In any nation the three critical tools of statecraft are diplomacy, intelligence and armed forces. India has tried to upgrade the three tools with political will and effective delivery mechanisms. The major question which has been asked time and again with regard to India’s foreign policy under Modi government is whether there is a continuity or change in the foreign policy outlook. There has been references with regard to Non-Alignment 2.0 in the past, and it has been felt that India should maintain its strategic autonomy without compromising on its strategic interests and the core foreign policy fundamentals. The transition in India’s policy outlook has been with regard to multi-alignment with India specific attributes.
The new foreign policy looks into what exactly are the potential sectors as well as possible areas of mutual collaboration, without a demand supply relationship, in any bilateral ties with any country. On scrutiny of documentation of the critical aspects of foreign policy outlook and the strategy that India has adopted, one can very well notice that there are proposals like SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region), Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), promoting connectivity (both physical and digital) and developing trade and investment with a major focus on exploring international markets while at the same time opening up Indian market with certain quid pro quo benefits.
In the new regional approach, the India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS), approach to the Caribbean and Latin American countries, Visegrad countries, Pacific island countries have added new dimensions to the policy approach. India has seen as a major transit in terms of investment and opening new foreign offices in those countries where there is less representation of Indian diplomats.
Technology has been seen as an important component of India’s interaction with many of the technological powers. In fact, if one evaluates the last five years of foreign policy, joint statements and agreements one can very well discern that multiple agreements having focus on terrorism, technology, training, trade, investment and tourism has been signed with major countries and the visiting dignitaries have acknowledged the fact that India is very well on its way to become a knowledge hub. Interestingly, the reference about terrorism also tacitly acknowledges that Pakistan is the biggest perpetrator of terrorism across the world. In terms of education and knowledge, India has been taking giant leaps through the process of Digital India and Skill India processes.
In many of the documents that India has signed with other countries, there has been structured agreements related to smart cities project, infrastructure development, waste management, energy efficiency, sewage treatment, renewable energy, and town planning. With regard to strategic partnership that India has signed with more than 33 countries, there has been a gradient and selective approach with many countries being given prefixes such as ‘preferred’, ’desired’ and ‘special’ strategic partners. What is interesting in India’s new approach with regard to foreign policy is that Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Iran are listed as strategic partners. Even though there is no strategic partnership agreement with Israel but it has become a critical security partner for India supplying military hardware, border security equipments, and other devices which can monitor India’s borders and also help in detecting any tunnels which might be dug by terrorist or other subversive elements to infiltrate from Pakistan to India.
The result of the dividends of these aggressive foreign policy outlook that India has adopted since the coming of Modi government has been the fact that Pakistan has been isolated and any overtures which were expected to be made from India to Pakistan for initiating the peace talks are gone. In other terms, as one can say that in organic chemistry the Indian approach to Pakistan has become inert. While approach towards China has been adopted with an iron fist under a velvet glove but with a confrontationist attitude and one can see in the case of a number of conflicting situations with China at the border be the case of Depsang, Doklam or even Pangong Tso lake stand offs. The stand offs have lingered but have shown that India can counter Chinese tactics.
India’s Indian Ocean strategy now spans across the eastern and western Indian Ocean, and as a part of its outlook towards Indian Ocean it has adopted a strategy which calls Indo-Pacific approach as an extension of Indian Ocean strategy. As a result of which India has been engaging the littoral countries of the Indian Ocean through various initiatives which include capacity building, personnel training, defence exports, focussed aid, allocating more seats for ITEC programme and also conducting high level visits to these countries. The impact has been seen with regard to better relations with the eastern African countries as well as select Southeast Asian countries, and better and mature relationship with island countries. Interestingly, as part of the ‘double fish hook strategy’ it has been engaging the island states in Indian Ocean so as to create a viable radar and coastal security network with many of these countries.
From the structural point of view there has been a new development in the institutional framework. Now one can see divisions such as New Emerging Strategic Technologies (NEST), Oceania, Indo-Pacific, and also a separate division addressing the concerns of the federal structure particularly states with regard to engaging border provinces in India’s foreign policy interaction with the neighbouring countries. There are also different divisions which have been created with regard to Development and Planning Assistance (there are three divisions in external affairs ministry now, earlier there used to be only one) to the countries which required India’s financial and material support in times of need. India’s approach through Act East Policy, think West Asia policy and connect Central Asia policy is now more mature and looks into various aspects which can be developed in collaboration with the countries of these regions.
