Modi’s neighbourhood policy: Perception & pursuance
IN respect of India’s neighbourhood policy, nothing changed substantially except the Man and the Party in power.
As a result of the general election to the Lok Sabha held in April-May 2014, Narendra Damodar Das Modi replaced Dr. Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister of India, while in place of Congress-led Alliance (UPA), Bharatiya Janata Party-led Alliance (NDA) took over the reign of administration in New Delhi.
All other situations like unipolar nature of world politics in which the United States of America was the single superpower, waves of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation along with emphasis on regional co-operation, integration and promotion of mutual understanding among the countries of the region remained as earlier.
However, despite these inherited global and regional perspectives, the regime of Narendra Modi is known for its new initiatives implemented in foreign policy and preferences set for the days of his rule, which apart from ‘Neighbourhood First’ include Act East Policy, Link West Policy, Indian Ocean Outreach, India First, Fast-track Diplomacy and Para Diplomacy.
In broader sense these all relate to economic and technological development, integration of domestic and foreign policy, focus on national power, greater emphasis in global socio-politics and soft power image of India and confident pragmatism by removing the hurdles of relations with any country to make the country an influential nation in the region and a potential superpower in the world politics.
In particular, his neighbourhood practices, like strengthening bilateral ties, diplomatic engagements, sub-regionalism, elements of continuity and change and their applicability in establishing peace in the region have made a positive impact on the region and make the public feel a difference between Modi’s and his predecessors’ policy.
Policy orientations: Narendra Modi, even before becoming the Prime Minister of India, in course of election campaign, revealed his foreign policy objectives and laid emphasis on peace and tranquility in South Asia for the realisation of developmental agenda of the region as a whole.
As he had made several foreign tours and concluded various agreements with foreign countries and many states of federal country, he introduced the concept of para diplomacy in India under which each state of the country would have liberty to forge special relations with countries and states or cities of their interest.
In election campaigns he was also of the view that first priority will be given to bilateral trade with most countries keeping in view their position at global level and strategic perspectives of India.
In his foreign policy orientations, he appeared eager to regain India’s earlier fallen status at the global level as observed by several analysts along with giving the world a message about the change he brought and initiated in foreign and domestic policies.
In short, since assumption of his office, he started working hard to achieve great power status for India by consolidating country’s dominant position in South Asia and expanding its reach beyond the region up to great and superpowers of the world.
In the context the fast changing geo-political, geo-economic and geo- strategic environment of the world has made it possible for Modi to see the dream transforming into reality.
However, in spite of trying for itself an international identity through engagements with major powers, the difficult aspect of continental geography should always be kept in mind and more attention should be paid on theory and practice of strengthening relations with immediate neighbours, in other words, SAARC countries.
Pursuance of the policy: The Government of Narendra Modi formed in May 2014 keeping in view the bilateral and regional considerations, started implementation of his foreign policy orientations with the swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister in which all Heads of State/Government and beyond the region, were cordially invited to attend the function.
This gathering on the occasion where dignitaries of all SAARC countries were present, was called by media as the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy of the Government which signalled India’s commitment to regional connectivity and a revival of its regional policy, left behind in the recent past, to strengthen cross-border relations.
The very next day of the oath a meeting of the SAARC member countries were convened, which was termed as the mini-SAARC summit and addressed by the new Prime Minister of India in which he put forward several proposals including the setting of a SAARC Satellite and a SAARC Centre for Good Governance.
In this meeting he also expressed India’s intention to play a proactive role in enhancing regionalism, it however, by the further developments in the 18th meeting of SAARC member countries held in Kathmandu in November 2014.
It was a great opportunity to push idea of regionalism and Modi promised to help his neighbours on issues of trade, transit, visas, investment, education, health, communications and space technologies.
In course of deliberations three agendas-rail, road and energy were agreed finally to sign, but lastly only one agreement on establishing energy grid concluded.
The other agreements to be signed were left over underlining the lack of trust between the member countries.
Other major common issues which have blocked the understanding and cooperation among member countries like fighting terrorism, flow of investment and financial agreements and regional integration remained unrealised.
The major reason behind the mistrust mainly between two-member nations (India and Pakistan) relate to the partition of the sub-continent in 1947 on politico-religious lines with which emerged the challenges of setting up boundaries, sharing river waters, protecting the rights of minorities and easing the flow of goods and people on both sides of the border.
Net results: Not only the lack of trust and confidence between India and Pakistan due to opposite religious lines, but other factors like emergence of the People’s Republic of China particularly from 1950-51 when Beijing annexed Tibet and India recognized it, the whole concept of regional integration badly affected as it totally altered the geopolitical condition of India.
Emergence of a powerful nation on India’s frontier with whom India is not on good terms, affected its relations with neighbouring countries in general.
Being disappointed from the performance of SAARC, Modi began to concentrate on bilateral relations with countries of the region.
— The writer is Professor and Head, P G Department of Political Science, Bihar, India.