Mastermind From Gujarat: How Narendra Modi Restored India’s Reputation, Power And Emerging Superpower Status (Part I) – OpEd


The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as we know it today: trademark of India with rock star status who enjoys a huge reputation, represents India’s pride and self-confidence, is not an instant politician arose after a convincing victory in the general elections of 2014. Modi is a colorful person who before coming to power built his status as a capable and experienced politician for three decades. He gradually trained in public administration and diplomacy, and in the process he managed to develop a distinctive personal style and philosophy that made him a star and a person who is adored by the majority and hated by the minority. In just over eight years of rule, Modi managed to revive India in foreign policy matters (the Modi doctrine) and restore India its prestige, power and emerging superpower status which enjoyed under Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. 

He developed the qualities of a diplomat long before he became the federal prime minister and even before he became the regional prime minister of his native state of Gujarat. What is now called the Modi’s doctrine began to take shape in the youth and strengthened in the middle years of its founder. He traveled a lot, studied and matured in politics when he was young and unknown to eventually become a promising regional leader of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Narendra Modi was born on September 17, 1950 in Vadnagar, a small town in northeastern Gujarat. He grew up there and completed his high school education. At the age of eight, he joined the Hindu nationalist and right-wing organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He drew attention to himself as a child as he had to work at his father’s tea stall on the platform of Vadnagar railway station. At the age of 18, Modi married Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi, whom he abandoned along with the family home soon after. He publicly acknowledged the marriage only four decades later when running for elections because it is a legal obligation. He traveled through northern India for two years after leaving his parental home, visiting numerous religious centers. 

After returning to Gujarat in 1971, he became a permanent official of the RSS. At the age of 28, in 1978 he was appointed Vibhaag Prachaarak (regional organizer in charge of six districts in Gurajat state) in the RSS. The RSS leadership recognized Modi’s qualities that set him apart from other members of the organization: excellent oratorical skills, ability to mobilize large masses, create personal friendships, plan and execute tasks. He helped make RSS recognizable as a provider of social assistance to those most in need.

By the beginning of the 1980s, he became the vice-president of the RSS and continued to show the talent that set him apart from his surroundings. In 1987, the national leader of the RSS appointed Modi as an envoy to the BPJ to direct the political work of the nationalist Hindu party. Thanks to his workaholic character and ability to reach out to the masses, Modi rose to the top of the party. He was able to gather supporters, spread Hindu nationalist ideology and establish numerous branches and sub-branches of RSS and BJP which advanced his political career. During the 1990s, Modi found his place in politics as a prachaarak and promoter of the Sangh Parivaar (broader Hindu organization) and went on numerous trips abroad and acquired the knowledge to forge his geopolitical doctrine. As a close associate of India’s BJP Prime Minister, Atal Vajpayee, he was sent to travel as an envoy to countries such as Australia and Malaysia to conduct diplomatic affairs. Thus, when visiting the USA, he would always think about India and wonder why what he sees in America, such as the Statue of Liberty, roads, railways, communal infrastructure, could not be done in India? He was interested in what India could learn from American and other foreign experiences. 

International assignments during that period further strengthened his views on the world and foreign policy. Modi himself stated, “I was fortunate to be able to visit more than 40 countries and because of that I successfully came into contact with diplomacy. I understood in which direction the world was going, what things were happening and where my country was located in all of this. I had to think: Why is my country the way it is? Why do others make progress? It doesn’t even rain in Israel, yet it thrives. Why are we not progressing?” Modi was appointed as the regional prime minister of Gujarat in 2001 due to the failing health of the then prime minister Keshubhai Patel and his poor public image after the Bhuj earthquake. After becoming regional prime minister, it is a position he will hold until 2014 when he becomes national prime minister. He still kept the habit of traveling abroad. His approach to international travel is unique because he doesn’t just stick to socializing and talking with elites, but likes to interact with ordinary people. Interaction, intimacy, making friends is characteristic of Modi’s international approach.

