Yes, for long, Narendra Modi had been an untouchable, literally, in the arena of international community, particularly in the West. Barring a few in the East Asia, Modi had no international exposure, or goodwill relations with the international leaders. And though he may have denied that there is no personal grouse, and it caused no personal devastation; it is not easy to forget the humiliation. Given this background, the feeling of isolation coupled with his personality, Narendra Modi, after becoming the Prime Minister of India has been rushing to hit the floor of foreign policy.
And he is doing so, in his own style. From his decision to walk and talk in Hindi, to sticking to his trademark style of Indian wear (which is about to change, maybe, with the probable entry of Troy Costa) and vying to become the Big Brother in the South Asia region, Prime Minister Modi has made clear of his colossal ambition to stamp his mark of strong leadership in the international arena.
So there is no surprise that during the last two months, Modi has had a busy itinerary; and in coming months will only have a packed overseas travelling schedule. From visiting the neighboring countries, to attending the BRIC summit, to entertaining and engaging with the various foreign dignitaries at home, the latest being John Kerry, PM Modi is on a quest to create a ‘diplomatic’ impression, both for, personal as well as for national interest.
Having deliberately placed the troika of Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah for managing the crucial portfolio of Home, Finance, Defence and party affairs, Modi knows that his domestic challenges are in safe hands. Therefore, he has fast forwarded to developing relations with world leaders. But Narendra Modi has to put that extra zing in his diplomatic skills, after all he has huge shoes to fill. His predecessor Manmohan Singh, with his background in economic reform charmed the world leaders with his knowledge and sincerity.
Though, it is far too early to bring out a report card and grade the various moves of Prime Minister Modi on his international ventures. But two months into his prime ministership, he has given a nuance sense of how he would be managing the foreign policy hotspots.
In international relations, there is a common assumption that individual leaders create and implement their own foreign policies. And Modi is vying to do just that. He has made it clear that national security and economic growth will be his priority. He is on a quest to craft an ambitious foreign policy which will maximise power in the region, repair his and India’s image, restore and increase its relative power position, and pave way to assume leadership role in the international arena. From preaching ‘love thy neighbour’ to creating a lasting impression at BRIC, and keeping an affirmative stance at the WTO, signaling to the US and the the world that he and his government is not going to bend to suit others need. He has maintained a tough demeanour during his foreign visits and made it clear that he is a nationalist leader and that the national interest transcends all other interests.
The vital question that arises is - is India’s foreign policy set for a paradigm shift under Narendra Modi’s leadership? No doubt India, under the leadership of Modi, has global aspirations. It wants to be recognized as a major regional power and also enhance its role as an international player. India’s constant advocacy for membership in the United Nations Security Council says it all. But by forwarding the argument of pragmatism and not taking a clear moral position on pressing issues, Modi needs a foreign policy fit for purpose.
By taking forth some unconventional policy choices, like the mutated flippy-floppy stance on the West Asia conflict, and even on Ukraine misadventure, especially after the downing of MH flight leading to subsequent showdown between Russia and the West, India seems to shying away from its international responsibilities. Narendra Modi has multidimensional goal and his Nationalist Hindu identity will certainly provide a political direction to international politics.
And his upcoming visits to the US and Japan therefore will be closely watched to get a lucid sense of his government’s priorities in bilateral relationships with super power as well as old adversaries such as China and Pakistan. But September will be crucial as all eyes would be on Prime Minister Modi’s big visit to the US when he would be meeting Barack Obama for the first time.