One year of the NDA Government
ONE of the major contributions of the Bharatiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in the past one year has been dynamism it has injected to the foreign policy decision making apparatus to further domestic economic agenda and to provide India both the visibility and stature in the global geo-political landscape. The policy paralysis that plagued the Congress led United Progressive Alliance government can be attributed to the political compulsion of a coalition regime and also political dynamics within the Congress party.
Internationally, Prime Modi comes across as a leader who can take bold decisions and has the parliamentary majority to see it through. His mandate gives him the confidence to act and project India as a global player. While the previous government was wary to take bold decisions and adopted a degree of strategic ambiguity on global affairs, the NDA government clearly expresses its foreign policy goals and its security concerns without the fear of antagonising anyone. For example, during the recent visit to China, India very clearly put forward its stand on bilateral and regional issues and conveyed to Beijing that its activities in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and its Pakistan policy vitiate the bilateral relations between the two.
Four aspects of Modi's foreign policy can be gleaned from the array of international initiatives that India undertook in the last one year which are interlinked. First is the economic aspect of attracting foreign investment in sectors like infrastructure–building rail and road network, industrial corridor etc., which would boost India's growth. He emphasised the need for a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, proposed to set up a mechanism to help investment by German companies in India, the emphasis on 'make in India' during his visit to France which focuses on manufacturing in India. His visit to China, South Korea and Japan earlier also caught headlines given their commitment to invest in the infrastructure sector. Earlier, its Act East policy was highlighted as PM Modi stressed on the need to sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement during the East Asia summit to bolster trade and investment and re-energise India's economic ties with South East Asia.
Second, under the Modi government New Delhi is keen to play an active role in global governance structures. India would continue to emphasise on the need to reform the Security Council and would seek a robust role in it. It would continue to play a critical role in the climate change negotiation, WTO effort on trade facilitation agreement, etc. While aspiring for a role as a permanent member of the Security Council and a role in the international financial organisations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, India did not hesitate to join the China led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) initiated by China. It is poised for a robust role in Asia by seeking greater engagement with the United States and Australia and shape the evolving geo-strategic architecture in the region.
Third, its global role is enmeshed with evolving Asian geopolitics and the power game such geopolitics would entail. In the past one year, India has strengthened its relations with South East Asian countries to further its economic and strategic interests. It has defence and security cooperation with South Korea, Japan and Vietnam. India has bolstered its security through major defence purchases and also decided to jointly produce them under the 'make in India' initiative. This was evident in the Rafale deal with France. While NDA government has laid emphasis on resolving the border dispute with China diplomatically, it has taken steps to strengthen defence and build border infrastructure. It has pursued multilateral diplomacy to secure sea lane of communication to ensure that in the emerging Asian balance of power its geo-strategic interests do not get undermined. Therefore, New Delhi would continue to emphasise on freedom of navigation in South China Sea and seek to strengthen its relations with Indian Ocean countries to protect its interest in the face of an increasing presence of China which is trying to build ports and other maritime facilities in the Indian Ocean littorals. In the past one year, India was a major destination for the world leaders which included President Obama, President Xi Xinping and President Putin.
Fourth, PM Modi has laid much emphasis on India's relations with its South Asian neighbours which is reflected when he invited SAARC heads of state for his swearing in ceremony which was followed by visits to Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. He is scheduled to visit Bangladesh next month. Though he skipped Maldives during his tour to the Indian Ocean countries, he has now received an invitation from Maldives to visit that country. "Neighbour first" policy has been augmented through proactive diplomacy sans reciprocity and improving trade and connectivity. Already Foreign Secretary undertook SAARC yatra which emphasises the focus on the immediate neighbourhood. India would pursue sub-regionalism vigorously outside SAARC framework given the regional dynamics. Several measures – bilateral and sub-regional – to connect India's North East with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh are underway.
The invitation to PM Nawaz Sharif along with other leaders from the region was surely a master stroke; it appears that India's Pakistan policy remains unclear. While India reacted strongly to the border firing beheading and border killings and cancelled the scheduled foreign secretary level talks after the Kashmiri separatists met the Pakistan High commissioner in New Delhi on the eve of the Foreign Secretary's meet, it was not clear why New Delhi decided to send its foreign secretary under the veil of SAARC yatra to "find common ground" and "narrow difference" with Islamabad. It is unlikely that India's relations with Pakistan will undergo fundamental change given the bilateral dynamics. Yet, efforts would be made to break ice and find new grounds for engagement. In spite of various challenges that India faces in terms of terror challenge, political instability, weak democratic regimes in the region, "neighbour first" policy would prevail. Putting neighbouring countries as a foreign policy priority remains one of the major achievements of this government which distinguishes Modi led NDA government from the previous Congress led UPA Government.
The writer is Research Fellow, IDSA.