PHOTO: REUTERSIndian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers patroling near the Line of Control (LoC).
The new government is clearly defining Indian interests (‘India First’) in terms of technological and economic development with a greater focus on these goals in foreign policy
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has now interacted with the leaders of four of the five countries/regions — SAARC, China, Japan, Russia, and U.S. — on the list of foreign policy priorities mentioned in the President’s address to the opening session of Parliament. It is, therefore, an appropriate time to take stock of the underlying changes in the directions of India’s foreign policy. In other words, is Mr. Modi’s foreign policy likely to differ from that of Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh?
Every country’s foreign policy has elements of continuity and change following a change in government. India’s policy under Mr. Modi is no different. The changes have not necessarily been explicitly articulated, but are implicit in the government’s actions and view of the world.
There are five areas of the emerging change: the centrality given to economic and technological development; the orientation of domestic and foreign policies toward this objective; the emphasis on national power including military power; and stress on soft power; and a reduction in self-imposed constraints on actions that other countries may construe as inimical to their interests.
Changes in foreign policy
The first change in foreign policy relates to the greater attention provided to economic objectives. This is not a mere reiteration of the economic development objective that has been India’s mantra since independence but recognition of the role of technology (broadly defined) in all aspects of economic development. This involves an implicit benchmarking of the technological capabilities of the Indian economy with the global best practices; having a perception of the gaps; and setting the goal of bridging these gaps.
The government’s divergence from the policies of the previous regimes is reflected in two initiatives, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the Digital India campaign, both of which involve the use of appropriate technology.
“Aggression along the border is being countered by bold moves like the decision to construct a ‘McMahon highway’ in Arunachal Pradesh”
This is probably the first time that an Indian Prime Minister has explained India’s economic and technological objectives abroad — ‘India First’; has identified the specific role each country could play in achieving these objectives — for instance U.S. and Japan; and has made that the centrepiece of his discussion with the leaders of that country. ‘India First’ means that India’s requirements — when it comes to various areas like basic sanitation, defence and space technology — will be expressed with greater clarity and specificity to other countries.
The second change relates to a much greater orientation of domestic and foreign policies toward those objectives. The Indian Prime Minister has been very explicit about Indian objectives with respect to economic development and technological catch-up and in exploring how domestic and international policies will be used to close the gaps across the entire spectrum. Its decisions will then be based on a cost-benefit analysis on a defined set of parameters, not on ideological considerations like that of non-alignment.
The third change is with respect to a greater emphasis on overall national power — recognising that economic power is its foundation, but also giving a greater role to military power.
The Modi government appreciates that economic power cannot be a substitute for military power in deterring aggression from the ideologically driven foes. On the contrary, economic assistance can be viewed by military ideologues as an expression of superiority to be resented. Economic relations can complement international security relationships by influencing the behaviour of non-ideological, economically rational players in the global system but only military strength can deter militaristic ideologues and ensure peace.