Circa 2014 ends on assuring note for India’s foreign policy
by Ashok B Sharma on 09 Jan 2015 1 Comment

Circa 2014 was assuring for India’s foreign policy. There was a number of incoming and outgoing visits by heads of government and heads of state. India’s interaction with powers like the US, Russia, China, Japan, Australia, South Korea took place in this year. There was a gap in the activity at the top level in April and most of May due to the election process in the country. With the change of the government on May 26 after the polls, some expected a definite change in the country’s foreign policy owing to ideological reasons. But what happened was not a shift in foreign policy, but in emphasis in certain areas.


The new emphasis in the country’s foreign policy is ‘Neighbourhood First’. Another is to engage with major political and economic powers for inviting investments. Prime Minister Modi has personally reached out to Indians settled abroad, particularly during his visits to US and Australia and urged them to be partners in the ‘Make in India’ programme.


The exchange of visits between the prime ministers of Australia and India, between prime ministers of Japan and India in a calendar shows the assuring nature of relationships. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to US is being reciprocated by US President Barack Obama’s visit to India on January 26, 2015. Following South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s visit to India in January, India’s External Affairs Minister visited that country at the end of circa 2014.    


The most striking example to show that there is no shift in the country’s foreign policy was India’s position on Israel’s attack on Gaza strip. The minister for external affairs Sushma Swaraj assured Parliament that there was no change in India’s policy towards Israel and Palestine. India condemned the inhuman attack on civilian population in Gaza and called for restraint by both sides and restoration of peace and start of the dialogue process.


The noticeable change in emphasis in foreign policy was marked from day one of the new government on May 26 when Narendra Modi took oath as Prime Minister. The leaders of all SAARC countries were invited to the swearing in ceremony and the next day Prime Minister Modi held bilateral engagements with all SAARC leaders, including the Speaker of Bangladesh Parliament who represented Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The message Prime Minister Modi gave was that India intends to make South Asian countries as partners in its economic development and present the region as a united bloc in the global fora.


But Modi’s ambition hit the roadblock when the foreign secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan at Islamabad was called off as the Pakistan High Commissioner in India, Abdul Basit, went ahead to talk with the separatist Hurriyat leaders of Kashmir. India maintained that Kashmir issue can be resolved bilaterally between India and Pakistan without involvement of any third party. This had its impact on the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu. Pakistan refused to give its consent to the signing of three agreements – cooperation in power sector, motor vehicle agreement and regional railways agreement. Finally, with the intervention of the Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, the agreement on cooperation in power sector was signed after the SAARC leaders met at the retreat. At the retreat Prime Minister Modi shook hands with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and exchanged pleasantries.


India had long being pleading with Pakistan to take action against terrorists operating on its soil and booking those involved in 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. After the recent gunning down of innocent children at an Army school in Peshawar, Pakistan has decided to take firm action against the terrorists. Many analysts believe that this may be a turning point in Pakistan’s policy with its declared intention to be firm on terrorists.


It is unfortunate that the SAARC process is being held up over political differences between India and Pakistan. SAFTA is being held hostage over differences between two major countries in the region and the process of moving towards a South Asian Customs Union and South Asian Economic Union is being delayed.


India has a border dispute with another immediate neighbour, China. But the political differences between India and China have not held economic cooperation hostage. Such should be the relations between India and Pakistan. Apart from allowing smooth entry of India goods, Pakistan should also give access to Indian goods to enter Afghanistan by land route. During the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping many agreements were signed for economic and cultural cooperation. China assured $ 20 billion investment in India.


Prime Minister Modi has also cherished the idea of integrating South Asia with South East Asia. He has already said that if Pakistan is not willing to join the process, he will move forward with others – obviously suggesting integration of the sub-regional group, BIMSTEC with ASEAN, which is moving towards an ASEAN Community by 2015. Modi has planned to engage with Buddha diplomacy with south and south-east Asian countries to strengthen the bonds of integration. He has garnered support for Nalanda University in East Asia Summit. Giving momentum to his plans, he declared ‘Act East Policy’ and extended it to Pacific Islands by raising India-Pacific Islands’ Forum dialogue to Summit level. India is ready to join the Regional Economic Cooperation Partnership (RECP) agreement in the region that includes 10 ASEAN countries, Australia, New Zealand and East Asian countries. Australia has agreed to supply uranium to India’s nuclear power plants.


Modi expressed India’s eagerness to join the proposed Eurasian Union during the recent visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin. During Putin’s visit, a number of agreements were signed, including cooperation on military training, nuclear power, joint exploration of hydrocarbons and joint study on India-Russia hydrocarbon pipeline.


At BRICS Summit in Fortaleza, the agreement to set up a development bank under the first chairmanship of India was an achievement. During his Brazilian visit Prime Minister Modi had the opportunity to meet leaders of Latin American countries. At G 20 Summit in Brisbane, India’s suggestions for dealing with base erosion and profit shifting by multinational companies, automatic exchange of tax information to curb the menace of black money was taken on board.  


Modi’s Japan visit fetched 3.5 trillion yen public and private investment and financing within a span of five years. Prime Minister Abe also pledged ODA loan of 50 billion yen to India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd for a public-private partnership infrastructure projects in India.

It is to be seen that how much the appeals made by Prime Minister Modi to overseas Indians would materialise in increase in the flow foreign direct investment into the country. In coming years Modi has much to do to promote his ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.    

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