India’s Foreign Policy has been a constant matter of intrigue and debate as to what approach New Delhi should take in the emerging Global Order in 21st Century. There is no denying that India, one of the largest democracies and economy in the world plays a pivotal role in shaping up the Global Order. There are various schools of thought on India’s Foreign Policy – First the Classic Old school of thought that advocates India maintaining its Strong Friendship with Russia, ironing out differences with China and creating a Pan Asian Bloc somewhat on the lines of BRICS. Then there is the other school of thought, which calls for a shift in India’s Foreign Policy from the Classical Asian One to a Global One, which implies New Delhi embracing Washington, Tokyo, and Canberra more openly in Asia-Pacific. These 2 schools of thought on India’s Foreign Policy are advocated by various intellectuals and backed by vested interest, lobbies etc. It is in this context that one needs a clear view of India’s aggressive Foreign Policy, which has been the hallmark of Prime Minister Modi.
‘Modi Doctrine’ of Strategic Autonomy and National Interest
Unlike the 2 School of thought the ‘The Modi Doctrine’ is about maintaining India’s ‘Strategic Autonomy’ viz-a-viz Global Powers while furthering and protecting its National Interest. This is a sea change in the Foreign Policy of India which over the decades had been mostly confined regionally viz Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the extended SAARC region. The Modi Doctrine is about projecting India’s soft economic power along with Military Might for strategic initiatives in the region and across the globe. Modi Doctrine does not seek to confine itself to old set rules of international diplomacy and relations. It also does not believe in the traditional way of thinking of Cold War Era i.e. Soviets vs. West or Russia vs. USA. India under Modi has sought to re-define its foreign policy by interacting with all players in the international arena with the sole purpose of forwarding national interest, be it Geo Politics or Geo Economics.
Modi Doctrine of “Strategic Autonomy” is perceivable through India’s engagement with Russia in the Defence Sector from Sukhois for IAF to Brahmos Missiles to Leasing Nuclear Submarines, Aircraft Carriers or the latest Helicopter deal with Reliance under the Flagship Scheme of Make in India. India has been in consultation with Russia regarding the Joint Venture of Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (Stealth Technology). Russia has been a time tested friend of India for decades though United States has in the last few years become the largest supplier of arms to India yet India has been able to ward off pressure from United States with regards to sanctions against Russia in respect to Ukraine Conflict. India has refused to be drawn up in the US vs. Russia tug of war asserting its policy of Strategic Autonomy, which is determined, by India’s national interest not Blocs of world powers.
Similarly Russia has showed its open displeasure of India buying Technology and Advanced Weapon systems like Multi Role Fighter Jet Rafale from France, Barak Missile in JV from Israel and Chinook and Apache Helicopters from United States. Russia has tried to score this point by signing a Defence partnership with Pakistan, a huge departure from Soviet Era policies while trying to indirectly send a message to New Delhi. Despite all the pressure from US with regards to sanctions on Russia or Russia’s displeasure of India diversifying its vendors in defense acquisitions, the Modi Govt has been successful in maneuvering through these while asserting that it will deal with the respective world power in sync with its national interest.
Another Example of Bold Assertion of India’s ‘Strategic Autonomy’ has been the delicate balancing act that New Delhi has done between Israel and Iran or between Gulf Arab States and Iran. Israel is one of India’s time tested friend that helped in 1999 Kargil War and has been very receptive to India’s Make in India programme. Though India Recognized Israel in 1950, diplomatic relations were established in the year 1992. Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was the first Head of State to visit India during the then NDA regime while home minister LK Advani visited Israel as well, a first by an Indian HM. India’s Israel policy has long been held hostage to the Palestine Issue and its sentimental value over some sections of society in India. Though Modi Govt has maintained India stands for 2 States Solution and the Rights of the Palestinians, it also desires to promote a strategic relationship with Israel. Israel has been actively participating in India from Drip Irrigation in Agriculture to Water Cleaning Technology to Defence JV’s for Barak Missile or Israeli drones and surveillance technology like AWACS Radar systems. Narendra Modi has openly stated the Indo-Israel relationship by meeting Israel PM Netanyahu on sidelines of UNGA Meeting in New York last year where both leaders asserted that “Sky is the limit for India and Israel who are natural allies”. Indian PM is due to visit Israel on a historic visit early next year signifying the bond both leaders share.