With regard to its relationship with Russia and the US as well as Asian powers such as Japan and Australia, it has been structured in a way that it is engaging while at the same time not depending too much on anyone power as an insurance to India’s security. Lately, India has been also making right kind of noises with regards to its candidature as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and it is clearly stating that a country with the population of 1.30 billion people should not be denied an entry into the high table because it will be counter-productive to democratic fundamentals of the UN.
Multiple times it has been stated and narrated by many strategic thinkers that India has been reluctant power and has not clearly outlined its policy on many of the issues which are of international interest. However, Indian establishment openly believes that it is better not to say anything and let the action speak louder than words. In the case of evacuation of its citizens from Libya, Yemen and many other countries whenever there has been crisis or ongoing civilian unrest, India has taken an active interest.
India has also thought about this prospect of unifying the department of foreign affairs and trade to look into viable opportunities and address its concerns both with regard to political interactions and trade development. However, this initiative could not gain that ground because of the large bureaucracy that India has, and the large workload regarding queries, addressing parliamentary questions and other issues that every department related has to deal with. In the late 2019 and subsequently because of the Covid-19 the political interactions have been held both online and offline which clearly states that COVID- 19 epidemic cannot stall the march of India’s emergence as a regional power and an Asian power.
Modi has been successful in harnessing personal chemistry with the leaders of different countries because of which many times all those issues which are left unaddressed at lower level get addressed at the high table. One of the important rallying points for Pakistan at the international level has been the resonance of the Kashmir issue but now Pakistan is unable to rake up the Kashmir issue because it is just not getting the support that it used to get because of its concocted narratives. Further, its own human rights record is pathetic related to ethnic minorities and other religious communities.
India has been very specific with regard to its requirement and the need before approaching Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)or even ASEAN Free Trade structures. The new approach that India has adopted with regard to participating in Shangri-la dialogue and also articulating its interest in the ASEAN plus dialogues (ADMM Plus) clearly shows that India is going to put its mind where its interests are. There is more outcome orientation in policy, and with the COVID vaccine diplomacy India is positioning itself as a major pharmaceutical hub of the world. While it is completely addressing this issue of international global social responsibilities, it is also looking for a structured support for its initiative from all the international leaders and the countries concerned. Quad meeting acknowledged the need for strengthening India’s pharma sector through investment and financial support.
Many positive things have been written with regard to the success of the Indian foreign policy but there are certain flaws also. While interacting with many countries, the political leadership has made too many pronouncements and therefore expectations have increased with regard to deliverables. In terms of aid, assistance as well as Lines of Credit (LoC)the need of the hour is to structure it and stagger it in such a way that India should not default from its commitments. Also, Modi’s own personal interaction with leaders have overpowered the structural mechanism because of which if in case Modi leaves office then there is a critical vacuum which will be created.
India’s strong outlook has a times led to criticism in the international community with regard to India’s hard-line approach in a number of ways. The case of Balakot air strikes or Uri military operation it is seen that while India has managed the international community but there are certain flaws in its approach in engaging the domestic interest groups. On aspects related to trade and foreign direct investment requires structural changes. These structural changes can only be brought about when the bureaucracy is sensitised, and there is an active intervention of the commercial processes which can suggest changes to these tardy procedures. The single window system which is adopted by many of the Asian countries can be explored and also the environmental ministry clearances with regard to investment and setting up a factory or a group of industries in India should be facilitated in a better way.
It is stated that India’s foreign policy outlook has become much more assertive in recent times but it is also believed that India’s cautious outlook on a number of issues in the past because of the fear of international backlash and condemnation has decelerated momentum. This mindset has relegated India into the league of few of the nations which were reluctant or shy powers but do have the potential to rise at the regional and international space. India’s acceptance of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue which it has entered with the US, Japan and Australia clearly shows that there is huge potential and spinoffs. The approach that it has taken with regard to developing skills and technologies, and entering into joint ventures on critical aspects of technologies such as space and cyber clearly shows that India has a blueprint with regard to its next phase of foreign policy as well as progressive strategic outlook. India’s new policy outlook is futuristic and has adopted an outcome approach.