Musings from afar

How Modi is transforming India's foreign policy

The prime minister has also been underlining that his government means business.

 |  Musings from afar  |  5-minute read |   20-04-2015
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just returned from a nine-day tour of three key Western nations which took him to France,  Germany and Canada, where has used his "Make in India" initiative to encourage investment from three of the world's major economies. Defence, energy, and infrastructure took centrestage in Paris as Modi went on a boat rise with the French President on the Seine and interacted with French business leaders. In Germany, the real European powerhouse, Modi met Chancellor Angela Merkel and inaugurated the Hannover Messe, considered one of the world's largest congregations of industry gurus, in which India is a partner country this year.

With Canada, Modi secured a landmark nuclear energy deal, which will supply India with 3.2 million kilos of uranium over a five-year period, formally ending a long-standing moratorium on Canadian exports of nuclear materials to India. In the 1970s, India used Canadian technology in its nuclear programme. Supplying the uranium will be Canadian producer Cameco Corporation, who says India is the second-fastest market for nuclear fuel.

Focusing on results

While his critics complain about his style, Modi is gradually transforming Indian diplomacy. With a razor-like focus on achieving tangible outcomes, not merely high-sounding rhetoric, to help the Indian economy and on resolving long-standing disputes with key partners, Modi's foreign policy is markedly different from predecessors.

Modi's unabashed selling of India as an investment destination is the most striking aspect of Modi's outreach to the West. Unlike his predecessors, India now has a prime minister who is more in tune with global diplomacy than most of the Indian foreign policy bureaucracy and commentariat in Delhi. One of the most important roles that leaders of major economies are expected to play in today's day and age is that of a salesman. From Barack Obama to Xi Jinping, from David Cameron to Angela Merkel, the first order of business for most governments today is to sell their countries as welcoming places for doing business. And Modi is a salesman par excellence. Pledging a stable and transparent tax regime, Modi has beenbusy wooing global investors, arguing that development is "not a mere political agenda" but an "article of faith" for his government and has sought international support to achieve the objectives crucial for growth.

He has also been underlining that his government means business. "India is a now changed country... our regulatory regime is much more transparent, responsive and stable," Modi said in Germany as he promised investors that his government is working on a "war footing" to improve the business environment further. This is something that global investors have long wanted to hear from Indian leaders. Today they see a leader who has the mandate to deliver on his commitments and they seem impressed.

In France, Modi's "can-do" attitude and pragmatic instincts were unleashed as he tried to move forward on projects that have been stuck for a long time. The Rafale deal has been in limbo for the past three years over terms of procedures and pricing negotiations even as the Indian Air Force has been worried about meeting its "critical operational necessity." Modi managed to break the deadlock with his out of the box approach when he signed a government-to-government deal with France for the supply of 36 Rafale fighter jets in "fly-away" condition "as quickly as possible." Though this goes against his "Make in India" pitch, he understood the urgency of IAF demands. In some ways, this was compensated by the support Modi's "Make in India" campaign received from Airbus which declared that the company was "ready to manufacture in India, for India and the world."Airbus Group is likely to increase its sourcing of aerospace parts from Indian companies to $2 billion in the next five years. India and France also inked deals aimed at early operationalisation of civil nuclear cooperation agreement. The Jaitapur project has also been truck because of differences over the cost of electricity generation. With the new pacts, there is likely to be swift movement on this front as well.

Going back to the past

Modi's ability to effectively link India's past with the nation's future in furthering Indian aspiration was underscored when he talked about India's aspirations for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council. Where previous Indian governments had been diffident in highlighting the contribution of Indians to the two World Wars, Modi paid a tribute to about 10,000 Indians who had died fighting alongside their French counterparts in World War I, underlining the fact that Indians have been sacrificing their lives for world peace and stability for over a century. As such, India's place on the UNSC is the nation's right. This is an argument that should have been made long back but Congress governments have been reluctant to take this up for ideological reasons.

Reaching out to the diaspora

Modi's impressive outreach to the Indian diaspora is also key to his approach to foreign affairs. He is the first Prime Minister to view the diaspora as critical to India's economic growth story and not surprising, therefore, that he reached out to the Indian community in all three countries he visited. With over 1.2 million people of Indian origin, Canada deserved special attention. "India has the strength, what is needed is opportunity," Modi said while addressing an estimated over 10,000-strong Indian diaspora at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto, underlining the role that the Indian diaspora can play in creating these opportunities. If the Indian political leadership succeeds in cultivating the diaspora and giving them a sense of a stake in the Indian economic regeneration, it would pay dividends in more ways than one.

What Modi's forays in foreign policy have achieved so far is a sense in the outside world that New Delhi finally means business. The Congress can complain all it wants about Modi ignoring the contribution of previous governments, for the rest of the world Modi does indeed represent a decisive break from the past.


Harsh V Pant Harsh V Pant

The writer is Professor of International Relations at King's College London. His most recent book is India's Afghan Muddle (HarperCollins).

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