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


Prime Minister Narendra Modi constantly combines India’s foreign policy with domestic interests. He implemented policies such as ‘Act East Asia’, ‘Neighbourhood First’ and added ‘Act Far East’ and ‘Act West Asia’ policies to give prominence to India’s domestic needs. He also established strong relations with the countries of the Middle East which had complex ties with India  and made these nations friendly. Modi’s policies to attract foreign direct investment, Made in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (“Self-sufficient India”) have contributed to India’s global affirmation, along with India’s independent interests in world markets.

Modi’s government has excelled in implementing a strong foreign policy, forcing even bitter enemies like former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to acknowledge its merits. From avoiding a “non-aligned” stance and striving for strategic autonomy, through asserting Indian identity in global forums to showing zero tolerance towards terrorism, India’s foreign policy has gone through a significant transformation under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi. Modi’s foreign policy doctrine was initially implemented by the famous diplomat Sushma Swaraj, and from 2019, the capable diplomat Subrahmanyam Jaishankar took over the baton. Modi’s doctrine is aimed at improving relations with neighboring countries, stronger engagement across Asia and good relations with major powers.

While India has traditionally been “non-aligned” in its foreign policy approach, after Prime Minister Modi came to power in 2014, New Delhi has shown more assertiveness in its international appearances, especially in its role as an emerging superpower and commitment to the ideals of a multipolar global order. Modi opened the way for strong ties with great and middle powers as well as small countries. India stopped being just an observer and actively participated in the strengthening of global alliances, which enhanced its role and created the image of a country that is ready to be a force on the international stage.

Nothing illustrates the shift in India’s foreign policy after 2014 like a recent image from Tokyo that sent the internet into a frenzy. Earlier, India was seen as a disinterested regional power let down by its corrupt governance model, but today the world admires India’s potential. In the viral image, Prime Minister Modi was seen leading a group of global leaders, including US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and an entourage of diplomats, underscoring his country’s growing influence and reputation in the world. 

In line with the ‘Act East Asia’ and ‘Neighbourhood First’ policies, the Modi government has made it clear from the outset that India will focus more on improving relations with ASEAN, SAARC and other East and South Asian countries. India is finally leading a proactive policy towards the countries of Southeast Asia. India’s strategy is aimed at creating close ties, increasing strategic and security cooperation and emphasizing historical, cultural and ideological ties with countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia. India sought to create and expand regional markets for trade, investment and industrial development. Also, strategic and military cooperation has begun with nations that are concerned about China’s expanding economic and strategic influence, such as Vietnam and Japan. Special relations with Bhutan were a constant even earlier, and during the time of Modi, the relations were further strengthened. Thanks to the lively prime minister, the South Asian (SAARC) satellite was built and launched in 2017 – a geostationary, communications and meteorological satellite operated by the Indian Space Research Organization. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka are the beneficiaries of the multidimensional content it provides.

 In the policy towards the Middle East or West Asia (as the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially calls it), significant developments have been achieved. The Middle East occupies a vital role in the Indian economy as it supplies nearly two-thirds of India’s total oil imports. Trade has increased greatly in recent years, particularly with the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states. Over the years, millions of Indians, mostly labourers, have migrated to the Gulf countries in search of work and their incomes account for a substantial share of India’s foreign exchange earnings. The Middle East is important to India’s security and that is why the Modi government has proactively engaged in the fight against ISIL and similar Islamist terrorist organizations. In relation to Israel and Palestine, Modi always followed the principle of friendly relations with both countries and called for peace and cessation of the use of force whenever armed conflicts occurred. 

One of the backbones of Modi’s doctrine is zero tolerance towards terrorism coming from neighboring countries, especially Pakistan. The Indian government has repeatedly sent a clear message to Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the two power centers of the dysfunctional country, that India will not be as lenient towards terrorism as it was before. Modi authorized a daring surgical strike on the launch pads that carried out the Uri terror attack in 2016. Days after the terror attack, the Indian armed forces launched a counter-operation, captured Kashmir inside Pakistan and destroyed terrorist launch pads, signaling a fundamental shift in its counter-terrorism policy. 

Before the attacks along India’s western borders, the Indian armed forces had carried out similar surgical strikes to eliminate terrorists hiding in the dense forests of Myanmar. Years later, in 2019, the Modi government authorized an unprecedented airstrike in Balakot, deep in Pakistan, to destroy a terrorist camp run by Jaish-e-Muhammad in response to the Pulwama terror attack. Modi’s government went a step further and repealed the disputed Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which granted Jammu and Kashmir a separate status, thus achieving greater integration of the state. Pakistan raised an uproar over the move, but the Modi government remained steadfast in its stance that Jammu and Kashmir was India’s internal matter. As a result, incidents of stone pelting and terrorist attacks have drastically reduced after the abrogation of Article 370. More importantly, by scrapping that article, India has not only changed the terms of its further talks with Pakistan, but also signaled to the world that it is resolute in its commitment to return the stolen parts of Kashmir. 

India has preserved its territorial integrity despite growing Chinese aggression. In June 2017, Indian armed forces and Chinese troops were engaged in a standoff over China’s construction of a road in Doklam near the tri-border area (Bhutan). India has opposed the Chinese construction, expressing concern over its proximity to the border. As part of Operation Juniper, India deployed 270 troops armed with weapons and two bulldozers crossed the Sikkim border in Doklam to stop Chinese troops from building a road. After weeks of negotiations and diplomatic maneuvers, on August 28, 2017, India and China announced that they had withdrawn all their troops from the Doklam standoff. China’s abandonment of the Doklam road construction marked perhaps one of India’s most spectacular diplomatic victories in decades, as Modi stood up to China’s expansionist plans. 

