Narendra Modi has been the Prime Minister of India for more than three years now. In spite of growing doubts and outright criticism in international media, still many commentators in India regularly come out with their glorified assessment of Modi’s performances as the Prime Minister. On the domestic policy front, most of these ‘pundits’ still subscribe to BJP’s claim that India experiencing a ‘New Dawn’ and the promised ‘Achhe Din’ has been bit delayed due to ‘Demonetization’ but is on its way thanks to GST. On the foreign policy front, the usual refrain is Modi Doctrine has already taken India to the global high table in a big way.
No one knows exactly what that ‘Modi Doctrine’ in India’s foreign policy means. Within few days of Narendra Modi coming to power, his media managers coined this elusive term as they had used the so-called ‘Gujarat Model’ masterfully before the 2014 election. Similar to the ‘Gujarat Model’, the term ‘Modi Doctrine’ has a high oomph factor.
Admirers miss no opportunity to highlight how Modi has been accumulating huge flying miles to nearly 50 countries in last three years and developing a close personal rapport with many world leaders. Indian missions abroad have become overactive in the last three years and regularly organizing ‘cultural’ events on Yoga and Ayurveda. The critical module of this much-hyped Modi Doctrine is Modi’s overbearing speech to drooling Hindu Diaspora in his frequent foreign visits.
But, the question one needs to ask is what has exactly the so-called Modi Doctrine achieved in last 38 month? In the neighbourhood, India’s relationship with its critical neighbour Pakistan has reached the lowest point in this millennium. While in opposition, Modi had always attacked Manmohan Singh government for its so-called soft-policy of ‘keep talking’ to Pakistan. Modi came to power with the promise that he would follow a muscular strategy that will frighten Pakistan from supporting Kashmiri separatists and engaging in cross border shelling. Whatever strategy Modi has adopted vis-à-vis Pakistan has fallen flat and Kashmir is fast drifting away from Indian control.
For the first time in the last two decades, India’s border dispute with its most powerful neighbour China has been threatening to lead to a full-scale war. China is not only issuing regular threats of military action, it also hints of engaging in Kashmir dispute in support of Pakistan. Since coming to power, Modi has not left any opportunity to infuriate China. Moving India from Manmohan Singh government’s balancing act to a pro-American tilt, particularly signing of the LEMOA and increased cooperation with the USA Navy in patrolling the Indian Ocean, Modi’s foreign policy has turned China to an open adversary.
Nothing can explain Modi’s decision to boycott the formal launch of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in May 2017 at Beijing. It forced the country to look completely isolated in South Asia and lonely in the world. Even the so-called pro-India regimes in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka openly sided with China. Modi’s mindless decision to pursue a prolonged blockade against Nepal in 2015 has not only deteriorated bilateral relations but also has pushed Nepal further towards China. Relationship with Bangladesh has also deteriorated recently due to Modi’s failure to deliver agreements on shared rivers. More or less, China has now almost surrounded India with its friends and allies.
Promoters of ‘Modi Doctrine’ usually try to underplay the failure of Modi in building good working relationship with highly critical neighbouring countries arguing that the relationship was never better with them in the past. As India is positioning itself as a global power, Modi should be judged at the world stage, not in the neighbourhood.
Is the outcome of ‘Modi Doctrine’ any different outside South Asia? Beyond neighbourhood, India’s relationship with Japan is where it was before. From his ‘nationalist’ friend Abe, Modi has only managed to get support for a bullet train from his home base Ahmedabad to Mumbai, but Varanasi has yet become Kyoto. Even Japan has participated in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Furthermore, India’s bilateral relationship with Australia has become complicated over environmental and legal issues concerning Adani’s mining interests.
Modi has been so dazzled with the glitter of the rich and powerful that his foreign policy has completely ignored the old and reliable friends in the Non-Aligned Movement, particularly in Africa. Increasing racist attacks against Africans in a hyper-nationalistic environment in India has started to create a deep chasm with that continent. The Middle East region is experiencing a severe political and economic volatility and Modi at this time is trying to be friends with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel without much success.
In Europe, the initial enthusiasm of Modi’s coming to power has faded away. Modi is no more being seen as India’s Thatcher or Reagan. The torrent of adverse media report has turned Modi as India’s Erdogan in the eyes of Europeans. Modi’s domestic politics has also invited organized opposition from Europe’s powerful civil society groups on minority rights and environmental issues.
The only ‘tangible’ Modi’s foreign policy achievement in the eyes of his admirers is the stronger ties with the United States while Barack Obama was in power. Modi had gone miles to be seen as close to Obama. Regularly flying across continents to be in the same photo frame with Obama and even wearing the infamous ‘monogramed’ suit to impress him.
Nothing tangible India has got from the United States from the frequent high profile visits, but at the same time, India has given American forces free access to its military bases. India has practically lost its independence in charting its own bilateral relationship with its increasingly powerful neighbour China. Moreover, after the departure of Obama, India does not have much importance in Trump administration’s scheme of things. In the case of a military confrontation with China and/or Pakistan, it is very unlikely the USA will openly side with India. At the same time, due to overt pro-American tilt by Modi, India has lost the trust and assured support of an old and reliable friend like Russia.
After three years, it is becoming clearer that Modi brand of ‘Me First’ foreign policy has been detrimental to country’s long-term interest and well-being at the world stage. If there is a Modi Doctrine, no one knows what exactly that stands for in ideological and geostrategic terms and who is responsible to oversee it. India’s Minister of External Affairs has been reduced to be a twitter-Santa, primarily issuing emergency visas. Modi’s National Security Advisor is acting as India’s super-Minister of External Affairs, but he does not have institutional mandate nor competence to do the job.
Engaging the Diaspora is considered as a major component of the so-called Modi Doctrine. However, the over-active Hindu diaspora in the West has also raised further suspicion over Modi’s agenda at home front. A mobilized diaspora of a majority community might manage to get the attention of some host-country politicians, but they also activate many usually dormant opposing minority diaspora and civil rights groups. By unleashing ‘Hindu Diaspora Diplomacy’ Modi has done more to harm India’s interest abroad than anything else.
The oft-repeating claim of the success of ‘Modi Doctrine’ for India’s foreign policy by his admirers is nothing but a misleadingwhoopla. Not only like ‘Gujarat Model’, it is hollow in character, but also perilous for the country in the long run.
The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.