October 12, 2019
India has to be seen, India has to be heard. India has to, in a sense, be contributing in many ways
There will also be convergence with many but congruence with none. Finding common points to engage with as many power centres will characterize diplomacy
Road projects and rail projects are underway in Nepal, power supply to Myanmar has started, and a lot of railway lines have been laid in Sri Lanka
In foreign engagements, India makes sure to leverage global technologies, best practices, resources seeking more economic outcomes
In the past five years, India’s foreign policy has unarguably undergone a major transformation under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India has been asserting itself to play a more proactive role on the global stage, and, as the Delhi based think-tank Observer Research Foundation says in a special report, Looking back, looking ahead: Foreign Policy in Transition under Modi, “No Indian prime minister has ever before generated the kind of tenor and volume of academic literature that Modi has, particularly in the field of foreign policy.” It is clear that in an increasingly complex global scene, India is charting out a robust but “strategically autonomous” course for its foreign policy, the salient features of which was brought to the fore by India’s external affairs minister, S Jaishankar, during his recent visit to the USA and at a press meet he had addressed in New Delhi last month, after the completion of 100 days of the NDA government’s second tenure.
Greater Voice on Global Stage
Firstly, one of the key points of India’s foreign policy 2.0 as underlined by EAM S Jaishankar to the media, has been India’s increasing ability and appetite to shape global agenda and how this is more than evident in areas like climate change or sustainable development. The Indian voice and views are heard much more clearly today than ever before in the big debates at multilateral forums such as G20, BRICS, G7 Summit, Shanghai Cooperation Summit, the Vladivostok Far East Economic Forum, and BIMSTEC.
This is also seen in India’s leadership position in platforms such as International Solar Alliance, and its growing role in the Indo-Pacific region and South Asia.
Elaborating on India’s expanding role on the global stage, EAM S Jaishankar said that in a complex, multi-polar world, which requires multiple narratives, “India has to be seen, India has to be heard. India has to, in a sense, be contributing in many ways.” This point was further underscored in his speech titled, Preparing for a different era, in the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington last month, where he pointed out that it was “difficult to foresee a return to a bipolar world” because “the landscape has changed irreversibly.” The world is increasingly multi-polar and as old alliances dilute, ad hoc groupings will emerge as countries find common cause on particular issues. In this space, India will demand “a greater voice,” on the strength of its growing economic clout, he reiterated.
EAM Jaishankar went on to talk about how India sees itself in this kind of a multi-polar world. “There will also be convergence with many but congruence with none,” he affirmed. “Finding common points to engage with as many power centres will characterize diplomacy at its highest level. For this reason, India will find it perfectly natural to engage a Chinese leader at Wuhan, a Russian one at Sochi and then go on to a 2+2 meeting of foreign and defence ministers of the United States,” he said at his talk at the think-tank in the US.
And, cited the example of how at the G20 in Buenos Aires last year, India engaged back-to back in two trilaterals, i.e. US-Japan-India as well as Russia-India-China. India’s goal on the foreign policy front is not just going to be a proactive one but the country will work towards having the least problems with his peer group and the broadest acceptance beyond, unencumbered by alliances.
For India, there is a major rebalancing underway in the world and old mechanisms are no longer sufficient to align national and global interests. In fact, at the 2019 Raisina Dialogue in Delhi in January this year, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale declared, “India has moved on from its non-aligned past. India is today an aligned state—but based on issues.” Underscoring that it was time for India to become part of the global rule-making process, Gokhale argued that “in the rules-based order, India would have a stronger position in multilateral institutions.”
In the recent past, EAM Jaishankar drew attention to how India in all its foreign engagements makes sure to leverage global technologies, best practices, resources, seeking more economic outcomes, many more technology or project based decisions. Be it for Smart Cities or for claiming rivers, India is looking to forge robust connections.
First Circle of Priority
Besides broadly speaking about India’s relations with Western powers and with other regions around the world, India clearly prioritizes one region in particular, said the external affairs minister.
In his speeches, EAM Jaishankar has pointed out that South Asia is India’s “first circle of priority”. “We are very conscious, it’s a very under integrated region so what we have tried to do, through soft loans, through grants, through encouraging business collaborations, really look to see we can get much greater common connectivity on power transmission, on data flows, on optical fiber networks, on roads, on waterways, on rail links,” pointed out EAM Jaishankar.
The South Asia-focused neighbourhood-first policy is an initiative of PM Narendra Modi and a cornerstone of his government’s foreign policy. From installing new energy security architecture like installing smart LED streetlights in Maldives to helping build the Mangdechhu dam in Bhutan to help build a high-speed Parvatipura-Siliguri pipeline with Bangladesh, India is not talking reciprocity in the neighbourhood anymore.
Instead, EAM S Jaishankar said at the WEF India Economic Summit 2019, “India has very ambitious lines of credit, soft loans to all our neighbours. There are projects which are done under grant. The training numbers have gone up many times.” Road projects and rail projects are underway in Nepal, power supply to Myanmar has started, and a lot of railway lines have been laid in Sri Lanka. Historically, Bhutan has been India’s best partner in terms of development assistance, he said.
To sum it up, playing a leading role on the global stage rather than a global balancing force, India, from perpetually being a cautious power is now ready to take on a larger global role, say foreign policy experts. And, India is clearly signalling the changing priorities of the Indian foreign policy establishment — redefining strategic autonomy as an objective in today’s complex global scene and is going about it through strengthened partnerships rather than pursuing a non-aligned path.