By Manish Chand
As India celebrates 75 years of independence and the Modi government completes eight years at the helm, the world is looking at the country of 1.4 billion anew as an emblem of hope, resilience and resurgence.
Transformational diplomacy – pragmatic and visionary at the same time – has played a pivotal role in India’s ongoing global ascent, opening new avenues for prosperity and well-being of its citizens.
With the overarching strategic objective of making India a great power and its people prosperous, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led India’s diplomatic outreach from the front. Shedding years of risk-aversion, under his watch, Indian diplomacy has become innovative, courageous, and nimble-footed, enabling India to navigate its own emergence on its own terms. This out-of-the-box approach was evident from Day 1 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, armed with the largest mandate in a quarter century, took charge of the country on May 26, 2014. Showcasing its Neighbourhood First diplomacy, the leaders of all neighbouring countries and Mauritius were invited to the swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister. The primacy on neighbouhood was also exemplified by the choice of Bhutan as the first overseas destination of PM Modi. Over the next few years, PM Modi has visited all SAARC countries sans Pakistan which has stubbornly rejected India’s overtures for peace by refusing to end cross-border terror.
The last eight years saw an unprecedented diplomatic outreach with a record number of high-level incoming and outgoing visits. Reaching out to countries big and small – on the side-lines of the UNGA, PM Modi met the leaders of big countries as well as island nations such as St Vincent and Grenadines. Several countries saw the first-ever high-level visits from India at the level of Heads of State/Heads of Government. In sync with its rising global profile, India hosted the first-ever summit of the International Solar Alliance, the first summit with the leaders of Pacific Island states and the largest ever gathering of African leaders on the Indian soil.
The focused and systematic upgrade and transformation of India’s relations with the Gulf countries is widely seen as among major foreign policy achievements of the Modi government. PM Modi has deftly steered diplomatic outreach to the energy-rich region, forging robust security and counter-terror cooperation with key players in the region, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Another major achievement of the NDA government was the upgrade of Look East to Act East policy, which signified accelerated result-driven engagement with the strategically located region. The India-ASEAN commemorative summit in 2018 was a milestone that brought the leaders of all ASEAN countries to India for the first time as chief guests at the Republic Day celebrations.
Diplomacy for Development
Undistracted by power games, India fused diplomacy with national development and resurgence, leading to foreign collaborations and financial support for flagship schemes of national renaissance, including Make in India, Skill India, Smart Cities, Digital India, Namami Gange and Start-up India. Enhanced engagement with India’s external partners has brought visible benefits to people through foreign investment and technology tie-ups, leading to the setting up of factories and creation of jobs. Forging of green energy partnerships with countries like the US, France and Denmark has set the stage for clean low-carbon life for citizens of India.
Moulding the Global Agenda
The recalibration of India’s foreign policy in tune with the emerging world order has led to an increasing recognition of India’s indispensability to addressing diverse cross-cutting challenges, ranging from combating terrorism, global warming, piracy and pandemics to reshaping of global governance architecture. Instead of being reactive, India proactively set the global agenda and played a constructive role in key multilateral platforms such as the UN, the G20 and the COP 26. The country’s rising global stature is clearly reflected in its ongoing tenure as a non-permanent member of the UNSC on January 1, 2021. India’s presidency of UNSC for the month of August 2021 was marked by pioneering initiatives and its focus on effective multilateralism. Under New Delhi’s presidency, a strong resolution was adopted on the situation in Afghanistan, which demanded that the Afghan territory not be used to threaten any country or shelter terrorists. The highlight of the month-long presidency was a high-level signature event on maritime security presided over by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first time the Prime Minister of India chaired the Security Council. The finesse with which India has steered global issues during its UNSC tenure has buttressed its credentials for acquiring a permanent seat in UN Security Council. On terrorism, India pursued the policy of zero tolerance and forged counter-terror coalitions. National security issues moved centre-stage to India’s diplomatic outreach, with India showing decisiveness and boldness in addressing Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism hands-on through offensive surgical strikes on terrorist launch pads in the Pakistani territory.
