Would Modi continue with the legacy of the Manmohan Singh Government in terms of foreign policy issues? Or is it that there would be a marked shift and a calibration towards a hawkish and more of an ‘India First' approach in terms of India's foreign policy? Going by the election manifesto of BJP, two important statements made there give a brief idea of how the new government may recalibrate the foreign policy of India.
‘India First' as a Foreign Policy Approach
The BJP election manifesto had stated, ‘The vision is to fundamentally reboot and reorient the foreign policy goals, content and process, in a manner that locates India's global strategic engagement in a new paradigm and on a wider canvass, that is not just limited to political diplomacy, but also includes our economic, scientific, cultural, political and security interests, both regional and global, on the principles of equality and mutuality, so that it leads to an economically stronger India, and its voice is heard in the international fora.'
There are two important deductions that one can draw from this statement. In the first place, India would no longer be willing to play a second fiddle role to giants like US and neither would it be going for a non aligned approach. Instead, it is for sure that India that would be interested to engage with global majors but on more equal terms.
Secondly, foreign policy would no more be an abstract academic and intellectual indulgence being run on protocols and for hosting diplomatic cocktail dinners, photo-ops of handshakes with stiff upper lips and dry joint statements by heads of states. Instead, foreign policy can be expected to be more pragmatic and as an ‘extension of statecraft', a bargaining tool for hardcore economic gains and for making sure that national interest comes before anything else.
Goodbye to the Nehruvian Approach
The ‘India First' approach would possibly be a marked shift from the archetypal ‘gatekeeper of global conscience at the cost of self interest' approach, a Nehruvian legacy that had been religiously followed by successive regimes in India, mostly Congress led ones. The last 10 years of UPA had even gone a step further by being a willing subordinate of US and indecisive to the core, where on the pretext of having a hands-off policy and that, ‘India does not meddle in the internal issues of other countries or bilateral issues between other countries', India in the last 10 years have even allowed activities in neighbourhood to continue which were thoroughly detrimental to Indian interest. Right under the nose of a myopic India, China made major inroads into most of India's neighbouring countries, often at the cost of Indian interest.
Foreign Policy as an Extension of Statecraft
There is a strong possibility that Modi Government would make sure that the foreign policy approach would be much like that of China which has leveraged its economic might to the hilt through its foreign policy to have strong Chinese imprint in Africa as well as Central Asia.
One can expect that India's foreign policy would be steered towards making it a tool of India's global economic aspirations. One can also expect India's embassies in various countries would be asked to aggressively promote Indian business interests abroad and offer all possible help to Indian entities, state owned or private, to farther Indian business there. This is exactly what China has done for the last two decades and US did since the end of Second World War. And this is something that India consistently failed to do for decades.
Back to good old allies like Russia?
The other key thing that the BJP manifesto stated was, ‘India's relations with traditional allies have turned cold. India and its neighbours have drifted apart. Instead of clarity, we have seen confusion. The absence of statecraft has never been felt so acutely as today.'
In certain respect, over the last few years, Manmohn Singh's over the board urge to keep US in good humour and to have more purchase of American defence products, in spite of the stiff conditions, caveats and exorbitant price such products carry, have made many of India's traditional and time tested allies like Russia extremely miffed. Russia lost a series of defence deals to US even though Russia has been more forthright and eager to share sensitive technologies with India than US ever would. It is thus expected that the Modi Government would put in some renewed efforts to revive the relation between India and Russia.
Even while US-India relation does have a natural bondage, it is perhaps the Indo-Russian relationship that would see massive resurgence in the next five years. It is expected that India and Russia would deepen their relationship in not just the arena of joint defence programs, but also in the arena of energy security and counter-terror issues. There is no doubt that a certain kind of admiration, rather mutual admiration that exists between BJP and the Putin style of nationalism. Both Russia and India have global aspirations and neither is willing to play a second fiddle role to US in the 21st Century.
For India, US is important too but as an equal partner and not as a dictating ally...
The Indo-US relationship is also strategic in nature and critical in many respects and there is no doubt that Modi Government would deepen it as well. There is enough scope for business expansion and investments as well as avenues for deepening tie-ups. But the marked difference between the approach of UPA and that of Modi led NDA would be the issue of accepting the American dictums. Needless to say US would not be able to dictate to Modi.
How US forced India to reduce its import of oil from Iran during the UPA rule is no more a secret. It is US which has problems with Iran and not India. On the contrary Iran has never propagated Islamic terrorism or spread it like the way many of the other Arab nations of Middle East like Saudi Arab does. India's long term energy security depends to a great extent on its reduced dependence on Arab states and going in for long term relation with countries like Iran is crucial. And there is no reason why countries like US would be allowed to dictate terms to India.
The American ambition to increase its footprint in Asia is known to all. In certain ways increased American presence in Asia is not all a bad proposition given the alarming rise of China. But while Indo-American relationship is critical, if US would attempt to prop up India as a counter to China and as USA's proxy in Asia, one can expect resistance from Modi led India. While India does have issues with China, the Modi Government would perhaps try to deal with it on its own even while maintaining close economic ties with China, instead of doing things at the behest of US or involving US in the scheme of things.
The new approach- India will do what is in India's interest and not for appeasing others
Thus the marked shift that one can expect is that foreign policy approaches would not be mutually exclusive any more. India's dealings with US would not be at the cost of Russia. Its dealings with Iran would not be at the cost of Israel. Its dealings with China would not be at the cost of Japan or Vietnam or Taiwan. If India needs to have a joint naval exercise with US and Japan it would do it without being too much concerned about how China reacts.
If it has to engage with China on other issues, it would so without getting too concerned about how US would react. It would engage with both Iran and Israel without letting either affect her relation with the other. If India needs Iran for energy issues, in issues related with terrorism it would need Israel's finesse, expertise and experience. If India needs Russia on defence technology front, it would surely also need US for deepening economic ties and for more investments in the economy.
A pragmatic foreign policy and a robust economy always complement each other. In other words each help the other to thrive and both together make the nation emerge stronger. The Modi led NDA has both the mandate and the conviction to take this path. And only such an approach rather than a pacifist one, can make India regain its rightful position in the global scheme of affairs.