THE INDIAN FOREIGN POLICY SHIFT
"Our foreign policy is only about India First"
- PM Modi
Since the period of independence in 1947, the Indian Republic has undergone fundamental and varied changes. From attaining sovereignty from British colonial rule to adopting the policy of Non–Alignment to emerging as a global leader. India has grown and thrived under the direction of a number of governments. And from prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his contribution to the creation of the framework of Non-Alignment. To his daughter, Indira Gandhi who unleashed upon the country the debatable national emergency of 1975. From the short-lived Vajpayee government to India under prime minister Manmohan Singh who bore the brunt of western economic sanctions and global isolation as a direct consequence of the Pokhran Nuclear tests under Vajpayee. To the current Modi led BJP government following the outstanding victory during the 2014 general elections.
Prime minister Narendra Modi could not have been any more different in spirit from his predecessors. While evaluating India’s foreign policy under the Modi government, it is undeniable that India’s standing within the international community has picked up a quick pace. Modi has successfully projected India as a strong and leading power, as well as provided the Indian diaspora a much more coherent position as compared to those who preceded him. Starting right from the appointment of the Subrahmanyam Jaishankar as the minister of external affairs. The coveted position, usually expected to be accorded to a high-ranking member of the ruling party. But Jaishankar a technocrat and a sharp contrast from his predecessor Sushma Swaraj has served as a foreign secretary, ambassador to the United States, ambassador to China, and several other diplomatic assignments. Modi’s diplomacy has regained fame all over the world. Initially, after the United States lifted the restrictions on Modi due to the fiasco of the Gujarat riots of 2002, wherein it was alleged that the BJP government in the state led by Modi, who served as the chief minister, was supporting the Hindu extremist killings. But India and US relations have been stronger than ever. And Modi’s efforts to fortify US-Indo bilateral relations has been viewed as a strategic action to counter China’s influence over the Asian region. India has furthered its connections with the nations in the European bracket as well as the middle east.
Analyzing its relation with Pakistan and China, the situation has always been less than stellar and it hasn’t improved substantially. These have always been a growing concern for India for the purpose of security reasons. But India under Modi has represented a more assertive and tough approach while dealing with its national security. For instance, the surgical strike at Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps withing Pakistan, in response to the Pulwama terror attack. This reflected a sharp contrast to India’s foreign relations and policy regarding terror attacks. This attack was the first cross-border airstrike of the IAF in nearly five decades. And a clear message within the international community that India would be willing to negotiate with Pakistan relating to their military issues but not at the cost of its national interest and security. Despite receiving tremendous domestic praise, this action agitated the global community immensely. Despite the implementation of the Neighbourhood First Policy, the complications of India and Pakistan or China have proved to be a hindrance in the full operation of these policies. And though this is understandable, India under Modi is making considerable efforts to strengthen cross border relations within the historically conflicted Indian subcontinent.
The shift from the ‘Look East’ policy formulated during the Narsimha Rao government, to the ‘Act East’ policy. The Look East policy which emphasized strategic economic relations with Southeast Asia. Now with the Act East policy, the Modi government has also focused on strengthening defense ties and security interests alongside economic relations. Modi’s foreign policy however has not been able to resolve the issues between China and India. Even though the 2018 bilateral summit was deemed as a breakthrough, it failed to reap any sort of concrete outcomes. Furthermore, India seems to move away from NAM, of which India is a founding member during the cold war bipolarity and which has been a pillar of India’s foreign policy since Nehru. PM Modi also didn’t attend the 17th NAM summit, 2016. The Indian delegation was headed by then vice president Hamid Ansari. And albeit the Modi government however has no ideological obligation to NAM. That was the first time that a prime minister was absent after 1979 when then Prime Minister Charan Singh remained absent.
The economic front in the changing dynamics of foreign policy has also undergone a transformation. India has become more confident in using its economic heft to contradict nations that challenge its national interests. Following India’s termination as a beneficiary developing nation under the GSP [Generalised System of Preferences Trade Program] from June 5, 2019, thereby ending the USD 5.6 billion trade concessions. This was because of higher tariffs imposed by India and according to the Trump administration, India hadn’t given the USA any assurance of ‘equitable and reasonable access to US markets.’ India’s tariff tussle or withdrawing from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP] due to concerns regarding Chinese imports. The complicated Indo-China relations might prohibit India to develop their relations with the United States, or the growing partnership with the USA may affect India’s relations with its long-standing and traditional ally – Russia. But whatever the case may be, India in recent years has made it clear that national interest is the country’s top priority.
Though most democracies see continuity and similarity in its foreign policy despite the partisan change in the government, India is re-envisioning its foreign policy. For too long India has followed a balanced and passive outlook towards global issues, rather than taking dynamic action to shape and influence international decisions. And it seems like India under Prime Minister Modi will finally be adopting a much more proactive role within the international community.
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