Free & Open Indo-Pacific
In view of emerging geopolitical equations, India has minted its unique brand of multi-alignment to grapple with an increasingly multipolar world which underlines the country’s growing confidence in harnessing ties with mutually antagonistic power centres without getting sucked into zero sum games.
This approach was crystallized in PM Modi’s vision of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific at the Shangri La Dialogue in June 2018. In his speech, PM Modi underlined the centrality of ASEAN to the new Indo-Pacific and rejected any attempt to portray the Indo-Pacific Region as a club of limited members. In sync with this vision, New Delhi played a constructive role in bolstering the Quad grouping comprising India, US, Japan and Australia and in shaping outcomes of the two Quad summits held so far. In yet another sign of nimble-footed diplomacy, New Delhi has joined a new Quad comprising India, Israel, UAE and US, which is focused on enhancing economic cooperation in West Asia.
There are many other achievements in the realm of foreign policy the NDA government can take justifiable pride in. India has been admitted as a member of top global atomic export regimes, including Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Agreement and the Australia Group. Signalling India’s rising regional profile, India was admitted as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation at the SCO summit in Astana in June 2017. Now, in a unique move, PM Modi will be holding a digital summit with the leaders of the five Central Asian countries on January 27, which could prove to have a force multiplier effect on India’s relations with the resource-rich region.
A Bouquet of Hope
Looking ahead, many more milestones await India in an emerging world order. As the world grapples with the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and its new variants, India has exhibited unique strength and resilience as it has not only vaccinated nearly a billion Indians, but has also provided vaccines and other medical support to over 100 countries around the world under the “Vaccine Maitri” initiative. In his recent address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, PM Modi underlined India’s unique strengths as an emerging country of great potential and provider of global public goods. “A strong democracy like India has gifted the whole world a beautiful gift, a bouquet of hope. In this bouquet, we Indians have an unwavering trust on democracy; this bouquet has the technology that will empower the 21st century; and it also has temperament and the talent of us Indians. The multi-lingual, multi-cultural environment in which we Indians live is a great power not only of India but of the whole world.” The world will be watching closely how this bouquet of hope provides new energy to a conflicted world.
(Manish Chand is Founder-President of India Writes Network and Centre for Global India Insights, a think tank focused on global affairs.)
India’s Act West Policy
In recent years India’s conscious outreach to the Islamic world has been exceptional. In this context West Asia, especially the Gulf countries, have acquired a strategic importance in India’s foreign policy matrix as it has responded to evolving regional dynamic and developments. In the recent years, India’s engagement with the region has transcended from merely transactional and buyer seller relationship to a truly strategic one which is manifested through the accrued dividends in real time. It would not be a truism to say that West Asia is indeed India’s extended neighbourhood and possibly the most important ones for obvious reasons. Anything that happens there has a direct impact on India’s wellbeing. Again, going by the frequency of high level engagements and quality of mutually beneficial outcomes, it would be safe to say that India’s Act West Policy is possibly the biggest success story of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government despite many intrinsic challenges and competing geo political interests.
West Asia is extremely important for India’s energy security, food security, diaspora welfare and maritime linkages and security. It is also one of the most volatile landscapes with simmering hotspots and historic enmities and rivalries. Wading through which by keeping relationships intact and expand is not an easy task. But India has been able to do just that in past few years. India’s nearly 9 mn diaspora in the region not only sends $50 bn in remittances annually back home but have emerged as the most trusted, liked and preferred work force as partner in their development. Their security and welfare, of course, are of paramount importance for which New Delhi has worked out special bilateral institutional mechanisms with respective countries.