On one side it is PM Modi’s bold assertion of an open partnership with Israel, on the other, you see India openly courting Iran (a sworn enemy of Israel) but a country, which has old civilizational ties with India. India is rather one of the few countries in world where Shia Muslims and Jews have coexisted peacefully for centuries without any acrimony or discord. In the months leading up to Iran Nuclear Deal, India’s NSA and Foreign Secretary visited Tehran while Prime Minister Modi himself met President Rouhani on sidelines of SCO Summit in UFA, Russia. Iran has lent its strategic Chabahar Port on the Gulf Coast to India for development and the building of a rail network to Afghanistan and Central Asia. The Strategic Chabahar Port gives India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, rich oil and gas reserves in the region and helps keep a close watch on Chinese activities on Gwadar Port leased to it by Pakistan in Balochistan province. The Chabahar Port project, Oil and Gas contracts with Iran provide India the strategic foothold in the region. It is worth commending how the ‘Modi Doctrine’ has balanced out Israel and Iran virtually de-hyphenating each other from their relationship with India. This is a classic example of a bold and aggressive Policy of Modi Govt that is now willing to take those steps that few would have dared to. Even Modi’s Visit to UAE and the intelligence cooperation is a sign of fine balancing act being done by India.
The ‘Strategic Autonomy’ policy of India also encompasses de-hyphenating Pakistan from Indo-US or Indo-China Bi-Lateral ties. Both US and China have a wide interest in the Af-Pak Region and are providing military, economic aid to Pakistan in form of CPEC or Coalition Funds. The New Paradigm Shift in India’s Policy viz Pakistan is “First Crackdown on Terror to promote the Conducive atmosphere in which further deliberations can be held on all issues including Kashmir, while Bullets will be answered with Bullets”. The Policy viz Pakistan is a clear assertion of a Bi-Lateral solution to all pending issues within the Framework of Shimla Agreement of 1971 which makes it abundantly clear that there is no scope for any 3rd Party in India and Pakistan Talks and that includes Hurriyat (a separatist group) created at the instance of then US Diplomat Robin Raphel in 1993-94, actively backed by ISI. The process of de-hyphenation of Pakistan is not only with relation to India-US but also India-China and even SAARC Countries. The signing of 4 Nation Travel Pact i.e. India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan underscores change in India’s Policy that Pakistan will no more be an impediment in India’ s regional and global ambitions. The Modi Doctrine specifically focuses on changing India’s role from a balancer to a power player in Asia-Pacific and beyond.
Another Highlight of the Modi Doctrine of strategic autonomy is the balancing of ties between China and Japan, Vietnam, and Australia. Indian PM Narendra Modi has been very keen to push Japan as a key Investor in India’s growth story with the Bullet Train Project from Ahmedabad to Mumbai or the development of Varanasi into a smart city akin to Kyoto. India’s Policy with China post May 2014 has been to engage and build; keep engaging with china at various forums, correct trade imbalances and quietly build on for a potential future standoff with the dragon in Indian Ocean Region or the South China Sea. The strengthening of Defence and Security ties between India and Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Australia would fit in to the larger scope of things in Asia Pacific. The Tri-Lateral Dialogue between India-US-Japan, the Malabar Exercises, Make In India syncing through DTTI with US opens up a totally new space for India to have its Blue Navy projecting its military influence across the region viz China expansionist designs.
Another aspect of Modi Doctrine would management of Russia’s tilt towards China in wake of Ukraine Crisis and the ensuing sanctions. Russia heavily relies on Oil/Gas export to China for essential revenue. Russia is also helping build a Burgeoning Chinese Naval Power that directly undercuts Indian Naval Ambitions in its backyard of Indian Ocean Region. Russian-made and Russian-derived air defense technologies now enable PLAN surface warfare ships to slip out from underneath the PLA’s land-based air-defense umbrella and to increasingly operate further away from Chinese shores. This also raises further question as to how will the Modi Doctrine balance various blocs from SCO to BRICS to Asian Quadrilateral. Modi’s Doctrine of Strategic Autonomy implies a pragmatic policy that India would be part of various blocs from BRICS to SAARC to SCO but it will deal with every global power based on its national interest and not be drawn in to East vs. West or US vs. China or US vs. Russia syndrome.
