This week, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar addressed the media about what he saw as the key achievements of the Modi government’s foreign policy since 2014. Now in India, foreign policy has traditionally been a continuum, not something ascribed just to one government or another, so just the fact that the EAM put out these pointers is a significant change. However, it should be remembered, that Mr. Jaishankar was formerly Foreign Secretary from 2015-2018 and has been Minister from 2019 to date, so except for about two years in total, he has been at the helm of Indian FP for the past 9 years.
In his comments, the EAM said that the change has been reflected in the country’s higher standing, greater influence, bigger footprint, new concepts and stronger delivery.
He then broke up the achievements in two parts:
1. How the World Sees India
1/Stronger delivery- More than 600 projects across 78 nations including infrastructure, power, energy supply and other projects identified by India’s partners
2/ Trusted partnership- India is making an economic impact in the world as a resilient supply chain element
3/ Global Contributor-
i)vaccines, medicines first responder in humanitarian crisis- like the Turkiye earthquake.
ii) International Solar Alliance, Coalition on Disaster Resilient Infrastructure
iii) Stabilizing economies- like Sri Lanka
“You all saw what happened to Sri Lanka last year and this year, that at a time when much of the world sat on its hands, we actually step forward at a very, very crucial time to stabilize the Sri Lankan economy. And today if it is on the mend, I think a large part of it is due to the fact that we responded in a timely manner, ”External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar said.
4/ India in global formations: Quad, I2U2, SCO, FIPIC platform, Nordic Forum, Technology control regimes
5/ India as a narrative shaper- Raisina Dialogue. Climate change, Terror financing, Indo-Pacific architecture and culture
6/ India as an independent force- Ukraine war, Quad, Global South voice, stand on LAC and BRI against China
“ We are the first G20 President who have actually made an effort to consult other people and 125 countries responded because they believed we are an independent voice,” S. Jaishankar said.
2. How has foreign policy affected the life of the common citizen
1/ Brought back Indians during Covid and conflict- Afghanistan to Sudan
2/ More security, given land boundary agreement with Bangladesh, countering Chinese actions at LAC, and delegitimised terrorism from Pakistan
3/ Economic strength- exports, FDI, tech collaboration, softening oil and fertilizer prices
4/Regional benefits: North East with investment from Japan, EU etc
5/Mobility agreements for workers and professionals to ensure welfare
6/ Passports – 2014 77 Passport Seva Kendras, added 16 PSK, and 430 PSK at Post Offices. From 9 million in 2014 to 14 million passports issued last year
7/ Globalised Indian culture- Intl day of Yoga, Ayurveda
Where has Modi’s foreign policy failed ?
Since the Minister did not list them, here’s what we should look at as areas of ineffectivity or areas where its unique policies have mixed results:
1. India has joined many new formations, but it has failed to ensure the continuity of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC- and the last Summit took place in 2014. Since then organisations like BIMSTEC and BBIN have been energised, but have not encompassed the whole region. It has also virtually ended its association with 120 plus nations of the Non Aligned Meet or NAM, although the Modi govt outreach addresses similar countries.
2. While the government has drifted from Non Alignment to multialignment- it has not yet brought clarity to where it stands in an increasingly polarised world- there is a thin line between a please all policy and one that pleases none in the long run- one that moves from realism to realpolitik to transactionalism without principle
3. China’s challenge is not just bilateral and at the boundary, but also in the neighbourhood- apart from Bhutan, every Indian neighbour is a part of the BRI today, and certainly has more Chinese investment and trade than ever before. And even Bhutan has been engaging with Beijing in an unprecedented manner for the boundary settlement. Meanwhile the lack of resolution with China has meant that two key objectives of the govt- membership of the NSG and reform of UNSC has hit roadblocks. Ties with china have also tested the limits of PM Modi’s personalised summit level diplomacy, as despite 18 one on one meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, India had been unable to anticipate the LAC incursions and all that followed
4. While the government has done commendably well in its efforts to bring Indians stuck abroad back- the case of former naval commander Kulbhushan Jadhav in Pakistan for example, needs delicate diplomacy, as no international judgements can be enforced unless there is diplomatic cooperation, and hence the government has not seen any success in it so far so far. Similar failures with the 8 former naval officers in Qatar, or in bringing back wanted fugitives, or even children taken into custody stand out for the same reason.
5. The neighbourhood first initiatives, projects in the neighbourhood are indeed very welcome. However, at the same time, the Modi government’s muscularity and domestic policies have also created problems with the neighbours- including the Citizenship Amendment Act, that angered Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, or the Kashmir 370 abrogation- which upset ties with Pakistan, but equally angered Nepal over the map. Similiarly the push for Akhand Bharat terminology within has received pushback from neighbours like Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, and muscular positions on internal matters with Maldives and Sri Lanka have at various times received a pushback too
6. Finally, the Modi government’s unique push for diaspora diplomacy with mega-events has proved a double edged sword, as increasingly, India’s domestic politics has spilled over into the diaspora – like the rise of incidents of the Khalistan movement, or anti-govt protests over CAA, NRC and Human Rights violations, or even caste issues coming to the fore in these countries. Eventually as the profile of Indian origin leaders grows abroad, so will a plethora of political views and even interference.
Before we end- you might find this comparison surprising: on where India is and where India started out:
“People talk vaguely and draw the wildly of new walls to come. At such a moment, this new India is taking birth as renascent, vital, and fearless. Perhaps, it was a suitable moment for this new birth to take place out of this turmoil of the world” - Jawaharlal Nehru
That was a speech from December 1946- at the constituent assembly in Delhi. In September 1946 – Pandit Nehru gave a speech on All India Radio- here is what he said India’s Foreign Policy would be made up of:
1. Non-alignment with power groups- keep away from power politics of groups aligned against one another
2. Won’t accept discrimination against our people anywhere
3. One World- free cooperation of free people
4. geographic connectivity with all Asian neighbours
5. Soviet Union as a neighbour, US as a major world power, China as a neighbour and a friend through the ages, but in conflict then.
Despite tumultuous periods of change, some tenets of India’s Foreign Policy have not changed as much as we think. Non-alignment may have moved to multipolarity, and India’s engagement with the 3 big powers US, Russia and China prioritizes them differently, but India’s position as a believer in one world, with fully representative global institutions, a deep interest in connectivity with neighbours, and one where Indians everywhere face no discrimination has endured as Foreign Policy tenets for the country.
WV Reading Recommendations:
1. Indian Foreign Policy by Sumit Ganguly
2. JOURNEY OF A NATION: 75 YEARS OF INDIAN FOREIGN POLICY by MD Nalapat
3. HOW INDIA SEES THE WORLD Kautilya to the 21st Century by Shyam Saran
4. The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World by S. Jaishankar
5. From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy by Aparna Pande
6. Staggering Forward : Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition by Bharat Karnad
7. The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative by Shashi Tharoor and Samir Saran
8. Pax indica by Shashi Tharoor
9. The Peacemakers : India And The Quest For One World by Manu Bhagavan
10. Letters For A Nation: From Jawaharlal Nehru To His Chief Ministers edited by Madhav Khosla
11. India’s World :How prime ministers shaped foreign policy by Rajiv Dogra
12. Theorizing Indian Foreign Policy Hardcover by Hansel- essays by both Indian and international scholars
13. India and the Contemporary International System Edited by Amitabh Mattoo and Happymon Jacob- Chapter on the Foreign policy making by me and Chapter on the role of Domestic Politics by Varghese George
Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar
Production: Gayatri Menon and Reenu Cyriac