In 2020, Indian troops in eastern Ladakh engaged in a months-long skirmish with the Chinese army along points of contention in eastern Ladakh. The confrontation was the result of Chinese aggression in the region and a unilateral attempt to change the status quo on the border. While the Indian government has acknowledged the casualties and paid tribute to its soldiers, China has been hiding its casualties from the conflict since the beginning. Western media claim that 35-40 Chinese soldiers died in clashes with their Indian counterparts. Since then, a tense standoff between the two countries’ armies along the border in eastern Ladakh has defined India’s foreign policy toward China. New Delhi has made it clear to Beijing that it values ​​its territorial integrity and will not refrain from using military means to counter Chinese aggression along the border regions.

In relation to the USA, Modi invested a lot of effort in building personal relations with Barack Obama, Donald Trump and later with Joe Biden. Relations with Obama were particularly cordial and extremely close, so the media used the English term “bromance” for the relationship between the two statesmen. The softening of anti-Americanism within the BJP and the Trump administration’s disregard for human rights issues have paved the way for even closer ties. The main reason for the improvement in India-US ties was a shared concern over Beijing’s increasingly assertive behavior in the region. India-US cooperation has resulted in greater trade exchange ($119 billion in 2021) and investments, greater cooperation in the field of security, technology, medicine, greater engagement of India in the UN, APEC, IMF, World Bank. In 2016, India was named America’s top defense partner in the region. The only serious threat to US-Indian cooperation occurred in 2018, when India decided to buy the Russian S-400 missile system, which is against US sanctions against Russia. The Americans threatened the Indians with sanctions because of this as well as because they continued to buy oil from Iran, but still the sanctions were not imposed. Military cooperation with Russia and energy cooperation with Iran are the things that most hinder the even stronger development of Indian-American ties. 

Modi continued to maintain good relations with Russia, which had become particularly important during the Cold War. The relationship with Putin strengthened when he declared at the BRICS summit in Brazil in 2014 that “even a child in India considers Russia his best friend.” Strategic partnership is most important developed in the fields of military industry and energy policy. In recent times, India has been quiet about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, putting its own interest above the desire to condemn the Russian attack. India’s strategic ambiguity on the Russo-Ukraine war has ensured that it avoids conflict with Russia, one of its oldest defense partners. India’s main weapons are overwhelmingly – about 85% – of Russian origin. Despite Western sanctions against Russia, India has bought twice as much crude oil from Russia since it invaded Ukraine as it did in 2021 as New Delhi bought Russian oil at a discount. With inflationary pressures looming and fuel prices at record highs, it was a wise move by the Modi government to ignore Western dictates and buy Russian oil available at discounted prices. By refusing to toe the Western line in the Ukraine crisis and accept neutrality, India has shown that its foreign policy is rooted in the country’s own self-interest, not adherence to Western standards.

At a time when the world was struggling with the coronavirus, India used its strength in vaccine production, developing its own vaccine in record time. As part of its foreign diplomacy and commitment to humanity, India has exported 65 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to more than 100 countries around the world, earning it the nickname “the world’s pharmacy”. India is aggressively facing the challenges brought about by climate change. On November 2, 2021, Prime Minister Modi pledged to reduce the country’s harmful carbon emissions to zero by 2070, an ambitious goal for a developing country where fossil fuels are still the primary source of energy. However, Modi insists on harnessing renewable energy sources. 

The most visible indicator of Modi’s unique policy are numerous foreign trips and frequent receptions of foreign statesmen in India. By the end of his first year in office, Modi had traveled to 18 countries, a record for an Indian prime minister. As of July 2022, he has made 64 foreign trips, visiting 63 countries, including visits to the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly. He presented himself as a mobile Prime Minister who prefers frequent meetings with other statesmen and foreign nationals which fits perfectly with the Samvaad concept. The Indian prime minister often goes on quadruple and even quintuple trips such as his landmark visits to five countries in Asia, Europe and North America within 140 hours in June 2016. Modi feels at home in foreign countries due to his sense of entrepreneurship, fondness for travel and cosmopolitan spirit. He leaves the impression of an Indian nationalist but also of a globalized Indian. For foreign policy-loving Indians, he became a dream prime minister because he was persistent in his vision of a progressive India and the creation of the “Indian Century”. Strong support in the country and parliament gave him the opportunity to devote himself more strongly to foreign policy, and the recorded results are brilliant.

Modi often points out

that the 21st century will be India’s and that no one can stop India’s might because of its young population. This is a recipe for achieving superpower status in the long run. The Prime Minister wants to encourage optimism and faith that the golden age of India is yet to come, which are the elements that were missing from previous leaderships. Modi showed how decisive leadership and vision can bring about positive changes regarding the status of the country on the international stage as well as on the domestic level. Indians must have faith in themselves to achieve their desired dreams. During his famous speech at Madison Square Garden in 2014 in front of the assembled Indian diaspora, Modi responded to calls from political opponents about his humble origins and the fact that he was a tea seller as a child: “I am a small man and that is why I do big things for small people of India”. Modi makes great positive changes because he fights for the rights of his country, but also the rights of small countries within the international order. India could hardly have gotten a more prudent and dedicated prime minister who is restoring the international glory and position it certainly deserves.

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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