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Posted at: Dec 1, 2015, 12:27 AM; last updated: Nov 30, 2015, 10:46 PM (IST)

Sans vision, Modi’s foreign policy stumbles

Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not seem to have a broad vision about the foreign policy, which remains confined to seeking foreign investment, striking military alliances and addressing diaspora events. He has stayed away from tougher challenges such as holding talks with Pakistan
Sans vision, Modi’s foreign policy stumbles
Modi is yet to undertake a major foreign policy initiative of his own. REUTERS

For the first time in eighteen months after Modi became Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, universally respected for his reticence while speaking on public affairs, felt compelled to warn his successor for pursuing a “directionless economic policy”. He also castigated the Modi Government for abolishing the Planning Commission which “was a positive dynamic instrument of steering the country’s economy”. 

How can the country’s foreign policy under such circumstances pursue well defined national goals? Foreign policy is integrally linked with the model of national development. In the absence of any holistic framework of national goals, it gets reduced to the levels of `adhocism’. This paucity of broad thinking on foreign affairs has been revealed during the last eighteen months. Modi has in a very sophisticated way defined foreign policy goals for “attracting foreign investments” and “making strategic alliances” with powerful military global state systems. Every overseas visit of his has been devoted to inviting foreign investors by promising that they will find India a hospitable. In the latest issue of The Economist, he observed that his foreign policy was being “largely shaped by the changes that the country seeks”. His own vision, if he has any, is extremely limited to motivating foreign transnational corporations and monopoly capitalist classes to increase their pressure in a hospitable Indian market and collaborate with Indian big business. 

The best evidence of Modi’s primary goal in pursuit of foreign policy may be provided by his latest visit to the UK. He observed that the visit has achieved about $12 billion in “collaboration” between British and Indian Companies. While addressing the India-UK CEO Forum, he said he was “confidently, consistently and ceaselessly” working to integrate the Indian economy with the world. It is too much to expect Modi to understand the real implications of “integration of Indian economy with global capitalism”. A nation state that does not control the agenda of its economy and hands over its evolution to powerful foreign players cannot remain a “sovereign state”.  Modi does not understand the great crisis faced by European Union and the Euro and announced that the UK is India’s “gateway to Europe”. When he was making this statement in London, he was perhaps unaware that Cameroon’s Conservative Party was thinking of a referendum and re-working its own relationship with EU. At such a moment, Modi thinks that it will be beneficial to India to use U.K as a “gateway to Europe”.

Further, besides economic investments, nuclear energy cooperation and defence and strategic agreements with the US to the UK, Modi is pursuing his goal of persuading powerful countries to make “terrorism” the global agenda. Modi may end up complicating the Indian security situation and make the country more vulnerable to terrorist attacks especially by the deadly Islamic State by joining the Western World in their efforts to target the Islamic state groups. The global situation has become quite complicated after the Paris attacks because a “war of revenge” has been declared by militarily powerful western countries against the Islamic State group. Modi instead of foolishly joining any international effort against various “terrorist groups” like the IS, should focus foreign policy attention on negotiations with Pakistan where anti-India terrorist groups have their sanctuaries.It should be made very clear to Modi that US will not do anything to alienate Pakistan and its military establishment. There is enough evidence that the Americans cannot or do not wish to coerce the Pakistani state into curbing the activities of terrorist groups sheltering in its territory and fighting proxy battles against India. Every Prime Minister preceding Narendra Modi had always opened lines of negotiations and dialogue at various levels. Pakistani and Indian “interlocutors” were always in close touch to detect some openings for the restoration of “dialogue”. 

Modi should realise that the toughest challenge for any Indian Prime Minister is to arrive at some understanding with Pakistan so that bilateral normalcy can be achieved. Modi does not appreciate the fact that ‘diplomacy’ is a very important tool for the promotion of national, foreign and defence policy interests and his Government seems to have more or less closed all doors of diplomacy on Pakistan. The Indian Prime Minister cannot go on holiday for about 18 months and ignore the fact that Pakistan as a neighbouring country deserves special attention, even priority in foreign policy making process of India. 

Modi should not forget that his own party’s leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had made every effort to bring Pakistan back on the negotiation table. The real issue is that Modi is not able to fit into the shoes of great Prime Ministers like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and especially his own leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Modi unlike all of them does not have any broad policy framework of his own. In the absence of a clear understanding of the forces at work at the global level, foreign policy is bound to remain just ‘reactive’ to some specific day to day important events in foreign countries. 

It is Manmohan Singh who fought for a peaceful nuclear energy deal and Modi is just pursuing the path shown by his predecessor. It was Narasimha Rao who on the basis of his foresight framed the “Look East policy” and Modi is only following it by visits to Kuala Lampur for the ASEAN-India and East Asia Summit with a very limited agenda of demanding rights of navigation in South China Sea region and enhancing economic engagement with ASEAN countries. The explanation for promoting bilateral economic cooperation with advanced capitalist countries is that Modi’s election campaign was enthusiastically supported by Indian big business, industry and trade. After becoming Prime Minister, he is `dutifully implementing the agenda of his fund-givers’, hence the economic engagements with foreign countries. It is a quid pro quo between the election-time fund-givers and formulators of foreign policy. Hence, on the face of it, it appears that Modi’s foreign policy does not have any substance. He has compensated his serious foreign policy deficiencies by playing to the gallery of the Indian diaspora by his super-dramatic but shallow speeches on India. This has been Modi’s contribution to foreign policy. 

The writer is  Professor Emeritus, Centre for Political Studies, JNU

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