Highlights of Modi’s Foreign Policy
Over the last year the Modi Doctrine of ‘Strategic Autonomy’ has been implemented quite vigorously with more stress on getting the India Story back on track by inviting Foreign Investors to invest in India under the flagship schemes of Make in India and Digital India. It is pertinent to note that India received 19.78 Bn $ in FDI from 12 Countries visited by PM Modi in 2014-15. In 2014-15 FDI in India increased by 27% to 30.93 Billion $- while Japan committed an investment of 35 Billion $ in span of 5 years, the Chinese committed 20 Bn $ along with 2 Bn Euros from France for sustainable development in India. The massive Foreign Policy push under Modi Doctrine includes not only Geo Politics but even Geo Economics.
The Modi Doctrine has marked some aggressive and innovative diplomacy by inviting SAARC leaders for the swearing in ceremony or by inviting President Obama on India’s Republic Day celebrations on 26th Jan 2015. That event marked a huge departure from India’s Pro Soviet/Russia leaning to a more balanced once based on Strategic Autonomy and national interest. The Obama visit was historic – it was first time that a US President was invited to India’s Republic Day ceremony with Indo-US Partnership being upgraded to Strategic+. The visit also marked the solving of long standing issues like Nuclear Deal liability clause clearing the way for Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Power Plants like the one proposed in Bhavnagar, Gujarat by Westinghouse. The visit also marked India and US agreeing to a 10 year Defence Agreement along with DTTI Clause under which United States would transfer technology in various weapon technologies to India, a path breaking agreement in sharp contrast to India’s Pro Soviet leanings during Cold War. Similarly India and US Declaration also talked about Freedom of Navigation in Seas that was aimed at China’s expansionist attitude in South China Sea. The US Department of Defence in its latest Asian Maritime Security Strategy has underscored that India’s Act East Policy is in Sync with America’s Asia-Pacific Pivot. This is further underscored by the fact that United States has setup a working group to discuss building India’s largest Aircraft Carrier Vishal with EAMLS Technology and Hi Tech Surveillance Systems that would propel India’s reach further into Deep Indian Ocean and South China Sea.
The Modi Doctrine is not only about FDI in No’s or Hi-tech Defence Projects under Make in India but also increasing the capacity of India’s critical Infrastructure that would supplement India’s Soft Power. Australia Signed a Nuclear deal with India to supply 500 tons of Uranium to India for its nuclear power plants. Similarly Canada Agreed to supply 3000 Metric tons of Uranium to India while India has signed Nuclear Fuel Supply agreement with Kazakhstan which has the world’s largest Uranium reserves along with Russia agreeing to setup 2 more reactors at Kundakulum Nuclear Power plant and a further 12 reactors in 20 years. These Nuclear Deals ultimately help India transition to a pollution free energy source that could a go long way in India’s global efforts to provide clean power to a billion plus population. In addition to Nuclear Power, stress has also been made on other critical infrastructure like Smart Cities with MoU signed between India and US on developing smart cites of Ajmer, Vishakapatnam and Allahabad. Japan agreed to invest 30 Million $ in DMIC (Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor) in addition to Bullet Train project while France has agreed to study feasibility of Delhi-Chandigarh Bullet Train project. In addition to this ONGC Videsh is investing in Vietnam Oil Fields while India is creating a strategic oil reserve of the oil from Iraq. ONGC Videsh is also buying stakes in Oil and Gas fields in Russia such as Sakhalin Block or Vankor in eastern Siberia.
One of the hallmarks of the Modi Doctrine is that how it has used various crises as opportunities to project its soft power. From rescuing of thousands of Indians and foreigners from Yemen warzone with proper coordination with the Saudis and the Iranian back Houthis; India’s naval reach to the Gulf of Aden and Indian Air Force’s commendable relief and rescue efforts during Nepal earthquake were noticed across the world. These crises were turned into opportunities by India to project itself as a rightful player on the global stage.
Challenges to ‘Modi Doctrine’
While Modi Doctrine is a stark change to India’s old ambivalent foreign policy in Classic School of thought, its new policy of ‘Strategic Economy’ is ruffling many feathers and causing unease to global powers who desire a more pliable India that can be exploited for its mass consumer base as a market for their companies. Modi Doctrine of Strategic autonomy based on national interest has evoked mixed reactions from the world. While India-US have upgraded their partnership to Strategic Plus yet differences remain like the Food Subsidy issue at WTO where India strongly defended its national interest for farmers even if it meant putting the framework of WTO Agreement at Risk. Similarly India is strongly defending its Intellectual Property Rights Regime with respect to Patents, which Pharma Giants in US are lobbying for to be tweaked in their favour. Similar is the case with Bi-Lateral investment treaties and FTA with EU, which has been put in limbo owing to India’s rightful objections to the agreements being heavily lopsided in favour of western corporate giants.
