Narendra Modi’s post-Nehruvian foreign policy

Narendra Modi’s post-Nehruvian foreign policy

The greatest thing about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy is that it does not have any pretensions of being great. It is characterized neither by the Left-leaning bombast and bluster reminiscent of the Nehru-Krishna Menon duo nor by wishy-washiness. It is pragmatic in the truest sense of the word, quite workmanlike.

Ancien regime grandees like Mani Shankar Aiyar are likely to lampoon it as the chaiwallah’s foreign policy, but that is what the country needs. We have had enough of grandstanding—Panchsheel, the Gujral Doctrine, etc. It’s time commonsense and reason got instilled in our relationships with other nations. This is what Modi is doing.

Modi at BRICS summit

So, Narendra Modi’s focus at the BRICS summit in Brazil—his first big high-level international conference as PM—was meeting top leaders, furthering India’s interests, and getting concrete results rather than making grand speeches. He did say the right kind of things:

“We should intensify our cooperation in confronting global challenges like terrorism, cyber security, and climate change… We must seek urgent reforms of global institutions of governance like the UN Security Council and international financial institutions.”

Narendra Modi called for shaping the WTO regime and moving beyond the “Summit-centric” approach.

“We must champion sub-national level exchanges, champion engagement between our states, cities, and other local bodies. BRICS should in fact be driven by people-to-people contact.”

It is interesting to note that he did not talk about Track-II, Track-III kind of people-to-people contact. He knows that such engagements become happy hunting grounds for characters like Ved Pratap Vaidik and Sudheendra Kulkarni. So, Modi stressed on bringing the youth of BRICS nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Apart from the mention of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, there were few literary flourishes.

An achievement was the finalization of the BRICS development bank which would be headed by an Indian though Modi couldn’t get it headquartered in New Delhi. It would be based in Shanghai.

There were some official goof-ups: Modi couldn’t meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, and had to wait for Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, India could get the invite from Chinese President Xi Jinping to attend a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in November.

APEC includes the United States, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and New Zealand. Home to two out of five humans, APEC nations account for 55 per cent of global gross domestic product. India has been trying to become a member of body for 20 years. So, Xi’s invitation is no mean feat for Modi.

Xinhua, the state-run press agency of China, said,

“Xi suggested the two sides manage, control, and handle differences with a positive and forward-looking attitude and find fair, reasonable, and mutually acceptable solutions to their border issues at an early date.” Modi, according to an official Indian release, laid emphasis on economic ties and the “need to find a solution to the boundary question, and maintenance of peace and tranquility on the border.”

These developments are the consequence of Narendra Modi’s cardinal principle in international relations: ‘We won’t bully anybody, nor would get bullied by anybody.’ This was enunciated in President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the joint Session of Parliament on June 9:

“India’s foreign policy, with its civilizational roots and heritage, is based on the principles of developing peaceful and friendly relations with all countries. We will pursue our international engagement based on enlightened national interest, combining the strength of our values with pragmatism, leading to a doctrine of mutually beneficial relationships.”

Suhasini Haidar of The Hindu has rightly pointed out that “enlightened national interest” is the core of Modi’s policy. But his attitude is equally, if not more, important—a non-doctrinaire, unsentimental attitude, that is not swayed by the woolly, vacuous, and verbose idealism of the Congress and the Greater India kind of claptrap. India and China are the world’s biggest nations with huge economies; they can have greater economic ties to the benefit of both. So, they should improve such relations. But we also have border problems; okay, then let’s sit down across the table and sort them out.

Ditto with Pakistan: Modi talks tough on terror, but he also invites Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony.

This attitude removes all fears about the rise of a jingoistic, bellicose India that would be a threat not only to the Indian subcontinent but the entire Asia-Pacific region. Actually, the fears were the product and function of the malign Modi campaign. He was presented as an ogre: normal behavior, let alone anything good, was not expected of him. The sobriety and unpretentiousness that Modi has exhibited in dealing with other nations is likely to surprise our self-declared liberals.

The contours of the foreign policy that he is chalking out are indeed post- and anti-Nehruvian. Earlier non-Congress governments generally accepted the Nehruvian imperatives as givens. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who headed the first Bharatiya Janata Party government, was constantly conscious of the reaction of intellectuals. It was almost like the Mohammad Rafi song, “Mujhe raat din yeh khyaal hai, kahin woh nazar se gira na de…”

Modi doesn’t care two hoots for what liberals think.

Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Ravi Shanker Kapoor is a journalist and author. He upholds freedom of expression, individual liberty, free market, and open society. He is an uncompromising opponent of Islamism, communism, and other totalitarian ideologies. He is also a critic of intellectuals, as evident from his third book, How India’s Intellectuals Spread Lies (Vision Books).