Energy bridge has been a major link for India with the region as it has emerged as a major destination for their energy and hydrocarbons supplies. India imports over 70% of oil and nearly 90% of natural gas requirements from the Gulf countries. India’s dependence on hydrocarbons is likely to last for another 30-40 years as it moves to reduce the fossil fuel use and diversify towards renewable and hydrogen energy which will become newer areas of collaboration with the gulf countries who themselves are diversifying their economies under Vision 2030 and beyond. Meanwhile, a qualitative change has occurred in their engagement with New Delhi as they have begun to not only invest in India’s strategic petroleum reserves, refineries and infrastructure but also inviting Indian companies to participate in exploration and upstream activities. UAE allowed 10% equity stake to an Indian consortium of OVL, IOC and BPCL in the lower Zakum concession for a consideration of $ 600mn that will accrue 2mn tonnes of crude per year for India.
Similarly, trade and investments have continued apace across sectors in India and the Middle East. Over 5000 Indian companies operate out of UAE special economic zones as UAE has emerged India’s 3rd largest trading partner. Saudi Arabia is the 4th largest trade partner of India. Both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have committed to investing $ 100 bn and $ 75 bn respectively in Indian opportunity. Likewise, several other countries are exploring opportunities as they are making it easier for Indian companies and investors to partake in the opportunities in their own countries. India’s food security is also incumbent upon supplies of phosphates, fertilisers and urea from several countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia.
Security cooperation in all its ramifications including in the intelligence, counter terrorism, defence, cyber and maritime security have become centre stage in the bilateral collaborative matrix. Earlier, it was virtually impossible to get any fugitive offenders economic or terror related back to India. But that has changed significantly as these countries have understood India’s security concerns and have been at the forefront of complying with New Delhi’s requests in the fastest manner. India is also expanding its engagement in Space and other hi-tech areas as the major Gulf economies move towards AI driven Industrial Revolution 4.0.
One of the biggest deficits in relationships with the region was absence of high level visits from India. PM Modi changed that. His exceptional outreach to major Gulf countries including Iran led to several strategic initiatives. Not only that he became the first PM to visit many of the countries but he also became the most decorated foreign leader as many countries in the region conferred their highest State honours on him. This was also reflected in their public policy and attitudinal change as they began to understand India’s security concerns and sensibilities. During the Pulwama attacks by Pakistan based terror groups and India’s surgical Balakot strikes as well as during the revocation of Art 370 they were supportive of Indian position.
For the first time, in 2019, the Indian Foreign Minister Late Mrs Sushma Swaraj was invited to address the OIC Foreign Ministers by Abu Dhabi. Speaking about 185 million Indian Muslims, Sushma Swaraj said “They have diverse culinary tastes, myriad choices of traditional attire, and they maintain strong cultural and linguistic heritage of the regions they loved and have lived for generations. They practice their respective beliefs and live in harmony with each other and with their non-Muslim brethren. It is this appreciation of diversity and co-existence that has ensured that very few Muslims in India have fallen prey to the poisonous propaganda of radical and extremist ideologies.”
Islamic countries, barring a few, do understand the threats from terrorism and extremism and its state sponsored sources as they are working to reform their own socio-economic landscape. But more needs to be done and India, representing the second largest Muslim community, and with its ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ philosophy could be the pivot.
(Anil Trigunayat is a former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta)
India Emerges as a Global Actor during the Pandemic Crisis
Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar
The world had been witnessing a rapid flux in geo-politics and international relations over the past few years. These trends became much more pronounced in 2020 with the advent of the corona virus. At the beginning of 2021 the world was looking at the coming year with some hope and optimism. However, last year witnessed the eruption of the most devastating Delta variant in March, 2021. Today the world is staring at the havoc being perpetrated by the new Omicron variant.
Under these demanding circumstances, India has taken several bold steps to emerge as a global leader in many significant areas. Not only has it been able to effectively handle the numerous challenges domestically but it has also resolutely moved to extend a helping hand to many foreign partners to ameliorate their suffering. This is in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion at his first Address to the UN General Assembly Session in September 2014, soon after assuming power, that India’s foreign policy is governed by India’s age-old maxim of ‘’Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’’ (The World is One Family).
