Narendra Modi has won a landslide victory in the general elections of 2014. The political pundits call it a titanic shift in Indian politics. The verdict of May 16, 2014 is overwhelmingly in favour for development amongst the other issues. It is important to read the mood of the nation. People of India have bestowed their faith in the right wing national party, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). People of India have made Modi the most powerful Prime Minister since independence this country has ever seen.
It will not be incorrect to say that the self-pride of the nation had taken a severe beating under the miss rule of congress. The puppet prime minister was seen relenting to the hegemony of our belligerent neighbours. The general psych of the country had been bruised and injured. This factor worked very well in favour of the BJP’s strong man.
Modi is left with no choice but to propel India into a steady growth if he wants to play along innings. He will have to expand friendly relations with all countries to the maximum extent possible – political/ strategic; economic/ commercial and defence.
So what is the meaning of this general mood prevailing? How will the thirst of development coupled with national pride be quenched? The answer to this question lies hidden in Narendra Modi’s speech at Vadodra on the May 16, 2014.
He in his address had highlighted the fact, that in 2014 the Prime Minister of India will be a person, born in free India unlike those previous to him, who had seen the colonial rule. A simple statement of fact has a very deep meaning as I understand. To my reasoning it implies a fundamental shift in the country’s policies which have dominated the Indian scene for the past 67 years. It would mean a departure from the ideals drawn by our founding fathers on the eve of our independence in 1947. No longer shall we be the prisoners of Nehruvian ideology. An ideology by virtue of which, India has practiced isolationism. Unfortunately though, it was a matter of deliberate policy choice.
The post Indira Gandhi era witnessed India gravitating away from insularity and the economic reforms of 1990. This was seen as a major shift towards the inter-connected world. Insularity was no more a viable option. The reality and imperative of inter-dependence though over-whelming has failed the Indian establishment to evolve in these changing times. Sadly enough the idea got lost somewhere in the labyrinths of the North and the South block. All the while since the nineties, the energies of successive government were channelized towards saving their coalitions. In this shemozzle India’s policies on Defence, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Trade and Commerce were stagnated to stink.
As these political parties jostled for their piece of cake in the collation era, the Indians were dreaming for a better life. Their desires had moved far away from the occasional doles showered upon them by the rulers. Today he was connected to the world through the internet and could see the world changing around him. The age of information fuelled the hunger for more and more.
In other words, Modi is left with no choice but to propel India into a steady growth if he wants to play along innings. He will have to expand friendly relations with all countries to the maximum extent possible – political/strategic; economic/commercial and defence. But the million dollar question is how?
It will be necessary for its continued economic growth and socio-economic development so as to derive maximum possible benefits from the existing international system to serve India’s long-term interests.
Before speculating on Modi’s course of action, it would be prudent to see through kaleidoscope the geo-political stage as existing in the present world order. What emerges is the following in the Indian context.
- The decline of the sole super power has begun.
- Putin’s Russia, Jinping’s China and Abe’s Japan are on the nationalist path.
- America is at the verge of exiting from Afghanistan. On the other side it is pivoting its forces of the Pacific command in South East Asian region of South China Sea.
- Taliban is reviving. Terrorism poses a great threat to the region as a whole and Pakistan in particular.
- Pakistan grapples with the rise of Baluchi, Sindhi and Pashto nationalism, the very idea of Pakistan is threatened.
- Iran could soon be a nuclear power upsetting power equations in the Sunni dominated Arab world.
- Burma is opening its doors to investments and emerging out of decade’s long isolation.
- Hydro carbon rich regions of Central Asia, South China Sea and abundant mineral resources of Africa lend an opportunity for grabs to meet the growing needs of a developing India.
Thus the challenge for Modi’s India will be to exert efforts in creating conducive external environment. It will be necessary for its continued economic growth and socio-economic development so as to derive maximum possible benefits from the existing international system to serve India’s long-term interests. And all this will go alongside the strengthening of its Armed forces. Diplomacy has to be supported by a strong military. Foreign policy without the backing of the later is meaningless.
Herculean task for the new government would be to set in place the strategic vision, a well-documented philosophy to provide guidance and reference to others to channelize their energies. The culture of compartmentalised functioning of ministries working at times on divergent goals will have to give way for a synergised approach.
Russia is important for the balance of our foreign policy.
Modi should redesign the foreign policy with lot of emphasis on immediate and extended neighbourhood. India will have to repair its relations with its neighbours like Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Burma, Malaysia, and Indonesia and strengthen the existing good ties with Iran and Afghanistan for creating a chain of friendly buffer states all around India. The key to this strategy would be India’s economic growth. It will be of key importance for tying our neighbours economically to the Indian market. It will be important to give stakes to a cross section of people in our neighbouring countries in various sectors of our economy. In this context the strengthening of SAARC should be a very high priority.
