By Zoya Sham:
It has been a year since Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister and his government’s performance in foreign policy has been greatly debated. He has attempted to establish a favorable position for India in international affairs and form amicable relations with nations around the globe, both essential to effective diplomacy. However, focusing so much of his first year outside the country rather than on domestic issues has generated much criticism.
Modi added a fresh layer to foreign relations with his unique style of executing diplomacy. He adapted a personality-driven approach by projecting himself as a true representative of India to foreign leaders through cultural exchanges, and to the Indian diaspora by directly reaching out to them through social media. Addressing foreign leaders with their first names, exchanging bear hugs, taking selfies and activities like ‘chai pe charcha’ have helped create personal rapport with world leaders that is crucial for approachability.
The PM’s commitment to high-powered diplomacy was seen from day one when he invited the leaders of SAARC to his swearing-in ceremony in May 2014. His proactive engagement with India’s neighbors is indicative of India’s strategic goal to gain influence in the region. He followed through on the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh and the ‘123’ Agreement with the United States. With his trip to Washington in December 2014 and President Obama’s visit to India for Republic Day, the Indo-U.S. bilateral strategic partnership has been strengthened. He also pitched the Make in India initiative in the U.S., Japan, France, Germany and Canada to encourage business and investment in India.
However, the Prime Minister made some serious lapses. India may lose its traditional influence on some longtime allies such as Russia-China and Afghanistan-Pakistan relations developed considerably. The China-Pakistan largesse has created an additional threat to Indian interests. Skipping the Bandung meet of Afro-Asian leaders gave way for China, Japan, and other countries to establish their influence. Inability to deal with the gridlock in Indo-Japan nuclear negotiations has also been a significant lapse.
Other gaps in the government’s foreign policy has been not establishing preemptive stands on many important global issues. Among these is the escalating instability and terror in the Middle East, which is host to millions of Indians and critical to India’s oil security. The ‘Looking East’ policy completely diverts attention from West Asia where immediate attention is needed. Indian foreign policy has also failed to address being isolated in matters of Climate Change at the Paris Summit.
Although the Modi government’s foreign policy seems conducive to economic development, it’s essential for India to have complementary domestic policies to create a favorable environment for effectively utilising foreign investment. To meet the aim of increasing the GDP from the current 6% to a double-digit figure, domestic investment is also required. This will further encourage foreign investors. Moreover, projects like Make in India can only be considered successful if and when they contribute to tangible financial growth, employment opportunities, and technical advancements.
Nevertheless, one year is not enough to accurately evaluate a government’s efficiency in foreign policy, as it is largely result-oriented and has to do with matters that may unfold in the international arena in the future. Time will tell if the measures taken thus far are successful and if those that have been neglected will be implemented.