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Modi And Indian's Rise On World Stage

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  • December 20, 2015

    No matter what the critics say, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ably taken India to the global stage. He has certainly aroused expectations both at home and abroad about India’s rise in the global scene in the 21st Century with the most imaginative way and a clarity of purpose

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken the world by storm in 2015. He has reached out to a remote country like Mongolia, island nations like Seychelles and Mauritius, and to major powers like the US, China, France, Germany and UK. His tours abroad this year included countries like Canada, UAE, UK, Turkey and others where no Indian Prime Minister visited for decades. The visit to Moscow on December 24-25 will be his 23rd foreign trip in 2015.

    At home, PM Modi received many world leaders in 2015 starting with a big-bang diplomacy by inviting US President Barack Obama as the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in January to end with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s extraordinary visit to New Delhi in December. The visits had very large strategic and economic content for India to achieve concrete economic, diplomatic, and strategic goals.

    The world leaders gave high priority to Modi at the UNGA, BRICS Summit in Ufa, ASEAN-India and East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur, G-20 Summit in Turkey and Climate Summit in Paris. All these helped energise India’s foreign policy to raise its profile on the world stage.

    More remarkably, PM Modi not only managed to reset India’s foreign policy but also transformed its discourse. In fact, India rarely made rapid turns in its foreign policy and never fluctuated with the change in Governments. But Modi subtly changed the widely perceived notion of India being a reluctant power in its exercise of realpolitik. What we are seeing is a dramatic shift away from the ideological fantasies of ‘non-alignment’ policy to pursuing a more practical self-interest driven approach in world affairs. This well-thought-out change aims to project India as a ‘rising power’ rather than a ‘balancing power’ in the matrix of global power politics.

    There is a strategic content and clarity when Modi sells India’s potential to the world. Modi used the best possible tools of statecraft for pursuing multiple relationships simultaneously with confidence, energy and style remarkably different from previous leaders.

    The new methodology he found includes changing India’s global narrative ie drawing attention to India’s sacrifices in WWI, its contribution to UN peacekeeping operations, and forcefully reiterating India’s right for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

    To make diplomacy more robust, his Government created new metaphors — whether it is Act East policy or projecting India as a ‘first responder’ in humanitarian assistance and post-disaster operations in Yemen and Nepal.

    But the keystone of Modi’s foreign policy objective is economic development — skillfully linking diplomacy and national development for leveraging international financial and technological support to speed up his ‘Make in India’ campaign. The imperatives of his domestic reforms agenda to promote business, trade, tourists, national security, employment et al are craftily embedded into diplomacy, this in part because Modi came to power with an electoral mandate for domestic reforms. In fact, Modi used his political mandate as a tool to reach out to the world.

    Modi’s energy and his commitment to push economic growth grabbed the world’s attention. His international visits have seen burst of activities, especially his engagement with the Indian diaspora abroad, amid a lot of publicity, glamour and fanfare.

    Modi’s road shows continue apace this year in Toronto, Berlin, Muscat, London, Singapore and elsewhere. He spoke to 17,000 Indian-Americans at the SAP arena in San Jose, and over 70,000 British Indians received Modi in Wembley Arena, billed as the “biggest reception for any foreign leader” in Britain.

    Interestingly, Modi used diasporic pluralism as a strong constituency to resonate his economic agenda and to blunt the growing intolerance voice at home engineered by adversaries to derail economic plan and damage Modi’s rising global popularity.

    His visits abroad at times greeted with street protests helped deflate pent-up anger against him outside India. Instead, he used the international settings to remove misperceptions built around his image as he also promised to protect the rights of every citizen. On the contrary, Modi’s own persona has become a factor in world politics. More Western leaders, executives and celebrities put the past behind and welcomed Modi.

    Playing on India’s ethereal values-based soft power was his another diplomatic craftsmanship. Modi understood that no country can match India’s benign and non-threatening image, which he thought could be advantaged into hard strategic and economic gains. He has fine-tuned India’s soft power to suit the present times, for example by getting a global tag for International Yoga Day.

    Moreover, Modi also passionately tried to revive India’s own lost Buddhist heritage for geopolitical and economic interests. As he learnt to grapple with the challenges of international diplomacy, Modi understood that Buddhism occupies critical space in the Asian balance of culture, economics and politics. Aside from the market factor of Buddhism, Modi has grasped the threat of China taking over the foremost role over Buddhism in Asia. Worried about India losing the leadership role, Modi has been trying hard to reconnect India with every Asian Buddhist institutions, including the Chinese ones built by Xuanzang and Faxian.

    On the economic front, he has inked big deals — from nuclear deals to mammoth infrastructure investment accords — with key countries. On the diplomatic front, Modi has stabilised our relations with major economies, and the core of his diplomacy included strengthening ties with the US that had drifted away from the track under the previous Government.