Vaccine Maitri Initiative
One year ago, on 16th January, 2022, India set out on the formidable journey of vaccinating its huge 1.38 billion-strong population against Covid-19. Over this period, more than 90% of the Indian eligible population has received the first dose and above 65% have received both the doses. Additionally, precautionary doses, commonly known as booster shots, are now being given to frontline workers and vulnerable individuals above the age of 60 years. Youth between the ages of 15-18 years started receiving their first dose from 3rd January, 2022. Vaccination of children between 12-14 years is expected to start soon.
Following the vision of ‘’One Earth, One Health’’ propounded by PM Modi, India started sharing its vaccines with the outside world within 4 days of the commencement of its own vaccination drive. In accordance with the ‘’Neighbourhood First’’ Policy enunciated by PM Modi at the beginning of his first term, Bhutan and Maldives became the first countries to receive 150,000 and 100,000 vaccines respectively on 20th January, 2021. Bangladesh and Nepal came next on 21st January, 2021. Myanmar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan followed soon thereafter. Although India has not recognized the Taliban dispensation in Kabul since it took over power by force on 15th August, 2021, as has no other country in the world, it has not hesitated to provide, essential medicines including additional one million doses of Covid-19 vaccines and about 4 tons of life-saving drugs and equipment as humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. All these items were supplied to the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul by air via Dubai and Iran as Pakistan did not allow use of its territory for overland transit to Afghanistan, which would have been the shortest and quickest route.
Supplies of vaccines were welcomed with deep gratitude by the recipient countries. Bhutan’s PM applauded “the gesture that signifies compassion and generosity of PM Modi, and people of India for wellbeing of humanity.” He added: “It is of unimaginable value when precious commodities are shared even before meeting your own needs.” Bangladesh Health Minister said that India had stood by Bangladesh during the Liberation War of 1971 as well as the pandemic. Nepalese PM thanked PM Modi and the Indian government for the “generous grant..at this critical time when India is rolling out vaccination for its own people.” Brazilian President thanked PM Modi with a picture of Lord Hanuman bringing the holy “Sanjeevani”. Prime Minister of Dominica said after receiving the COVID19 vaccines: “I must confess that I did not imagine that the prayers of my country would be answered so swiftly.” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres termed India’s vaccine production capacity as the “best asset”, the world has to fight the pandemic. US State Department; PM of Mauritius; DG, WHO; Bill Gates and several others spoke appreciatively of the selfless manner in which India helped several developing countries with the vaccines.
India had to temporarily curtail these supplies when the second wave of the virus struck India in April, 2021 but they were resumed as soon as the situation and supplies normalized.
This initiative significantly enhanced the influence and image of the country. The fact that India has been able to develop, manufacture and use several vaccines domestically has significantly enhanced India’s status as a rising scientific and technological power.
India’s Presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC)
India assumed the two-year non-permanent membership of the UNSC on 1st January, 2021. It took over as President of UNSC for August, 2021. This provided India with an invaluable opportunity to enhance its credibility as a responsible stake-holder and a rightful claimant to the permanent membership of UNSC. India identified maritime security, peace-keeping and counter-terrorism as key issues for special debates during its presidency. Discussions on Maritime Security in different UN fora had been scheduled earlier but could not be conducted due to the high sensitivity of the issue. PM Modi decided to chair the Session on 9th August, becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to conduct a UNSC meeting. Russian President Putin attended the deliberations. The last time Putin attended such a discussion was in 2005! The month of August also witnessed the forcible assumption of power in Kabul by the Taliban. This put a huge onus on the Indian Presidency. India proved equal to the challenge. It presided over several discussions on the evolving situation and crafted Resolution 2593 which has come to represent the consensus view of the global community on actions that Taliban must take in the governance of Afghanistan.
The competent and deft manner in which India built consensus even amongst opposing parties during its Presidency significantly added to its prestige and influence.
