‘No man is an island’. These words were immortalised by the English poet John Donne in the 17th century. But the irony lies in the progress we have made since. Now, this great line is nothing more than an aphorism, a mere statement of the already known. We live in an era of mutual dependence; we depend on the cable guy for our cricket, on the delivery guy for pizza, on the choreographer for strange ways to move our body….and even on a cold-hearted metal box to keep our food fresh! This dependence has transgressed individual boundaries and is now an element of the global world. The nucleus of globalisation is this very aspect of inter-dependence. And embedded in this inter-dependence is the most enigmatic and sensitive of governmental processes…foreign affairs. With reference to the words of John Donne…no country…not even an actual island like Sri Lanka, or England are sans foreign relations.
Every new government brings with it a new perspective on the global order. Some governments ‘love’ America as our former PM Manmohan Singh disastrously pronounced to President Bush, while some others have a ‘cold shoulder, warm heart’ kind-of approach. The only thing static thing about foreign policy in India has been the repeated botch ups and of course… ‘Kashmir is my birthright, and I shall have it.’ Many academics have accused Dr Singh of his lack of pro-activeness in this sphere; and to a certain extent…they are correct. Horses are indeed for courses, and the last person you want to talk god out of Armageddon is Dr Singh, whose words are like the red-blood orchid. The former government’s lack of clarity in approach, coupled with lack of popular support within the national boundaries really narrowed the avenues available. Thus, the government which embarked on the historic Indo-U.S Nuclear deal, became a non-starter in the latter parts.
India’s global footing was very lose and even our strategic partners were contemplating on abandoning us on Kashmir. It was in this scenario that a man who claimed to have a 56-inch chest claimed the keys to 7RCR. Narendra Modi is a man who expresses his ideas in a concise manner…and one who simply loves leading the way; a lot like Nicolas Cage in National Treasure! Despite contrary opinions, Modi has indeed injected a breath of fresh life into India’s foreign affairs. Some of his most significant efforts have been aimed at South Asian solidarity and strengthening of SAARC as a regional agglomerate. His invitation to the SAARC heads of state for the swearing in ceremony was a touché…as it left the ball in their court. Fortunately, all the countries responded optimistically. Modi has been indulged in a mission of establishing India as the leader of South Asia, but that essentially seems like a dream with the ‘dragon in the room’. His signs of goodwill have resonated well however with the SAARC members and the return gifts have been substantial. The resolution of the ever-controversial boundary with Bangladesh is a case I point. Special helicopters, assistance during the Nepal earthquake and efforts at creating an FTZ have made the SAARC countries accept the democratic leadership that India offers, in opposition to the cold-stare of the Chinese. The other concerted effort by Modi has been towards uniting emerging powers like Brazil, Australia, South Africa on inter-national forums like WTO, where the developed countries usually buy lotteries on wholesale. Modi is now seen worldwide as a strong leader with the backing of a 120 crore people.
Modi’s transformation into a suave internationalist is not without any reason. Modi’s economic policy is closely linked to his foreign policy. The PM believes that FDI is the force that will drive our country to a happy ending, and increased FDI demands a pre-condition of ‘carrots and even carrot halwa’ with the prosperous countries. He has enjoyed success in Japan, where he persuaded the Japanese government to partner us in our endeavour to build smart cities and bullet train. The parliament was recently informed that India had received $19.78 billion in FDI from 12 countries he visited during the fiscal year 2014-2015. The FDI in India saw a 27% jump to $30.93 billion in the same fiscal year. Thus empirically his foreign trips seem to be paying off. The most crucial element of his foreign policy however has been the personal rapport and friendship he has established with his counterparts. This can probably be corroborated with the bonhomie on display. Even abroad, Modi has turned out to be a great crowd puller, like during the Global Citizens Festival were he ended his speech with ‘may the force be with you’ to a boisterous response. His other achievements include the Act East policy, which put into fast track the integration of India with the southeast Asian countries and ASEAN on the whole. This entire region is of prime importance as the quantity of trade which happens in the region rivals all other agglomerates. One ambitious agenda has been the project Mausam. Aimed at countering Chinese dominance in the South China sea and acting as a buffer against the so-called String of Pearls. The move is also aimed at negating the Silk route initiative by the Chinese.
On the downside however, Modi seems to have an unusual appetite for foreign policy which is almost bordering on hyper-activity. He seems keen to join the likes of Magellan and Marco Polo, but neither of them were PM of a 120 crore people with a bundle of expectations. As if on cue, the PMO announced that he would cut down on foreign trips in 2016. Even though his foreign trips are paying rich dividends, the body politic of the country simply goes by symbolism, where his trips portray a different idea. At the UN, he united the emerging countries in a bid to enter the UNSC as a permanent member. But the manner in which he almost forced the countries to accept India’s bid was sore to the eye. It almost seemed like a ‘Loki from Thor’ situation. He was always worthy…but kept reiterating it until Thor hammered him to oblivion. Modi’s success has also come in what can be termed as ‘gambler in Vegas, hermit in Himalayas’ strategy. He talked terrorism in the Middle East, business and capitalism in the west, and fortunately not communism with China. His impact on the Global Climate Change summit was much talked about. By citing Indian traditions, he placed India on a moral pedestal as a natural ally of mother nature.
Modi’s foreign policy is like pandora’s box. He travels like the wind and returns with gift like Santa. In 2 years, he has earned the support and admiration of many world leaders. But the thing about foreign policy is that it is unpredictable and twisting. The only way to actually judge Modi’s foreign policy is to actually wait till 2019.