    In 2015, the partnership has been raised to US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue (S&CD) that aims to increase bilateral trade from its current level of over $100 to $500 billion in the coming years.

    The framework for the US-India defence relationship is being renewed and envisaging collaboration in defence, intelligence, maritime security, cyber security and space exploration among others. That accord signed under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) includes developing militarily useful technologies in 17 new areas, possibly manufacturing fighter aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and aircraft carriers.

    Modi’s imaginative diplomacy took him to the world’s high-tech Capital, the Silicon Valley, primarily to showcase the role of Indians as well as to highlight his ‘Digital India’ campaign. He met top executives from Google, Apple, and Tesla Motors and held a town hall meeting with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Of course, the trip to Silicon Valley was viewed as a charm offensive and at the same time a business opportunity.

    Consolidation of ties with the US has been one of Modi’s marvels, but there are still thorny issues in bilateral relations, for example over intellectual property rights, trade barriers in Indian market etc, which are enough to threaten the future of Indo-US ties.

    The US, for now, sees Modi as a partner to counter China. Modi seems to be going along with the American understanding of China as long as it helps in the interim for empowering India without having a formal alliance with the US. Clearly, the US is far more committed today for enhancing India’s strategic capabilities than before.

    But it is clear that Modi visualises the role for India as far more strategic than simply being a balancing factor for the US, for he also knows the growing importance of China in global policy and for India to catch up with China would require time.

    Despite having a complex relationship with China, Modi has not been averse to reaching out to Beijing overtly. China, too, has certainly revised its attitude towards India slightly after Modi came to power. There is a clear atmosphere of change in relationship. Both Xi Jinping and Modi are more committed to finding a solution to the contentious border issue.

    Modi is also seeking Chinese investments in India’s major infrastructure projects, therefore, he cannot afford to have sides, neither in India-China relations nor in India-US relations. Modi’s foreign policy is, therefore, neither pro-US nor anti-China, but to make best use of US-China competition in the economic, military and geopolitical realms. What we are witnessing is not India balancing against China but trying to seek a balanced Delhi-Beijing-Washington triangular relationship.

    Of course, ambiguity in relationship with China will remain, which stems from China’s consistent support to Pakistan primarily aimed at needling India. India has not yet responded to joining China’s Silk Route connectivity projects and also remains lukewarm on the Bangladesh-India-China-Myanmar (BICM) Economic Corridor promoted by China. But Modi has certainly shown a diplomatic finesse while dealing with China. Without giving any concession to China, he has at least managed to tone down hostility while at the same time embarked on India’s expanding military capability to counter any threat from China.

    Modi’s visits to France and Germany were aimed at getting support for improving India’s digital infrastructure, healthcare and clean environment, upgrade information and services and plan for building Smart Cities in the country. Here, he has succeeded in attracting European investors in India’s manufacturing sector to translate his ‘Make in India’ initiative into success.

    Of late, many observers felt that Modi’s international image will be dented by the Bihar results. Instead, he found no reason to slow down on his expansive diplomacy and immediately embarked on a visit to the UK, Turkey, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Modi attended the Climate Summit in Paris and even found time to talk to Nawaz Sharif.

    Modi’s visit to the UK is certain to bring mutual economic, military and diplomatic gains for both sides. Britain’s advocacy for a UN Security Council seat for India will be critical to ensure India’s future recognition.

    Modi has ensured that India is not left on the sidelines of the dynamics occurring in East Asia. He followed the Act East policy more robustly when he attended two important summits — the ASEAN-India and East Asia Summits.

    Modi also visited Malaysia as the “core” of India’s Act East policy to discuss the threat of terrorism, and in Singapore, Modi focused on building private sector interest in the ‘Make in India’ initiative besides strengthening the defence and security cooperation.

    The relationship with other countries like Vietnam and the Philippines has improved as Modi has become more outspoken on maritime and territorial disputes, particularly in South China Sea.

    Africa too has amazingly caught Modi’s imagination. His Government unveiled India’s Africa policy by gathering 54 African countries to the third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in October this year. He used no declarative words or the third world solidarity rhetoric, instead he focused on the partnership of pragmatism and potential as well as to confront global challenges together.

    To be sure, it helps to cultivate Africa, whose nations count India as a responsible global leader, offer India economic opportunities and finally their support is critical for India to secure a permanent seat in the Security Council. But soon after the Delhi Summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping offered African countries $60 billion to help them build projects in railways, highways, ports and power.

    While Modi has largely pursued a US-centric approach, he has also not given up on the multi-polarity of maintaining closer coordination between India, China and Russia. He attended the BRICS meeting in Ufa and joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) along with Pakistan to change the balance of forces in the Eurasian region.

    Modi’s ‘neighbourhood first policy’ too has become pragmatic and even muscular in 2015, thus breaking the traditional notion of India being unable to resolve problems with smaller neighbours. The land boundary agreement with Bangladesh has been a historic milestone achievement for Modi. Ties with Dhaka have now entered a new phase, with collaboration on issues from economy to tackling terrorism.

