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A Modi-fied foreign policy: Change with continuity

By Rup Narayan Das
May 17, 2014 15:54 IST
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Narendra ModiThe major driver of Mod’s foreign policy can be gauged from his economic priorities such as creating employment opportunities for the youth bulge. Related to this is emphasis on manufacturing, and infrastructure development, which in turn raises the issue of FDI. He has already articulated his views on all these issues, says Rup Narayan Das.

Indian foreign policy has been marked with continuity and stability. The roots of foreign policy which India has been following all these years ever since independence can be traced to haloed years of India’s freedom struggle in synch with the aspiration of the Afro-Asian countries.

Nevertheless there have been certain discernable shifts in India’s foreign policy primarily in response to both external and internal stimulus. The most glaring such example was the disintegration of the erstwhile Soviet Union, the aftermath of which witnessed the unveiling of the ‘look east’ policy enunciated by then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao. Quite appropriately Rao’s ‘look east’ policy coincided with economic reforms and liberalisation.

In spite of disintegration of USSR, India continued its robust engagement with Russia under the new regime, while at the same time re-engaging with the United States, the evidence of which was the Indo-US nuclear deal. In spite of both domestic pressure and external influence, India, however, refrained from embracing US the whole hog, maintaining what is euphemistically called strategic autonomy of its foreign policy.

What will be the contours and contents of Narendra Modi’s foreign policy? True, he may not have the benefit of Jawaharlal Nehru, who weaved Indian foreign policy drawing from India’s experience of a protracted freedom struggle, which was intertwined with fight against colonialism and imperialism, and his intellectual flirtation with Fabian socialism.

Modi on the contrary inherits a different milieu of pursuit of entrepreneurship, which Gujarat possesses in abundance. Modi has been emphasising that one-third of the economy should be based on manufacturing. Thus economic contents will get reflected in a large measure in his foreign policy initiatives. Buzz words like Foreign Direct Investment, infrastructure, and manufacturing will resonate in his foreign policy. While the BJP’s party manifesto does indicate some aspects of it, Modi’s ideas articulated on various occasions and in different places can be put together.

The major driver of Mod’s foreign policy can be gauged from his economic priorities such as creating employment opportunities for the youth bulge. Related to this is emphasis on manufacturing, and infrastructure development, which in turn raises the issue of FDI. He has already articulated his views on all these issues.

What will be his foreign policy in respect of different countries, both in India’s neighborhood and outside? Important countries that he has visited so far include China, Japan and South Korea, and Russia. Modi has already spoken that Indian Missions abroad should focus more on economic diplomacy. In a globalised world of mutual economic interdependence, and free trade of different hues, economic diplomacy is poised to be major driver of India’s foreign policy.

A stable, robust and purposive political regime will greatly attract foreign direct investment. The outgoing government has already created conditions for FDI. Modi is likely to give further boost to FDI in sectors such as defence production, and railways in particular. Countries interested to invest in India will now feel encouraged to do so. China, Taiwan and Japan have already invested in Gujarat. Chinese are keen to invest in India by setting up industrial parks. The Chinese ambassador in India has already visited Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to examine feasibility of establishing industrial parks.

At a time when the balance of bilateral trade between India and China is skewed in favor of China, it is incumbent on part of the leadership of the two countries to reduce the imbalance. China will be too happy to invest in both infrastructure and manufacturing. But the interest of India’s domestic sector needs to be taken on board while allowing Chinese investment in manufacturing in particular.

Modi has to find a judicious balance safeguarding the interest of domestic economy, while allowing Chinese investment in manufacturing sector in India. Secondly, a major bottleneck in India-China bilateral trade and economic engagement is the persistent security dilemma which holds back Chinese investments in sensitive sectors like telecom and even the proposed bullet trains.

It is in the mutual interest of the two countries to remove or ameliorate the strategic distrust and security. This will greatly facilitate the bilateral trade and economic engagement between the two countries.

Besides China, other countries which will find priority in his foreign policy are Japan, South Korea, and Russia, and the US. During his earlier visits to Japan in 2007 and 2012, Modi met both political leaders and corporate honchos. There is an already huge Japanese investment in Gujarat, particularly in the automobile sector. Modi will find the Delhi-Mumbai industrial Corridor, in which Japan is the major stake holder, very attractive to his ideas of urbanisation, infrastructural development and job creation.

Similarly he will find Japan the suitable country for introduction of bullet trains in India. In fact feasibility is being done with Japan for bullet trains on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai sector. As FDI is now being allowed in the railways, it is possible to attract Japanese investment in the bullet train project. The Chinese are also interested to take a pie in India’s bullet train projects. India as of now is interested in China’s engagement in modernisation and in increasing the speed of semi-high speed trains in the country.

As far as South Korea is concerned Modi may find Korea’s expertise in ship building and development of ports an attractive proposition. Gujarat is perhaps the only state in the country which has a full-fledged Maritime Development Board. As sea borne trade occupies considerable importance in India’s maritime strategy, Japanese and Korean expertise will be very useful and beneficial for India.

As far as Russia is concerned besides defence cooperation, Modi will give further boost to cooperation in energy sector full potential of which has not been tapped as yet.

As far as US is concerned Modi has to be proactive to put the strategic partnership between the two countries back on the track burying the hatchet of the Devyani Khobragade episode, which has indeed put a spanner in the relationship between the two countries. The denial of visa issue is likely to be resolved soon. Modi has avoided making it an issue between the two countries.

President Barack Obama’s congratulatory message on his mammoth electoral victory augurs well in this context. Taiwan, with India does not share diplomatic relation will also find a place in Modi’s foreign policy for investment.

Rup Narayan Das is a senior fellow with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

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