When two of the three editors of a compendium are directly or indirectly associated with the BJP and when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj launches the book, one would suspect this to be a hagiographic account of the NDA government’s foreign policy. But The Modi Doctrine: New Paradigms in India’s Foreign Policy pleasantly surprises by roping in the mandarins of international diplomacy from India and abroad, with few or none of the writers apparently looking for favours in return from the Narendra Modi dispensation.
The editorial team, comprising Anirban Ganguly, director of the Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, Vijay Chauthiawale, in charge of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the BJP, and Uttam Kumar Sinha, fellow at IDSA, did not compile already published articles from different newspapers, magazines, journals and websites. All the articles in the collection are fresh, written specially for this book.
Cleo Paskal, Associate Fellow at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs London, UK, says in her chapter that “Modi’s foreign policy during his first two years in power has been like getting a master class in geopolitics”, but there is a caveat about the Pacific region. “Only two of the 14 PICs (Pacific Island Countries) have an Indian high commission (China has an embassy in every PIC that it has relations with). That means depth of knowledge about the region is thin, relationships aren’t being established and maintained with key people on the ground and information flows may be less than complete.”
Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, Lisa Curtis believes that Modi has “pursued a bolder and more innovative foreign policy than his predecessor, Manmohan Singh.” She appreciates the fact that this Indian government has departed from the uselessly romantic policy of non-alignment with a new chapter of bonhomie between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi.
While dealing with a few remaining irritants in the India-US relations, the American writer strangely does not find fault in the American excuse that its F-16s for Pakistan would be used by our western neighbour for counter-insurgency operations against Taliban and Baloch rebels. However, she gets it right when she takes note of the Indian objection to China’s engagement with Afghanistan.
Former ambassador of Bangladesh to India, Tariq A Karim details the longstanding issue of enclaves along the boundary between the two countries and explains its significance in normalising our bilateral ties. He delves into the dynamics of India’s parliamentary democracy where he lauds Modi’s effort to get the two Houses, opposition parties and the state governments concerned on the same page.
In between, Ramesh Thakur, professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, disappoints with a big lecture on how India should conduct its external affairs instead of telling the reader how Modi, Sushma Swaraj, General V K Singh et al have led the foreign affairs initiatives so far. But he has a valuable suggestion for the MEA.
India’s long pursuit for the elusive permanent seat at the UN Security Council, he says, is an exercise in futility. Even other agencies of the international body, for example the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, are no longer the only financial benefactors — especially for an increasingly strong country like India. Thakur advises that we must rather divert our energies to get more out of G-20 and BRICS.
Sreeram Chaulia, Professor and Executive Director of the Centre for Global Governance and Policy at the OP Jindal Global University, underlines the importance of the diaspora in forging closer Indo-Western ties.
His article explains how wise it was on the part of Modi to address the Indian-American crowd at Madison Square; unpredictable as they are as voters, American Congressmen — both Democrat and Republican — made a beeline for the occasion to gauge the mood of our people, which was a positive turnaround from the hostility betrayed by the older US narrative on the personality that was the chief minister of Gujarat in the period 2001-14.
But Modi did more than reach out only to the affluent NRIs and PIOs based in the US. He addressed poorer Indians in Dubai in a manner that Arshad Khan, a worker from Bihar, is “visibly moved” and “excited” about the prospect of the country under the new Prime Minister — Chaulia informs.
There are, in all, 21 pieces in this volume, each dealing with a different aspect—bilateral or multilateral relationships—all of which this review cannot cover. This does not imply that the contributions of writers that could not be named are lesser.
The reader will get further insights into the accomplishments that are often talked about: Modi beginning the innings with invitations to the chief political executives of all Saarc countries, the ‘Look East’ policy, tremendous boost to FDI, rescue operations of Indians stranded overseas, etc.
The aspect of orientation of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) towards India’s business interests should not be missed. When detractors question the efficacy of so many foreign tours of Modi, they must be told that a careerist officer at a foreign mission would normally handle his work with a status quoist attitude. It takes an extra push by the Prime Minister for that cautious and circumspect IFS officer to get a sense of purpose in his job.
After finishing the book’s 200-odd pages, you will be left with a sense that there are more stories that haven’t been told. External Affairs Minister Swaraj informed the audience during the book launch, for example, that the India-Africa summit used to involve, before the NDA-2 government, a mere 17 countries of the large continent. Now, she says, we deal with 54. This is no mean accomplishment.
As Indian companies’ profit margins reduce in a scenario of ever-increasing competition in the Indian market, many have set sail for Africa in search of new customers. These business collaborations have a strategic ring about them. This is yet another challenge being thrown at the Chinese early bird in a market hitherto unexplored by Indians.
If you enjoyed C Raja Mohan’s Modi’s World: Expanding India’s Sphere of Influence in 2014, The Modi Doctrine should find a place in your library for more variety in perspectives.
The Modi Doctrine: New Paradigms In India’s Foreign Policy
Edited by Anirban Ganguly, Vijay Chauthaiwale, Uttam Kumar Sinha
Wisdom Tree, in association with Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. 210 pages. Rs 695.
Surajit Dasgupta is National Affairs Editor, Swarajya.