When the new BJP –led government took over, there were instant apprehensions that it would adopt a muscular tone and would be very assertive. Initially, it was also expected that the government would send some cold signals to various countries. All trough the campaign, the BJO touched the feelings of most Indians that our foreign policy as not successful and the old methods and policies might have to change. Indians generally felt that a country the size of India was not getting due respect from neighbors.
India is very much affected by what happens in other countries. India cannot change the course of events in other countries. But India is affected by them. Particularly India is very vulnerable to any military probes on violence or even an economic meltdown amongst our South Asian neighbors. When the USA leaves Afghanistan, India can expect a much more problematic area in AF-PAK countries. Terrorism or breakdown of authority in Afghanistan will impact India. The recent flare-up and war activity in Iraq had an immediate impact on oil prices in India and if such events take place, there will be negative consequences for India.
Aside from a positive economic policy, India needs a very pro-active foreign policy. India should not have a very visible muscular foreign policy since that would threaten the neighbors and make them even more anxious and hyper-active. India needs a foreign policy based op “smart power” and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken up what Harvard academic Joseph Nye has been enunciating for many years. Prof. Joseph Nye has stated that a country needs a “soft power” more than the usual tools for enforcing foreign policy. Soft power is the ability to persuade other nations based on the “attractiveness of their technology, culture, politics and ideas and ideals”.
India has abundant Soft Power. The President’s opening address to parliament emphasized the use of soft power in foreign policy. Again, the sophisticated approach to foreign policy has also been a reassuring measure to neighbors and it might be productive.
The very first action of the Modi government on May 19, 2014 was to invite all South Asian leaders for the swearing-in. This sent shock waves amongst his critics, who expected an assertive foreign policy. Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Kashmir was the first to praise this move. The first action of the new government was conciliatory and no one expected that. As Mark Twain, one of the world’s greatest writers said a 100 years ago, “Do the right thing and people will be astonished”.
The Indian tradition of “Vasudhaiva Kutmbakam “, meaning that the entire world is our family continues to be the underlying theme of foreign relations. There are many experts, who speculate whether Narendra Modi might become a major reformer like the Chinese Deng Xioping. It is possible that we will achieve long term settlements with various neighbors.
However, foreign policy success in black and white terms is very difficult to achieve. A successful foreign policy definitely needs a strong economy. Domestic success will definitely help achieve our foreign policy goals. So we must wait to see how the new Government tackles the economic crisis that is India now faces.
But the initial signs of the new government’s foreign policy look hopeful. Time will tell.