If we want larger countries to respect our sovereignty, we must respect the sovereignty of smaller countries.”
— Mani Shankar Aiyar (Former Indian Diplomat)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed two years in office on 25th May 2016. Since taking over as the Prime Minister of India, Modi has visited more than 40 countries in order to boost India’s image in the world. But, despite a flurry of visits and numerous “Jaddu ki Japphies,” the well-advertised foreign policy remained on the confused platter with nothing to show except his much-hyped global rendezvous on a regular basis. Apparently, Modi has put lots of efforts in reaching out to other countries to strengthen bilateral ties, yet all his efforts have been in vain and the present state of affairs is that with Pakistan a policy of ‘blow hot, blow cold’ is in operation and India’s friendliest neighbour, Nepal, is drifting away. China has also taken an unprecedented hostile position toward India and the US senate has recently rejected an amendment that would have recognised India as a “strategic defence partner”.
The contours of India’s foreign policy have changed significantly since Narendra Modi assumed charge as Prime Minister in May 2014. Without keeping Parliament in the loop, Modi Sarkar has virtually changed the country’s traditional non-aligned status by replacing Nehru’s Panchsheel with Modi’s ‘Panchamrit’. The pro-Western tilt has now become more pronounced than ever before despite India being a member of international groupings such as BRICS and IBSA.
In year one of his tenure, Modi surprised all with his innovative foreign policy manoeuvres. He took the world by storm when he invited Saarc leaders, including Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to his swearing-in ceremony. He then came up with the idea of ‘neighbourhood first’ which was an out-of-the-box foreign policy initiative. But, after two years, this initiative seems to have run into troubled waters. No doubt Modi has made great headways in his foreign policy at international level, when it comes to foreign policy to the neighbourhood, the expectations aroused by the initiative and the energy invested in driving it have faded in the past two years.
The real challenge of India’s neighbourhood policy has always been in dealing with China and Pakistan. Both these relationships look as confused, uncertain and daunting as ever. China being in a category beyond immediate neighbours was not a part of Modi’s initiative, but on Pakistan, in some ways, former PM Manmohan Singh may well have a better record. He, through backchannel parleys, brought the Kashmir issue closer to a resolution.
[AdSense-B] – [AdSense-B]
In the case of Nepal, India stands largely alienated due to the cold and undiplomatic response to Nepal’s new constitution. When Nepal adopted a secular constitution, India expressed its indignation about the content and asked to make as many as seven amendments. No doubt, Modi government overstepped the limits of suggestion and rather tried to impose its views on its much smaller neighbour. This was followed by a coercive diplomacy of undeclared but calibrated trade blockade. Hence, Nepal, which once was the closest ally of India, now seems among India’s bitterest enemies.
India’s sympathies in the Maldives oscillate between ousted President Mohamed Nasheed and the new regime led by President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom. India is especially uneasy with Maldives growing tilt toward China. Country’s former President Mohamed Nasheed, who vociferously opposes Maldives’ pro-China tilt, has taken refuge at the Indian High Commission. But, India is in the process of developing ties with the new president Abdulla Yameen as well.
Relationships with Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are generally friction-free but without any significant improvement, except for the change of regime in Sri Lanka and the ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh.
The Saarc remains a slow and uninspiring instrument of regional integration. Efforts to activate subregional mechanisms to enhance connectivity are being made, but results have been less than encouraging so far. India is jittery due to the fact that all its neighbouring countries have shown their willingness to help China consolidate its fast-expanding economic and strategic presence. Almost all of India’s neighbours are happy to work with China for its economic incentives and political promise.
Presence of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at Modi’s swearing-in ceremony and Modi’s sudden stopover in Lahore hinted that fragile relationship between the two countries would see some positive development. But, Indian government’s hard-line position with Kashmiri leaders has derailed the dialogue process. Pathankot attack made the situation worse. Currently, there’s no clarity on India’s policy towards Pakistan. It is not clear whether Modi favours continuation of dialogue or has he suspended it.
Modi’s foreign policy has failed to win any favours from China. The country has added some more to its string of pearls around India. Sri Lanka recently awarded contracts to China, giving Beijing operational control of the Hambantota port. Bangladesh has also awarded key contracts, while Kathmandu has drawn ever closer to Beijing in the recent months. Chinese construction of the Gwadar port and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor continue at a slow but worrisome pace for Delhi. India, meanwhile, has continued to look towards the US.
In the first two years of the Modi government, India’s foreign policy did not witness dramatic changes; economic cooperation remained the focus of India’s diplomacy. Modi’s foreign policy can be best remembered for its flip-flops on Pakistan and the Modi’s blockbuster speeches to delirious non-resident communities and the grand receptions he has received in several countries. But, catering to his vanity has not been easy for Indian diplomats; they have had to walk the extra mile to request foreign governments to go out of their way to make the Modi’s public engagements a grand success.