The nature of our relations with US has also been altered in the last few years. Our policies have become convergent in many ways. An improved relation with US has given India more room for manoeuvre regionally and internationally. Strategically, we are being pulled towards US. This means that our relations with US allies have become better too, as, for example, with Japan, South Korea and Australia. India stands to gain from access to technology from these countries. However in the bargain we have fallen into the grand design of USA striving to strategically encircle the People’s Republic of China. So far this appears to be more counterproductive.
Pakistan is the greatest hurdle in India’s march to the global centre stage.
Simultaneously, our relations with Russia have lost the centrality of the past. Even as India’s economic growth is changing its global profile, our economic ties with Russia have relatively shrunk. Russia is important for the balance of our foreign policy. Today we can see the resurgence of Russia as it has demonstrated itself in the Ukraine crisis recently. India will have to re-visit the chapter and give boost to these shrunk ties. India can do far more than maintaining the regularity of summit meetings, nurturing the traditionally close defence ties that assure non-disruption of supplies at critical moments as well as access to sensitive technologies, and partnering it in political groupings such as the Russia-India-China dialogue and the BRICS where the west is absent. What India needs further is to expand our economic ties with Russia. Energy cooperation provides an opportunity so far insufficiently exploited.
Pakistan is the greatest hurdle in India’s march to the global centre stage. The new government should not, however, actively seek to de-stabilize Pakistan. A fragmented Pakistan would propel fundamental groups to power, creating new set of problems for the region. On the other hand, a broken up Pakistan loses value for the Chinese. It is unlikely that the Chinese will want to rescue Pakistan with economic largesse. In that context, disarray in Pakistan is not unhelpful to us either.
Therefore it will be in India’s interest to wean away China from Pakistan. Despite the complexities of geo politics between the two countries, economic cooperation may be the road to a better future. China has more than $3.8 trillion in reserves that it needs to deploy effectively. And, having already invested huge sums in its own infrastructure, Beijing has been looking further afield. It has been deploying funds in developing nations across the globe, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Africa, gaining influence for itself and business for its companies. India on the other hand provides vast opportunities that the Chinese cannot let go.
The possibilities of amicable settlement to the boundary dispute would be higher in an economically driven relationship.
India’s massive infrastructure requirement offers several opportunities to China and the West. China has expressed a strong desire to invest in India’s infrastructure sector. A Chinese interest is particularly high in railways, in particular electrification, high-speed trains, wagons, last-mile connectivity and gauge conversion. It has also identified sewage treatment and tunnel building as areas where it can offer substantial expertise. India however is not keen on allowing Chinese investment in sensitive areas like the northeast and Jammu & Kashmir. India will have to take a de novo look over the complete affair. If India is able to bring in massive investments from China, it will have a huge impact over the relations between the two countries. It is in India’s interest to bring in the Chinese. Sooner we shed the past better it will be for all in the two countries. The possibilities of amicable settlement to the boundary dispute would be higher in an economically driven relationship.
India will have to utilise trade and access to financial resources and intellectual property and technology for achieving the requisite growth. To insure sharp increases in savings and investment rates and for building up and modernising infrastructure in its broadest sense, from road networks to broadband connections, India will have to shed the existing mind set of reluctance obtained out of paranoia. For this purpose, access to concessional finance, wherever possible, financial markets and credit institutions, and access to natural, technological, and other resources are essential. Facilitating such an access will be the paramount objectives of Indian diplomacy. Modi with such an astounding mandate is the right kind of a leader in India’s destiny capable of steering a course away from the path of a sage in to the practical realities.
A new Indian approach that goes beyond relying on the private sector to make economically rational decisions from their perspective would be needed, but that implies a different way of economic governance.
Seeking access to land locked central Asia through Iran in the West and shaking hand with China and rest of the South East Asia through Burma will start a new chapter of strategic rebalancing. A democratic Burma at the geopolitical heart of South East Asia will be in India’s long term interest.
Our external dependence on arms and technology supplies limits the options available to our foreign policy.
In short the success to India story lies in the Technology from the West including Japan, investments from the Chinese, oil from Russia and Central Asian Republics and minerals from African.
India will have to develop its military out of the existing continental type of defence to an expeditionary force ready to protect its economic interests from Central Asian Republics in the North to Antarctica to the South, from Central and East Africa in the West to South China Sea and Pacific in the East.
At the end of it all, the internal and the external affair cannot be compartmentalized in any country. Success or failure at home will mean success or failure abroad. The economy is the building block of a successful foreign policy, as required resources then become available to erect defences at home and to pursue interests abroad. The establishment of an indigenous defence manufacturing base is vital for acting independently on the world stage. No country that cannot independently defend itself can reach big power status.
Our external dependence on arms and technology supplies limits the options available to our foreign policy.
- Where China meets India, Burma and the new crossroads of Asia, by Thant Myint – U.
- Right Sizing the People’s Liberation Army, edited by Roy Kamphausen & Andrew Scobell.
- Articles and Lectures by India’s former Ambassador Mr Kanwal Sibal.