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Under Modi 2.0, a course-corrected foreign policy

Source : The Hindu

Under Modi 2.0, a course-corrected foreign policy
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (File Photo)

There is a new momentum in India’s foreign policy, a clinical sharpness to its external policy design, articulation and implementation, in clear departure from the ‘song and dance diplomacy’ that characterised the foreign policy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi 1.0. After wasting several crucial years in the political promotion of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Prime Minister aboard, there is today a visible transformation in India’s engagement of the world. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) appears to have taken back the reins of the country’s foreign policy from the BJP apparatchiks, preferring substance over style.

If Hindutva ideology and imperious aggression characterised New Delhi’s diplomacy towards the region/neighbourhood during Modi 1.0, India’s neighbourhood policy today is an act in careful, well-calibrated and well thought-out policy overtures towards most of the region, with a deep desire to win back the neighbours. During Modi 1.0, relations with Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (as well as the attitude towards the Taliban until they overran Kabul in August 2021), for instance, were complicated due to ideological overtones and aggressive policies.

The intervention in Kathmandu’s Constitution-making process and the subsequent (undeclared) blockade of Nepal; irking the Bangladeshis by offensive references; attempting to be the kingmaker in the Sri Lankan elections, among others, seemed to stem from an imperious attitude. Such an ‘either you are with us or against us’ attitude prompted many of India’s neighbours to opt for the latter part of the choice allowing China a free pass, at least to some extent, into India’s traditional sphere of influence.

The Sangh Parivar’s deep-seated desire to build a Hindu religious plank with Nepal along the lines of V.D. Savarkar’s vision — “The whole territory including Kashmere and Nepal, Gomantak, Pondicherry and other French possessions constitutes our national and territorial unit and must be consolidated in a free and centralised state” — did not outlast Mr. Modi’s 2014 visit, clad in saffron attire, a rudraksh garland and sandal paste smeared on his forehead, to the Pashupatinath temple in Nepal.

Gone are those days, so it seems. The manner in which the BJP-led government reached out to the Taliban shedding its past reservations and its outreach to the West Asian/Gulf states are noteworthy. India’s new Nepal policy devoid of Hindutva fantasies and diplomatic imperiousness, and friendly outreach to both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are already yielding results. If indeed ‘illegal Bangladeshi migrants’ do not become an issue in the upcoming elections in India, the warmth generated by the recent golden jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s liberation from Pakistan (with Indian help) could further strengthen the relationship. India’s foreign policy interests should not be allowed to become a handmaiden to the BJP’s domestic political ambitions.

Effective multilateralism

New Delhi’s multilateral engagements have also become more result-driven and interest-based which it seems to pursue without getting caught in a holier-than-thou rhetoric. India’s membership and presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) witnessed some resolute positions from the country. New Delhi’s able framing of the world body’s response to the crisis in Afghanistan (especially when India was holding the presidency of the UNSC) along with an outreach to the Taliban, when much of the world was struggling to make up its mind on how to deal with Taliban 2.0, was remarkable. India’s far more determined engagement of the Quad(India, Australia, Japan and the U.S.) and the global climate change negotiations in Glasgow, while at the same time pushing back attempts at securitising climate change at the UNSC, also indicate that it is willing to be a responsible stakeholder in global/regional governance forums. The Modi government’s transition from political rhetoric to purposeful action is clear.

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