India took several initiatives during this period to ensure that its growth in the coming years would be green, clean, sustainable and reliable. At the COP 26 Summit in Glasgow in Oct/Nov, 2021, India committed to the target of net zero by 2070. India, with 17% of the world’s population contributes merely 5% to the global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result of efforts over past years, 40% of India’s energy generation is being contributed by non-fossil fuel sources. This emphasizes India’s commitment to sustainable development as it achieved the target under the Paris Accord, 9 years before the due date of 2030. India is the only G20 member which is meeting its commitments under the Paris Agreement. This has enabled it to emerge as a world leader in this critical area where earlier it used to be on the defensive.
“Vande Bharat’’ Mission
India launched the most ambitious evacuation plan undertaken thus far in May 2020 under the “Vande Bharat’’ Mission to transport back Indian nationals stranded in different countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This was necessitated on account of lock downs and cessation of international flights by India and other countries due to the rapid spread of corona virus. So far about 50,000 flights have been operated which repatriated 6.7 million people to India and foreigners to their home countries abroad. In addition, the initiative “Samudra Setu’’ by Indian navy was launched to bring back around four thousand Indians from the Gulf and neighbouring countries. Such a mammoth operation conducted in a remarkably seamless way significantly enhanced the image of India.
India registered significant progress in several other domains, both domestic and external, during the pandemic period. More than 10 thousand start-ups were registered in the last 6 months. India is promoting Ease of Doing Business, minimizing government interference. Last year alone, more than 25 thousand compliances were implemented. The number of startups which was a few hundred some years ago has crossed 60,000 today. It also has more than 80 unicorns, the third largest in the world, of which more than 40 were formed in 2021. During the Corona period, when the world was focusing on interventions like Quantitative Easing Program, India paved the way for reforms. The biggest projects to modernize digital and physical infrastructure got unprecedented momentum during the corona period. The US$10 billion incentive plan to roll out the fab, chip and display industry is a testament to India’s commitment to making the global supply chain seamless. India is marching forward with the spirit of Make in India, Make for the world. India today presents limitless opportunities in the fields of aerospace, telecom, insurance, defence and semiconductors.
In addition to the above, several other major initiatives were taken by India during this arduous period through launch of the Western Quad comprising of India, Israel, UAE and USA; strengthening of India’s ties with its neighbours, USA, Russia and other strategic partners; reinforcing the Quad partnership; hosting the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue and theThird India-Central Asia Dialogue which brought India center-stageto developments in Afghanistan, and many more. All these have enhanced India’s global influence and power and imbued it with hope, confidence and determination to promote peace, security and prosperity in the region and the world.
Rebalancing India’s Foreign Policy
Soon after taking office in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined his vision for India – to transform the country into a “leading” force from a “balancing” one.
Cut to 2022, some trends are clearly discernible – which show that the Modi government is rebalancing India’s foreign policy and also aligning its domestic policies to place India on the road to cementing its position as a regional leader.
Whether it’s holding its own in the face off against China for almost two years along the icy Himalayan heights in Ladakh, delivering on promised development projects in partner countries within stated timelines, meeting the global demands of drugs and vaccines during the covid-19 pandemic, committing to achieve carbon neutrality by 2070, breaking away from the talks-to-no-talks-to-talks cycle with Pakistan or articulating, implementing and getting on board partners for initiatives like the International Solar Alliance or the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure – the outlines of the rebalance in India’s foreign policy are clear.
Analysts have noted a new purposefulness in India’s engagement with Southeast Asia with the declaration of New Delhi’s interest in preserving freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. This has been coupled with an emphasis to become the security provider of choice to countries in the Indian Ocean region.
New Delhi’s foreign policy rebalance almost coincides with two major global trends – one being a “greater caution in US power projection and an effort to correct its over-extension” and the second being the rise of China. These were pointed out by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in a speech in December 2021. Add to this the churn caused by covid-19 and the exposure of weaknesses of the current international order brought to the fore by the pandemic. Against this backdrop, there is a recognition of India as a country that provides solutions (Vaccine Maitri being an example), shaping global discourse on key matters (the UN Security Council resolution 2593 on Afghanistan passed during the Indian presidency of the Council in August 2021 calling on the Taliban not to use Afghan soil for terrorist activity is now accepted widely) and as a country that does not stand in the way of consensus building (India’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2070).
