A 360 degree look at India’s foreign


India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has notched up many air miles in furtherance of India’s foreign policy. These trips to countries as varied as the US to Ireland, promise to bring a lot of investment and goodwill India’s way. V. Pramod gives us a round-up.

Any analysis of India’s foreign policy would necessitate a somewhat detailed look at Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s recent visits to countries from Ireland to the United States (US).

The G4 meet
When PM Modi hosted the G4 meet at the United Nations (UN), he sent out a very powerful message to the world that India meant business regarding its attempt to secure permanent membership of the Security Council. The country heads, comprising German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, apart from Modi himself, who were meeting after 11 long years, went on to declare themselves “legitimate” candidates for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Modi also called for the task to be achieved immediately. The G4 countries had in my opinion, blundered by keeping away from meeting for so long. It’s quite possible that more ideas could have emerged if they had met on more occasions. It’s hoped at least now, that the countries will meet more frequently, to evolve strategies towards making the organisation more representative. According to the joint statement, the leaders also pledged to cooperate with the UN General Assembly President. This is certainly a move in the right direction, as it indicates that the countries would not apply undue pressure to push their objectives. Any move by the group to exert excessive pressure like refusing to contribute troops to UN missions unless the demand is positively addressed or boycotting conferences, can entail negative consequences for the whole world. Such steps may also be counterproductive.

Modi also struck the right note by pointing out that countries contributing to the UN peacekeeping operations lacked the power to arrive at decisions. This came about after his announcement that the nation would contribute an additional battalion of 850 troops and three police units with more representation of female peacekeepers. Those complaining of inadequate recognition for Indian peacekeepers would also be happy, as the Prime Minister sought a memorial for those who had lost their lives while on duty, also offering to financially contribute toward the project.

Apart from steps to secure more recognition for Indian efforts towards international peacekeeping operations, the Prime Minister also took the opportunity to interact with Silicon Valley executives, exploring possibilities of investments in India. (See box) This move, besides indicating the proactive nature of the government in securing business for India, also reminds us of Modi’s trip to the US last year, when he took steps to showcase India as an attractive investment destination.

Indo-Pak ties
Though PM Modi could not meet Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif at the UN, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has been very firm in refuting Pakistan’s four-point plan. It may be recalled that Nawaz Sharif had proposed that both the countries formalise and respect the 2003 ceasefire understanding on the Line of Control in Kashmir, apart from eschewing the use of force and demilitarising Kashmir. He also called for unconditional mutual withdrawal of troops from the Siachen Glacier. Swaraj replied that Pakistan had to stop sending terrorists to Kashmir, if it wanted talks. India has also done well to insist that withdrawing from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) is the only pending issue before both the countries. With this, India has indicated that it would be firm in dealing with Pakistan. Let us hope that it would continue in the same spirit. Any dialogue between the two countries will have meaning only if terrorism is firmly crushed. It should also be recalled that PM Modi did not make any mention of Pakistan in his speech at the summit. Modi also pressed for President Obama’s assistance for India’s membership of the international export control regimes. He insisted that it had to be done within a time limit.

Modi’s Ireland visit and other initiatives
Narendra Modi’s short visit to Ireland, undertaken before his US visit, was certainly significant, as it was the first one by an Indian Prime Minister after 1956. While critics may call the visit as only symbolic, it helps in making a beginning towards a long-term relationship.

Now, it would be worthwhile to take a look at India’s foreign policy measures nearer home.
Notable steps have been taken, especially regarding ties with Bangladesh. Exchange of the enclaves is an important step in this process. Bangladesh hosts an aspirational middle class which would certainly back friendly ties with India, being fully aware of its benefits. The country also has a vibrant civil society. Both the countries can benefit economically with better ties. India is also now making efforts to improve ties with North Korea. Cynics who may wonder whether the country would be of any use to India would be advised to bear in mind that it is rich in minerals. All this began when North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong visited India sometime before Modi flew to Seoul to meet South Korean President Park Geun Hye. North Korea’s economy is very much dependent on raw materials, especially iron ore and coal. The ties had weakened in recent years, as it felt India was getting closer to South Korea.

Climate change
Modi spoke in a balanced manner about climate change. He observed that countries required freedom to frame policies with regard to climate change and called for a global public partnership for harnessing technology, innovation and finance for bringing clean and renewable energy for everybody. At present, it’s believed that developed countries apply pressure on the developing world to take steps for reducing pollution, without understanding their capacity in this regard. Another step suggested is also quite practical – that people should look for lifestyle changes that would make them less dependent on energy and more sustainable in its consumption. If lifestyle changes were initiated in people from childhood, the world would be taking a step towards clean energy.

‘Likes’ all the way!
The ability to secure useful projects for one’s country is the trait of a successful leader. It’s in this context that we look at PM Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley and Google offices in the US. On his visit to San Jose, he met more than 350 business leaders. Before this, he met Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Microsoft announced that it would partner with the Government of India to provide broadband Internet connectivity for 500,000 villages. The move would help in overall development of these villages, besides equipping farmers with access to information and markets. Chip manufacturer Qualcomm announced that $ 150 million would be invested for Indian start-ups in the mobile and Internet-of-Everything ecosystem. An innovation lab would come up in Bengaluru to provide technical and engineering support to Indian companies. Modi’s visit to the Google office was also significant. Google announced that it would partner India in offering free wifi services at 500 railway stations in India. In an interesting aside, Modi wanted Khagaul near Patna to be pinpointed on Google Earth. The famous ancient astronomer Aryabhatta had his observatory at Khagaul.
A note about Modi’s visit to the Facebook Headquarters (called a Townhall meeting), which was undertaken before he went to the Google Heaquarters, would be in place here. CEO Mark Zuckerberg changed his profile picture to reflect India’s tricolours as a gesture of support to Digital India. Zuckerberg, uncharacteristically, opened up about his parents, as did Modi, who also cried, when he spoke about his mother’s sacrifices to bring him up. Zuckerberg further narrated an incident, previously unshared on a public platform. He revealed that his mentor Steve Jobs had urged him to undertake a spiritual visit to India, to a certain temple, when Facebook was going through a tough phase at its inception. The trip, he told an appreciative Modi, enabled him to reaffirm his firm’s mission to connect billions of people around the world.

India, by submitting its climate action plan to the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn, has demonstrated its willingness to be a part of the climate change plan. Under the plan, the country will combat climate change with energy efficiency, and by slashing its ‘emission intensity’ (carbon emission per unit of GDP) significantly, and enhance the share of clean energy by 40 per cent in its total energy mix by 2030. It has also clarified that the plan could be successfully implemented only with cooperation from developed countries.

Analysing India’s foreign policy scenario, we can state with certainty that dramatic changes have been witnessed. We cannot say that everything is hunky dory, but it can be stated that a decisive beginning has been made, especially with regard to Bangladesh and North Korea. Let us hope that India takes giant strides in the future, going on to secure a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.


V. Pramod

The writer has worked with daily newspapers and prefers writing opinion pieces on issues of general and national interest, especially international and strategic topics with special reference to India.