One year of NDA government’s foreign policy: What changed and what didn’t?

By Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

These are the comments that Pranay wrote for Emerging Kerala, a Malayalam monthly magazine on Kerala’s business, economy and society in the backdrop of the first anniversary of NDA rule.

Q: As Narendra Modi government is completing one year in this May, what do you think the achievements of the country in diplomatic relations with other countries? How Narendra Modi’s foreign visits have benefitted our economy?

The astute selection of countries for engagements is the first significant achievement. Looking beyond the sub-continent and giving a much-needed push to the relations with countries like Japan, Australia, Vietnam and US was long overdue.

It is also important to realise that foreign policy successes aren’t outcomes of foreign visits alone. Foreign policy successes need domestic consensus building as well. On that count, resolving the long-standing land border issue with Bangladesh through the constitutional process constitutes the second diplomatic success. This will allow India to focus on more substantive issues like getting transit access to the Northeast Indian states through Bangladesh.

Third, the operationalisation of the civil nuclear deal with the US is another achievement, removing a roadblock in the partnership between the two countries.

It is good for the Prime Minister to invest time in international engagements: India’s growth is influenced by the world and the world’s situation in turn affects India’s growth. So, foreign engagements are key to the Indian economy.

The benefits of foreign policy initiatives on the economy are delayed by their inherent nature. So, its effects, whether in terms of giving a boost to ‘Make in India’ or in terms of energy security, will take some time. However, a good foreign policy is just solving one part of the puzzle for giving a boost to the economy. The second part demands that the government put the right policies in place domestically like making the Indian setup more market-friendly.

Q: Has India got an image makeover globally? Is India becoming an influential global force?

Yes, to the extent that Mr. Modi’s revitalisation of India’s foreign policy has re-established India as a significant player in international affairs. Mr. Modi has raised expectations across the region. India’s position is key to the Asian balance of power and this government has conveyed the right signals to other important players in the region.

On the other hand, global influence is itself an outcome of national power. And one of the most important factors for national power is consistent economic growth. The other countries look up to India only because they believe that its growth will be of benefit to them as well. So, economic growth will be the key to national power and in turn to a greater influence in the world.

Q: There are criticisms about the huge expense of Modi’s foreign visits. How do you look at this?

Foreign visits by important ministers of state are not junkets. There is a great tendency to view such trips with the lens of “onsite” opportunities.

We have to go beyond the mindset of a “poor” India that cannot be an important player in the international arena. To that effect, these trips are very important, both as a signal to the world, and in terms of concrete partnerships with key nation-states. Overall, India’s policy discourse will benefit from the PMs international engagements and exposure.

Given the huge positive externalities of the PM’s visit to other countries, I definitely do not subscribe to the view that the expenses are worthless.

Q: What do you think the most significant step that Modi has taken in the foreign policy?

The most significant step has been to signal to the world that India wants to proactively engage with every country.

The buzz around the world is that India now has a government that can get its act right and resolve internal issues while engaging externally.

Q: What are the major differences in the foreign policy of Narendra Modi government and former UPA government?

The biggest success during the UPA tenure was the US-India 123 agreement which, by no means was a small achievement. It put the India-US partnership on the right track after several years of sluggishness.

Beyond that success, a large amount of time, and political capital were wasted on international groupings that had little relevance to India’s foreign policy priorities. On the sidelines of one such conference, the PM even committed a big blunder of signing a joint statement with the PM of Pakistan that effectively agreed to India’s role in Balochistan.

In general, there was a lot of focus on getting our relationship with Pakistan right, which was a wishful thinking given that Pakistan was, and is still in control of the Military Jihadi complex (MJC) which sees no benefit in good relations with India. As a result, we missed the boat on engaging with other countries instead.

What we now see is that the new government is more proactive in its foreign policy. Modi’s focus on foreign policy has taken everyone by surprise. This means that foreign countries are taking that one extra step as well.

Secondly, there is a lot more visible focus on engaging with countries beyond the Indian jambudweepa, thereby establishing India not only as a regional leader, but also a global powerhouse.

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Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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