According to Harsh V Pant, head of the Strategic Studies Programme at New Delhi based Observer Research Foundation think tank, the rebalance or fine tuning of Indian foreign policy has been across the board. New Delhi’s “Neighbourhood First” policy – i.e. engaging all of India’s immediate neighbours in South Asia – has been adapted to factor in provocations from neighbours, Pant said. “New Delhi has understood that neighbours will provoke you so it has worked out when to react and when not to. It has understood the need for strategic patience with neighbours. In that sense, there has been a recalibration of its approach to the neighbourhood,” he said.
Ties have been upgraded with partners like Japan while with countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the Gulf region, relations have been completely reworked in scale and scope.
If more evidence were needed of India’s foreign policy rebalance in keeping with its regional power aspirations – a key example is the Quad (the Quadrilateral dialogue among the US, India, Australia and Japan) and India’s embrace of the Indo-Pacific, say analysts.
Though first broached by others, India is today one of the foremost proponents of the Indo-Pacific concept that sees the vast swathe of ocean and landmass extending from the west coast of the US to the eastern shores of Africa as one geo-strategic entity.
With the future of the region and forthcoming contestations in the Indo-Pacific expected to be shaped by technology, it was only natural that the Quad would take note and focus on coming up with alternatives. A fact sheet issued by the Quad after an in person meet in September 2021 “committed” the four countries to work towards fostering “an open, accessible, and secure technology ecosystem.”
A more detailed statement by the Quad leaders stated that the “ways in which technology is designed, developed, governed, and used should be shaped by our shared democratic values and respect for universal human rights.”
With technology expected to spur the global economy in the coming years, it was no surprise that India, in December 2021, announced US $10 billion package to incentivize companies to set up chip manufacturing and design facilities in the country. The scheme is expected to bring in investment to the tune of US $ 22 billion in the country and can be seen as an example of India aligning its domestic policy with its foreign policy objectives.
The semiconductor policy “is an example of India attracting investments and technology in a strategic domain” in preparation for the future, said Biswajit Dhar, a professor of international trade at the New Delhi based Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The package of incentives for chip manufacturing and design was preceded by another announced in the 2021-22 annual budget with incentives of US $ 25 billion over a five-year period for 13 key sectors, to boost Indian manufacturing and exports. Two key aims of the Production Linked Incentives (PLI) packages include transforming Asia’s third largest economy into a manufacturing hub and help Indian companies to plug into global supply chains – boosting in turn the country’s GDP.
“The PLI initiative is an enabler that allows India to better participate in global value chains. One of the reasons India has not been able to exploit the free trade pacts that it has signed is that it doesn’t manufacture products that are in demand with the global value chains,” Dhar said pointing the PLI policy identifying strategic sectors like solar modules and drug intermediaries for the schemes.
India’s renewed efforts to conclude free trade pacts with key partners like the UK, European Union and the UAE also ties in with its efforts to integrate with the global economic frameworks. “With the World Trade Organisation getting weakened and countries increasingly entering into free trade arrangements, India will be seen as being left out or losing out in the face of high tariff walls” if it does not conclude FTAs said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. “It is logical to enter into pacts with countries which with we have balanced trade or to whom we export,” he said.
Another example of India rebalancing its foreign policy as a regional power is the decision to hold 2+2 talks with Russia – i.e. dialogue between Indian and Russian foreign and defence ministers. Russia has also started deliveries of the S-400 air defence system to India. The deal worth an estimated $5.4 billion for five systems was signed in 2018.
The deft diplomacy in evidence post the Taliban takeover of Kabul – ie India mustering support from the Central Asian Republics to delay recognition for the Taliban government till it offers more security guarantees – is also a good case in point.
Last but not the least is the example of the new partnership between the UAE, Israel, US and India. The raison détre of the grouping is economic cooperation including connectivity. “This is a major step that we have taken to coordinate our economic approach” in a region where India is seen as a benign power, said Sibal.