COMMENT: Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to use foreign policy as a potent instrument to fulfil his ambitious plan of bringing about an economic transformation in India and securing a significant regional and global role for her.
Barring the Cold War era and heydays of the NAM, India has never been wooed so much as today.
No doubt, India under Nehru used to punch above its weight at international fora and was listened to by Washington and Moscow.
However, after him, it was also dismissively described as the “begging bowl” thanks to its Hindu rate of growth , shortages of food grains and need of foreign aid and assistance.
Just a year back, various international credit rating agencies were downgrading India; foreign investors were giving it a slip and economic pundits were forecasting only gloom and doom.
India’s story seemed to have lost its plot; India at the Davos Economic Forum gave a forlorn look.
Ten months into his job, Narendra Modi has successfully dispelled that atmosphere of gloom and doom.
The mood is visibly upbeat and forward-looking; forecast for GDP growth this year is around 7.5% touching 8% next year.
The top three economies – US, China and Japan – are courting India as never before and competing with each other in professing how their country’s relations with India constitute the most defining relationship of this century.
It is unprecedented.
Both the US and Japan stress that India’s rise will be good for it as well as for the region and the world as a whole.
This positive change in the perception of India in the eyes of major powers of the world is the most significant foreign policy achievement of Narendra Modi.
Surprisingly, his juggernaut was stopped in Delhi by Arvind Kejriwal and his personal image is getting a beating on account of his inability or unwillingness to contain or control issues like ghar wapasi, love jihad, attacks on Christian churches, and aggressive, provocative and insensitive utterances by the likes of Yogi Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj, Giriraj Singh and even RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
This creates a degree of fear among minorities in India, sends the wrong signal abroad and damages his own image and his much-talked about development agenda.
Modi wants to use foreign policy as a potent instrument to fulfil his ambitious plan of bringing about an economic transformation in India and securing a significant regional and global role for her.
For realising this visionary objective, he is assiduously building bridges of friendship, trust and interdependence with the US, China and Japan, notwithstanding the fact that both the US and Japan have serious concerns about China’s increasing assertiveness as does India.
Visuals of Modi’s ‘jadu ki jhappi’ with Shinzo Abe, feeding fish in Kyoto, visit to Toji shrine and tea ceremony together showed them as close buddies .
It wasn’t hollow bonhomie; it resulted in pledges of US$35 billion in investment and prospects of Modi’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi becoming a smart city like Kyoto.
Apparently, the fear of China is pushing Japan to embrace India.
The Tokyo declaration stressed the need of maritime security and freedom of navigation and over flights, civil aviation safety, unimpeded lawful commerce and settlements of disputes in accordance with international law.
However, the Global Times of China, usually reflecting the Chinese government’s views, was dismissive.
“The increasing intimacy between Tokyo and New Delhi will bring at most psychological comfort to the two countries. Sino-Indian ties can in no way be counter-balanced by Japan-India friendship,” it wrote.
Though Japan has joined India and the US in the Malabar naval exercises, the much-anticipated nuclear deal didn’t materialise during Modi’s sojourn in Tokyo nor did India get a nod for supply of amphibious naval aircraft from Japan for want of signals from Uncle Sam.
It shows how the growing Indo-Japanese relationship has another external angle besides China.
Barack Obama has already created history by becoming the first US President to be chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade in Janurary and for having held two summit meetings with Modi in less than five months.
Since Modi’s visit to the US in September last year, India-US relations are witnessing a promising phase after the turbulence and drift of the last couple of years.
The joint strategic vision unveiled in Delhi by Obama and Modi is a watershed; for the first time, India isn’t coy about being seen as aligning with the US on crucial issues confronting the region.
Ganging up on China
While a significant part of this renewed US interest and warmth is generated by the upswing in India’s economy and prospects of trade, business and investment, a lot of it is on account of American strategic thinking about countering the increasing economic, military and political clout of China.
No matter how loudly the US, Japan and India profess that they are not ganging up to contain China, this is how China views it.
The US-led initiatives like the TPP are aimed at shoring up its economic engagement with the Asia-Pacific and Europe and prolonging the US’ innings as the only superpower in the world and delaying China’s emergence as its successor.
On the other hand, flush with funds and harbouring ambition to be numero uno, China is spreading its economic and strategic tentacles through its initiatives such as the Silk Route, the Maritime Silk Route, the Asian Infrastructure Devel-opment Bank and free trade area for Asia Pacific.
India cannot afford to remain indifferent to these emerging groupings.
China has invited India to join APEC and even hinted at a possible merger of its Maritime Silk route & India’s Mausam route.
These ideas merit serious consideration. Fence-sitting will not help.
Interestingly, closer relations with the US make China more amenable to India. Economic deals with Japan spur China to better them.
Enviably, India finds itself in the role of a beautiful maiden whom three competing suitors want to win over.
She must take full advantage of this celestial configuration.
Still lagging far behind the US in terms of military might and nuclear weapons, China has undertaken a massive modernisation of its armed forces.
Its territorial claims against its neighbours and unilateral declaration of its maritime zone and establishing ADIZs (air defence identification zones) makes the countries of Southeast Asia jittery.
Don’t blindly trust China
Our bilateral trade with China, largely in China’s favour, is likely to touch US$100 billion.
Xi Jinping pledged US$20 billion in investments during his visit to India. Modi’s forthcoming visit to China might witness some big bang announcement to demonstrate that China is a more valuable a partner of India than the US and Japan.
But we cannot lose sight of the fact that we still have an unresolved boundary dispute with China.
Besides, it has helped Pakistan in a big way in its nuclear and missile programme and it has been operating in that part of Kashmir which Pakistan ceded to it.
For its own reasons, the US wants India to play a much bigger regional and global role, unlike China, which still considers India basically a South Asian power.
Status quo on the border dispute, which it calls a legacy of history, serves China’s interest.
While greater integration of economic interests in China and India rule out an open conflict, it will be foolhardy, in the long run, to trust China blindly.
Strategic partnership with the US not only helps India in terms of trade, investment and technology, but also produces a cascading effect; Japan, South Korea, Australia take it more seriously as do the Asean members.
So, in spite of our reservations about the American role in Pakistan and Afghanistan and differences on IPR, trade practices and climate change, Uncle Sam is India’s most useful ally in today’s fast-changing world.
Modi must display agility, adroitness and nimble-footed manoeuvres and the concentration of a juggler to keeps the three balls, the US, China and Japan, in the air all the time.
In other words, he must perform a delicate tightrope walk in relations with the US, China and Japan that will serve India’s best interests. – By Surendra Kumar for Asian Age