In addition to the above overt challenges, lies the issue of covert sabotages to India’s growth story till it agrees to tweak its laws, rules and frameworks as per the demands of the Global Corporate Czars. The Deep state works at various levels through various modus operandi from instigating caste and communal violence to creating Political and Social movements using a network of NGOs, Social Activists that are constructively used to file PILs seeking stays on Coal or Uranium Mining that makes Indian energy sufficient which has potential to upset the apple cart of imports from other countries. These vested interests create a network of NGOs ably funded by donor agencies and backed by the corporate controlled media. Such covert Means have innumerably been used to subvert the legitimately elected governments across the world in the form of Colour revolutions and Social Movements. The Modi Doctrine’s policy of Internal Security which includes crackdown on NGOs like Greenpeace, Ford Foundation etc. has ruffled feathers in the top most hierarchy in United States and Europe.
It must be understood that in this globalized world whenever any country has tried to assert its sovereignty much to the displeasure of Corporate Czars, such governments have been viciously targeted in various manners. These Global Powers use various overt and covert means through various State and Non State actors to get the desired result. Though these Global powers cannot wish away India’s market and its strategic location in Asia-Pacific yet they wish India to fit into their plans and the Modi Doctrine of ‘Strategic Autonomy’ does not fit into their designs of a more pliable India. Hence these Global Powers and its Corporate Czars follow the Carrot and Stick policy. It is pertinent to note that even though Russia is India’s old friend, yet it has been dilly dallying over Stealth Technology in FGFA project and even Japan has time and again raised objections to India’s commitment to NPT for an entry into NSG. Like Japan even Australia has demanded similar compliance from India for Ratification of Nuclear Fuel (Uranium) Supply Agreement. United States heralded Modi as the man who means business yet the very same US trying to scuttle India’s Solar technology Mission at WTO which recently passed an order that favors US Corporates and its imports in relation to India’s Solar Policy. Though US has signed landmark DTTI Agreement with India for Sharing Technology in Crucial Weapons system but that wont materialize in something substantial until India signs Foundational Defence agreements with USA like LSA and CISMOA which entails Providing Military Bases to United States on India soil something its Defence forces have been averse to.
The Modi Doctrine also faces domestic challenges in sync with international challenges to its policies. The Reforms push under the Modi Doctrine like FDI in Railways, Disinvestment, Land, Labour and Taxation Reforms which have been stalled owing to stiff opposition by Trade Unions who have resorted to strikes and protests by Farmer Bodies etc. There is a systematic resistance to stall the structural reforms, which could derail the vote bank politics. The Black Money law that imposes strict punitive action has caused Panic in Indian Inc like Industrialists, Real Estate Moguls some of whom are now acting as saboteurs to India’s Growth Story by creating a slowdown owing to lack of investment.
From stirring the pot of Caste Reservations to Class Wars to Trade Union Strikes to Communal tensions the events are not co-incidental but totally cold and calculated moves to stall the reforms agenda of Modi Doctrine. Things are bound to get worse in Coming years in 2016-17 with a Global Economic Slowdown, Chinese Crash affecting Indian Economy along with Domestic Saboteurs acting in Sync with International players to stall the Governance Agenda. Be it domestic or international the broad trend is clear that the well-entrenched system nurtured over decades is resisting the Modi Doctrine, which is contrary to the established practices.
While Narendra Modi’s doctrine of ‘Strategic Autonomy’ and securing India’s national interest first like of Farmers at WTO or of the Indian Consumer per Unfair Trade Practices of Western MNCs is the best path for India yet it faces daunting challenges in pursuing this policy, which might not gel well with high echelons in global order. To conclude it would be fair to state that Rome was not built in a day and it will take decades of 10%+ Growth with massive investment in Rural Infrastructure, Public Health and Safety, R&D in Technology and Education to really make India a global super power. Modi Doctrines envisions India leading the world with a mixture of soft power and the ancient knowledge it has to share with the world but the question that India must ask itself is that does it have the patience and faith to back Modi Doctrine for at least a decade to bring these structural changes that the country desperately needs. Will the Indian voters be wise enough to realize the potential of Modi Doctrine or will they once again fall prey to the politics of propaganda and doles being rolled out by domestic saboteurs at the behest of International Financers? Only time will tell.