy assessments of a country’s potential by global powers essentially rest on two factors. Political leadership of a country and its capacity for dynamic and decisive pursuance of policies is the most crucial factor. The second factor is the magnitude of domestic political support that a country vests in its political leader along with the attendant faith that a nation puts in a leader that he is capable of leading them to a bright future.
On both counts above Prime Minister Narendra Modi scored high even before he assumed the office of Prime Minister. International recognition of India therefore was not long on coming and on Modi’s credentials it was ready to invest in India’s future.
India already had Strategic Partnerships with Russia, United States, China and Japan. But their pursuance was devoid of momentum in the past decade. These countries also were therefore content to go along in a notional manner based on the prevailing reality that a policy paralysis existed in New Delhi. This combined with a marked fall in economic growth led to a somewhat disinterest amongst the major powers to pay the due attention to India, discerning that the present trajectory was not inspiring.
Reviewing Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy initiatives in the last six months, the main strands that emerge revolve around three major objectives, namely, (1) Raise India’s Strategic Partnerships with major powers to a substantially higher level and thereby enlist them to facilitate India’s rise to a key global player besides reinforcing India’s recognition as a regional power of substance.(2) Reorder India’s South Asian neighbourhood as a contributory factor to India’s recognition as a regional power. (3) A two-pronged economic thrust whereby major powers are induced to bring-in increased in-flows of FDI into India and at the same time encouraging India’s neighbours to plug-in into the Indian economic growth both for security and economic benefits.
Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy thrusts in the second half of 2014 have ensured that the United States, Russia, Japan China and Australia have re-modulated their foreign policy priorities on India. In the last six months FDI in-flows to India from major powers stand increased and India now figures significantly in their strategic calculi. There is a new dynamism visible at both ends.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first priority was a political outreach to India’s immediate neighbourhood in South Asia by inviting SAARC countries leaders to his oath-taking ceremony. It was an unprecedented move by an Indian Prime Minister and the fact that all leaders in the region including Pakistan responded positively was a manifestation of the fact that India now mattered and its stature stood counted in the region.
The momentum stood maintained by Prime Minister Modi’s visits to Bhutan and Nepal and the Foreign Minister’s visit to Bangladesh.
This was a good foreign policy move as it sought to dispel the misrepresentation that was gaining ground under the earlier political dispensation that India was unable to re-order her South Asian neighbourhood to qualify as a regional power.
That Prime Minister Modi would not shirk from a more muscular foreign policy became soon evident when Pakistan Army without any provocation started incessant and heavy firing on Indian posts along the International Border in the Jammu Sector and elsewhere along the LOC. The orders this time were to retaliate with disproportionate force to quell the Pakistan Army firings. This was a welcome development after years of timid appeasement policies towards Pakistan in the preceding ten years.
At 2014-end what is emerging is that in the SAARC region India’s relationships have appreciably improved with the exception of Pakistan. If Prime Minister Modi is able to sustain this momentum then in course of time Pakistan would not be able to stand alone and fall in line with the emerging reality that nuclear weapons notwithstanding Pakistan has to recognise India as the pre-eminent power in the region and modulate its India-policy accordingly.
Economically, at end-2014 and within six months of Prime Minister Modi assuming power the economic growth under the new political dispensation is picking up and global forecasts on Indian economic growth are flattering and inspiring. This potential itself is a strong contributory factor in the revised perceptions on India of the global powers and their revised foreign policy inclinations towards India.
In terms of success of India’s foreign policy the acid test would be whether India can succeed in impelling India’s major military adversaries, namely China and Pakistan to change their India-strategies from one of military confrontation to that of peaceful co-existence. China’s revised attitudes were slightly visible within three months of Prime Minister Modi arriving in New Delhi, China did attempt a political reach-out to Modi and India even if it is read as pre-empting Modi from political outreaches to United States and Japan.
If the Chinese trend continues then it is likely that Pakistan would also be induced to change its adversarial attitudes towards India. We can expect that Prime Minister Modi encourages China to persist in its current trend with appropriate strategies.
India under Prime Minister Modi has been substantially successful in enlarging its strategic imprint in the wider Indo Pacific as opposed to Asia Pacific with the Defence and Security Cooperation Agreement with Australia.
Prime Minister Modi has thereby signalled to the international community that India is now ready to play a greater role in ensuring peace and stability in Asia and the Indian Ocean region.
Concluding, what needs to be observed is that while India’s foreign policy has hit a new high under Prime Minister Modi, concomitantly, Prime Minister Modi with his drive and determination ensures that the momentum and recognition that now stands endowed on India by his current foreign policy thrusts is maintained relentlessly.
(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at [email protected])