Strengthening of Indo-US ties, courtship with key western powers like France and Germany, the relevance of RIC where Beijing is a player and enhanced ties with Israel balancing it with friends with the Arab world mark significant milestones of Narendra Modi’s foreign policy.
On completion of eight years of the Modi government last month, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar described India’s foreign policy journey as a ‘citizenship-centric’ and which kept independence in a highly polarised world and that in addressing some challenges, India is a ‘force of good’. — But it’s more than these.
Modi has given the much-needed political direction and rightfully laid emphasis on India’s civilisational identity. His famous one-liner – we need not be apologetic about Hindutva has been taken at the global stage as well.
Narendra Modi truly has had various images. A catalyst of development and a Hindutva leader who is never apologetic about his clear commitment to cultural nationalism. In 2015, Modi staged a huge publicity coup at the global stage. Firstly, the International Day of Yoga started from that year and his government and he did some necessary spade work to get the move recognized by the UN unanimously.
This excited his admirers abroad and, in the country, and helped him to expand his support base. He could present himself as a pacifist and a spiritual leader at the world stage. The world came in unison from Kabul to Kenya and from Paris to Perth. There is a mega-soft diplomacy to Yoga and he knew how to present it for himself and his country.
In fact in 2022, he added another new facet to the International Day of Yoga.
“This year will be a very unique programme. The Movement of the Sun will be celebrated, that is, as the sun travels, we will welcome it through yoga from different parts of the earth,” the Prime Minister said in Mann-Ki-Baat last month.
Modi’s thrust in the last eight years has been on a few new emphases. He used Yoga to restore India’s national pride.
Within a short time, he even mustered the trust of the western world.
In September 2014 within months of Modi’s coming to power, Barack Obama received him at the White House with the salutation ‘Kem chho’.
Especially on the strategic front, Modi has created the image of a hawkish military commander in chief for himself.
He is a Prime Minister who wants India to gain military strength. In 2016, he visited the army war room personally to plan the surgical strike against Pakistan.
In 2020, within weeks of clashes in Galwan valley that claimed 20 Indian army personnel’s lives, Modi landed at Ladakh flanked by then CDS, Gen Bipin Rawat and army chief Gen M M Naravane.
In order to make India a leading military power, FDI relaxation was announced and he pushed for manufacturing boost under the ‘Make-in-India’ programme vis-à-vis armaments.
The western powers were keen to support this ‘new India’ militarily and so he was wooed by several global powers. They wanted to enlist New Delhi’s involvement in the deeper security partnership.
The cooperation between four countries India, the US, Japan and Australia in the Indo-Pacific is a game-changer. This is a strong counterweight to China and hence India and its PM Narendra Modi are getting all the importance.
By 2017 November at the Philippines capital, Manila, these countries and the leaders formed Quad. The stakeholders suggested Modi to enhance India’s participation in military exercises.
These came as mega opportunities for the Prime Minister and Mr Modi successfully grasped these rather firmly. The coming together of the US and India on this score and the Quad’s role in the Indo-Pacific changed the game in more ways than one.
The American leaders – from Obama to Donald Trump to Joe Biden – everyone wanted India to come out of its self-created shell of so-called equidistance of non-alignment. India is slowly taking steps to be the real leader in the region. The assertiveness is visible.
Today, while on one front Russia and China do not mind mingling India as a friend vis-à-vis RIC or even the BRICS alongside Brazil and South Africa; on the other front India is cooperating with the US, Japan and Australia on Indo Pacific.
Strategically another master stroke was India seeking friendship with the US, Japan and French ports to expand its own position. This is a good counter to China’s efforts to exploit ports in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and in Pakistan adding to India’s concerns. Hence the counter made a lot of sense.
On July 3, 2020, Prime Minister made a visit to Ladakh – some border areas remain disputed in this region. Modi made a speech before the soldiers in his unique style, “Bharat mata ke dushmono ney aapka fire bhi dekhi ahe, aur aapki fury bhi”.
Modi also cultivated a key global partner from defence and strategic point of view. It’s Israel. The Prime Minister visited Israel in 2017 and thus Modi became the first Indian PM to do so. The significance of this neo-strategic thinking is that the PM Modi wants to maintain harmonious good relations with both – the Aran world on one hand and also Israel.
Thus, as he walked into the arms of then Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu on his arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on July 4, 2017, it was a momentous occasion.
There are typically other factors that work in India-Israel relations from the perspective of Hindu nationalists. A strong section of Indians look at Israel in appreciation as a model; as a model country that is strong in defence and that fights the powerful and moneyed Muslim world so brilliantly.
None can actually ignore India.
On the other hand, with regard the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar pointed out – “…it is now clearly associated with a generous and non-reciprocal approach to our immediate proximity. We envisage India as a larger lifting tide for the entire region. Our investments in connectivity, expansion of contacts and promotion of cooperation have also been noteworthy”.
“Whether it was during Covid or the current economic challenges, India has gone the extra mile for its neighbours and will continue to do so,” he put it aptly.
This is the ‘Modi era’.