In the times before Modi came to power in 2014 (especially during Manmohan Singh’s tenure), there was no clear plan whether India should aim more towards the US in international relations or join forces with China (and to some extent Russia) to create a counterbalance to American dominance. In those times, a vague Nonalignment 2.0 was proclaimed, which was not consistently implemented in practice. India wandered and was largely uninterested in foreign policy, as all independent observers admitted. India acted as if it didn’t care about foreign policy or its position in the world and was a power whose influence was mostly felt only in its immediate neighborhood. 

It was only with Modi at the Prime Minister’s residence at Lok Kalyan Marg 7 that India formulated its foreign policy strategy, popularly called the Modi’s Doctrine. According to this doctrine, India wants to create a multipolar world in which New Delhi would represent an independent pole, and not just be one of the important actors that will gravitate more towards the US or China depending on the need. Such a foreign policy strategy relies directly on the Mumbai Consensus, i.e. an economic development policy that differs from the Washington and Beijing Consensus. Namely, the Mumbai Consensus gives priority to the domestic market in relation to exports and service activities in relation to factory activities. 

In Modi’s doctrine, the goal is to achieve and maintain a high GDP growth rate, fight terrorism, preserve territorial integrity and strengthen India’s position in the world. Finally, India needs to become a superpower in the larger context of the global arena of nation states. Modi embarked on radical changes in foreign policy because he realized that this would benefit the most in the eyes of average Indians who want to immediately see the progress of their homeland, and with it the realization of a better standard of living. He decided to redefine India’s national interests so that they would be attractive to the international community. Concepts like the International Solar Alliance and India’s anti-terrorism strategy have won foreigners to support India’s progress. India’s foreign policy under Modi’s leadership is not only aimed at improving India’s economic condition but also at strengthening India’s soft and military power. As a developing country, India has regained the reputation and sympathy of the international public precisely because it supports the noble goals of creating a just international order in which a balance of great powers would be created, terrorism and poverty would be eradicated. Year after year, India is progressing more and more in all fields, which is not a coincidence but the result of a policy of continuity.

In his inaugural speech in 2014, Modi pledged to “actively engage with the global community to further promote world peace and development.” It was not a catchphrase because he made an effort to have all the leaders of India’s South Asian neighbors attend the inauguration, which he succeeded in (except for the Prime Minister of Bangladesh who was prevented) which is a huge diplomatic success. The imaginative prime minister did not let the bureaucracy hinder him in making creative changes, which is why in January 2015, one day after Barack Obama’s visit to India, he dismissed the leading diplomat Sujatha Singh. That rare act opened the door full of long-term reforms. The reason for the change was the insufficient involvement of economic diplomacy and the slow creation of stronger ties with Israel and Japan. Career diplomats were replaced so that people who were ready to implement the necessary reforms came to office. Modi possesses the qualities of a human resources manager in a company and seeks to promote capable and creative diplomats. Thus, for example, diplomat Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the former Indian ambassador to the Czech Republic, China and the USA, was promoted to the position of leading Indian diplomat because he managed to gain Obama’s second visit to India and improved Indo-American cooperation, which is a grandiose success. 

Modi introduced a personalized form of government in which his unique personality and the creation of personal relationships with other statesmen play a significant role, but he didn’t introduce a dictatorship. In India’s foreign policy in Asia, he introduced the “three C” strategy: connectivity, commercial ties and cultural bonds. In international relations, he proclaimed the “three D” strategy: democracy, demography and demand, which turned out to be an excellent marketing move and a trump card that serves to bring India closer to the status of a powerful power. Certain aspects of Modi’s doctrine, albeit modified, rely on the five pillars of his BJP’s foreign policy: Samaana (national pride and standing before the international community), Samvaad (intensive economic diplomacy in all corners of the world), the pursuit of Samriddhi (common economic prosperity and mutual economic exchange with other countries), Suraksa (national, regional and global security) and creation of Sanskriti evam Sbhyat (creation of cultural-civilizational ties with the rest of the world). Modi injected fresh energy into foreign policy and began to implement paradigmatic changes that produced results very quickly and most certainly made them irreversible.

Matija Šerić

Matija Šerić is a geopolitical analyst and journalist from Croatia and writes on foreign policy, history, economy, society, etc.

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