    The failure to influence Nepal’s Constitution-making and the ensuing impact of the crisis on India is being marked as one of Modi’s failures. Many have argued that de facto blockage of fuel supplies pushed Kathmandu into China’s arms. But Modi’s Government seemed to understand correctly that the old tendency to raise the spectre of India’s image as a regional bully has been tried by vested interests.

    Normalising ties with Pakistan proved difficult and complicated even for Modi, but his Government has made some tactical changes in dealing with the problematic neighbour. The decision to retaliate aggressively with disproportionate force against Pakistan’s repeated cross-border firings seemed to have worked well. Also, the decision to call off official-level talks on the grounds that Pakistan either deals with the Government or the separatists has been yet another significant shift.

    Towards the year-end, Modi succeeded in cracking the Pakistan puzzle following a surprise pull aside meeting between him and Nawaz Sharif in Paris on November 30, followed by talks on terror between the two NSAs in Bangkok. The decision to resume a comprehensive dialogue has been announced after the visit by Sushma Swaraj to Pakistan recently to attend the Heart of Asia conference.

    A beginning of thaw with Pakistan is certainly an extra achievement for Modi in 2015, but to be sure, prospects for any proactive engagement with Pakistan will remain ambiguous, and Modi perhaps knows that.

    The last on Modi’s guest list this year was his “personal friend” Premier Shinzo Abe. The two have set a concrete action plan and signed major deals on military weapon and technology transfer to India, building high-speed trains, upgrading India’s infrastructure and on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The strategic pact with Japan is the most unprecedented that may have far reaching results for the success of Modi’s domestic and international plan for India.

    The memorandum on civil nuclear energy cooperation, an agreement for commerce and clean energy symbolised a new level of strategic partnership between India and Japan.

    The agreements on transfer of defence equipment and technology and on protection of classified military information and the Japanese decision to join as a formal partner in Malabar naval exercises are high points in the security relationship.

    To boost the ‘Make in India’ programme, Japan will import cars manufactured by the Japanese in India. Additionally, Japan has created $11-12 billion fund to promote Make in India. All said and done, Abe’s extraordinary $12 billion package on very easy terms for building bullet trains will touch the hearts of millions in India.

    Now, Modi will visit Moscow for a summit meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Surely, India’s ties with Russia remain strong, but Modi is yet to capitalise on various opportunities to work on the revival of this bond.

    Russia’s pivot to Asia after Western sanctions is mainly benefited by China. Russia’s capacity to rebound on the world politics is glaring after Putin ordered to launch military strike against the Islamic State in Syria.

    Cooperating on terror aside, Modi should be seeking fresh opportunities for Indian companies in the Russian market against the backdrop of Western sanctions and Russia’s current conflict with Turkey.

    Russia seems keen on transferring technology in aerospace sectors, defence sector ie manufacturing Kamov-226K helicopters, spare parts for Sukhoi jets to contribute to the Make in India initiative. But let us wait to see what new surprise Modi will bring to the Indo-Russian relationship.

    Finally, considering Modi had little experience in foreign affairs, he has performed remarkably well for taking India at the global stage in a spectacular manner. He has infused new energy into India’s relationship with major powers that had lost momentum in the past decade.

    While dealing with the world, Modi Government stuck to its position of not accepting commitments on climate change that would jeopardise its development plan. The landmark Paris Agreement finally came as a victory for his “climate justice” and sustainable development demand as the final text took into account the differentiation and responsibility of developing countries in fighting climate change.

    All said and done, Modi became the only Prime Minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to evoke India’s image as one of the world’s major civilisations. He has been able to implement the vision with all instruments of power especially backed by confidence of an economically resurgent society.

    Of course, his foreign policy encountered criticism from various quarters for being hyperactive, too loud and at times abrasive that goes beyond established norms and process. Veteran diplomat Shyam Saran finds Modi’s foreign policy more “project based” than “process based”. Many have also found his achievements abroad less in substance but more in symbolism that would risk disappointing results in the end.

    For now, Modi’s India is benefiting from the plunge in the price of crude oil, and the relative slowdown of economy in the West and China, giving an impression that India’s moment has come. But no matter what his critics say, Modi has ably taken India to the global stage. He has certainly aroused expectations both at home and abroad about India’s rise on the global stage in the 21st century with the most imaginative way and a clarity of purpose.

    Yet his apparent dream to rebuild India on its glorious past in a most imaginative way faces formidable domestic political resistance that aims to derail his vision. To be sure, most people welcome Modi’s efforts rather than viewing them with scepticism. The final compliment for Modi came from Shinzo Abe who said “his vision and speed of implementing policies is like a bullet train”!

    This article was originally published in The Pioneer.

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