Ashok K. Mehta
February 13, 2015
Given Narendra Modi’s growth and development agenda, for which he requires the U.S., China, Japan and others, he cannot afford to antagonise Beijing. The U.S. is vital for India’s rise and a hedge to China. So, New Delhi will necessarily be on a razor edge. In any realisation of the Asian century, Washington will be large and looming
Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, an Indian TV channel held a discussion on likely foreign policy reorientation. When the doyen of South Asian Studies, Stephen Cohen, was asked in which direction Mr. Modi would tilt – the U.S. or China — without hesitation he replied, “China,” adding, “because it is the Asian century.” Mr. Modi hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping last year but despite the fanfare preceding the visit, there was little to suggest any strategic overlap. Alas, Mr. Cohen was proved wrong after the Modi-Obama Joint Vision Statement reflected a sharp, strategic congruence. Mr. Modi has reset the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s policy of equidistance between the U.S. and China and dropped the political refrain that India will not contain China.
Choosing friends and allies
In New Delhi last year, at a seminar, the former U.S. Ambassador to India, Robert D. Blackwill, posed the question: “How can New Delhi claim strategic autonomy when it has strategic partnerships with 29 countries?” After the latest Modi-Obama vision statement, even less so. Strategic autonomy and no military alliances are two tenets of India’s foreign policy. Quietly, India has converted strategic autonomy to strategic interconnectedness or multi-vectored engagement. When the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation 1971 was signed, Mrs Indira Gandhi had requested the Soviet Union to endorse India’s Non-Aligned status, so dear was the policy at the time. That multifaceted treaty made India a virtual ally of the Soviet Union. Russia inherited that strategic trust and has leased a nuclear submarine, provided high-tech weapons to all three Services including technology for nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. At the BRICS meeting in Brazil last year, when asked a question, Mr. Modi said as much: “If you ask anyone among the more than one billion people living in India who is our country’s greatest friend, every person, every child knows that it is Russia.”