By: Sushil Kutty
India’s foreign policy is baked in the red hot sun beating down on the Great Gangetic Plains and can be encapsulated in “India will bend over backwards” to give the impression it never quarrels with other countries. Not with United States. Not with Russia. Not even with China, though the Chinese have made it a practice to rub India the wrong way, first thing in the morning, and the last thing in the evening.
Otherwise, why is it that Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not utter a word on Chinese PLA’s attempted crossings into India? Also, refuse to teach Pakistan a lesson which it doesn’t deserve? PM Modi keeps his inscrutable Chinese face under the severest of Chinese assaults on India’s sensitivities. The rest of India is supposed to bear it, and smile?
That being said, India’s passport has gotten stronger. In 2022, 57 countries allowed Indians visa-free entry. But, just so that Indians remained grounded, 137 other countries insisted Indians can’t just walk in visa-free. The power of the Indian passport remained static in 2022. That did not, however, stop Indians from bragging to the Pakistanis.
Which brings us to the bitter truth that 2022 saw no improvement in Indo-Pakistan ties from the year before, and India’s relations with China plumbed hitherto unseen depths. If one is a calcitrant, the other is recalcitrant. Both are highly strung neighbours and difficult to maintain friendly ties with.
And Year 2022 saw India’s foreign policy coming up short against both Pakistan and China. With the latter, specifically, it’s challenging. Modi came face to face with President Xi Jinping several times in 2022, but none of the face-to-face made a difference to the status quo. The Chinese are least interested in solving the border issue.
India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar would call this brand of foreign policy one which is packed with checks and balances. Don’t know about Modi, but the EAM acquired far greater acceptance and traction to his POV in foreign countries than the Prime Minister, making some critics wonder if he wasn’t in the wrong party, government?
But while holding forth on India’s foreign policy, Jaishankar never fails to attribute statements to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “vision”, which focuses on maintaining equidistance, a deceptively crafted foreign policy in the mould of Jawaharlal Nehru’s non-aligned foreign policy.
To the great majority of foreign policy geeks, India’s foreign policy under Modi is all about strategic balancing. Give none of the powers reason to complain while at the same time making these powers not take India lightly. In fact, India’s treatment of “Ukraine” has been widely praised.
The outgoing year will be remembered as one of Modi’s better years in office since May 2014. Prime Minister Narendra Modi managed to keep India in the good books of “major powers” United Kingdom, USA, and Russia though walking the Ukraine-Russia tightrope wasn’t easy.
India failed to undo the impression worldwide that India is a “vassal state” of the United States of America! China has throughout 2022 reminded (warned) India to stop being “loyal” to America vis a vis China. Xi Jinping’s stamping ground wants to be a “USA” in the Himalayan region. As China and India exit 2022, they will carry forward their animosities into the year 2023.
China still has a long ways to go before she’s recognized as sole superpower. And, despite all of China’s assertions, India is not a vassal of the USA. India has chalked out its own foreign policy, and plays the game keeping India’s interests in mind. The fact is, India cannot play second fiddle to China, and the USA is on the other side of the planet!
India’s sovereignty is for keeps. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar knows diplomacy like the back of his hands though he’s disappointed when it came to talking tough. India under Modi is focused on becoming a $5 trillion economy and, therefore, India’s foreign policy is geared towards achieving that goal.
India’s equations with the United Kingdom, the Gulf countries, and the USA, Japan, even Taiwan, are guided by maintaining good relations with all these countries. And Modi gets nervous when the applecart looks like it capsize. Like what happened to India-GCC relations following the Nupur Sharma fiasco. Modi capitulated to Qatar in a most humiliating manner.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is emphatic Modi hasn’t learned from Qatar and has come down to capitulating to China’s hegemonic intrusions. India’s economic development goal cannot be divorced from how India plays its foreign policy cards with China.
India must keep its national interests in mind when dealing with foreign countries, including when handling Qatar and OIC’s concerns. The larger goal is not let China labour India into a corner. Whether one likes Narendra Modi or not, nobody can complain or correct him when it came to foreign policy.
The year 2022 saw India coming out of the Covid pandemic, and despite the harrowing second wave, India has fared by far better than other countries. Not only did India vaccinate Indians, India also shipped vaccines to other countries. The Ukraine War, the Covid pandemic and China’s belligerence have been foreign policy challenges for India. Year 2023 will be another year of foreign policy challenges. The G-20 presidency is an opportunity for an attempt to achieve glory, for both India and Modi-Jaishankar. (IPA Service)