The Indian diaspora around the world, and there are few places on earth where Indians cannot be found, is ecstatic; at last an Indian Prime Minister has recognised their salience and contribution
The first 100 days of a newly elected government are its honeymoon period. AB Vajpayee in his boldness and wisdom went nuclear-weaponised within days of taking over at the head of a bulky coalition.
And this, along with The Golden Quadrilateral system of highways, has probably become the Vajpayee government’s lasting legacy.
The nuclear weaponisation of India was certainly a tipping point, thrusting it into the leading ranks of nations with a “credible deterrence”. It also put paid to Chinese inclinations to seriously dominate India. This, while also keeping nuclear Pakistan (which followed suit with a slew of its own nuclear tests), at bay.
President Clinton and others may have slapped economic sanctions on India in the aftermath, but at home, Vajpayee walked on water. Vajpayee had done what no Indian Prime Minister before him had dared to do. But Vajpayee took the risk, changing India’s status into that of a select few nations who could make and deploy nuclear weapons. Today we have a triad capability- we can launch from land, sea and air, simultaneously if need be.
Based on Vajpayee’s bold move, predicated on Indira Gandhi’s “peaceful nuclear test” of years before, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in UPA I was able to get India waivers from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) with promises of the requisite technology/fuel/spares on an ongoing basis.
This, in order to buy and install multiple and “clean” nuclear power plants in a power hungry country. India was acknowledged as a responsible nuclear power that had no truck with proliferation, with the help of President George W Bush.
It is only now however that two Russian made nuclear power plants have been operationalised at last. The ones from France, and ironically, America, have not fructified yet. India, meanwhile is working on its own Thorium based reactors as there is a large supply of the fuel in country.
Meanwhile, India is still trying to join the NSG as a full member, but is being stymied by China, because the induction must be unanimous.
But if nuclearisation was the big game- changer in Vajpayee’s term, the equivalent in the Modi government is a completely revamped and reenergized foreign policy. In four years, it has yielded substantial dividends, including the highest level of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in India’s history.
Modi won in 2014 with a thumping majority and promptly invited the heads of SAARC to his swearing-in ceremony. Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan attended, along with almost all the others. And, there in one fell swoop, the Modi Doctrine was born, even before the ink was dry on his signature in the Presidential ledger.
Narendra Modi had, by inviting the regional assembly, already signaled that he was going to revive and hopefully transform India’s approach to its neighborhood. True to this intent, and many other global bilateral and multilateral goals, Modi has worked on his foreign policy with zeal ever since.
He leads from the front, globe-trotting frequently, with his able Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj bringing up the rear with a remarkable human face and a concern for the humblest Indian worker stranded or in trouble abroad. She, in turn, works with her twin Ministers of State – one a former Army Chief, and the other a renowned Journalist and Editor.
This phalanx, ably assisted by the professional foreign service( IFS), and the National Security establishment spearheaded by the National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, underlines the importance this government attaches to its international links.
Narendra Modi has carefully built upon old relationships with major countries such as Russia and the United States, but moved away from the old UN General Assembly non-aligned block and the post-colonial Commonwealth, despite the continuance of CHOGM.
He has replaced this with a more flexible and dynamic bilateralism, inclusive of many countries in Africa and West Asia. Our relationship with Japan is at an unprecedented zenith. Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel on a State Visit, and this has been warmly reciprocated. This, even as relationships with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Australia, are better than ever before.
At the same time, there are collectives and multilaterals that Modi has enthusiastically joined, most for the first time, including ASEAN, APEC, the EAS, the ARF, as part of the nation’s “Act East” policy.
Others are of course, the G-20, G-8+5 with the developed West, the regional BIMSTEC that works better than SAARC, the G4 which tries to help each other become permanent members of the UNSC even as the UN loses more relevance everyday.
Closer to home, there is the very important BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and so on.
There are security related international organizations India has recently joined- the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australia Group (AG), and the Wassenaar Arrangement- these latter by invitation only. And guess what, China has not as yet been invited.
Soft power initiatives like the World Yoga Day that was just celebrated on the Summer Solstice are unique Modi initiatives that have been well received. His constant harping on the scourge of global terrorism has resulted in much greater cooperation and sharing of vital intelligence between nations, including Islamic ones.
At the same time, Modi has made sure that this eager diplomacy has not made India a Nehruvian pushover. It is not the statesmanship label the Prime Minister is after, but greater connectivity and cooperation with multiple nations.
Some of this follows its own script. India enjoys excellent relations with Iran, buys oil from it in the face of threat of US sanctions, and has helped develop Chabahar Port, much to the benefit of land-locked Afghanistan. But India does just as well with Saudi Arabia simultaneously.
The military stand-off with China at Doklam and the surgical strike into PoK, are illustrations of India’s resolve in the face of obvious provocation. And despite a willingness to cooperate with China, there is no joining of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that runs from Xinkiang through Indian PoK all the way to Gwadur in Balochistan. Other Chinese attempts to encircle India on the high seas via Sri Lanka and the Maldives are also being countered.
Modi has lately also held one-on-one informal summits with President Xi Jinping of China and President Putin of Russia. More may follow, as it is a very good way of setting mutually beneficial agendas without ambient noise getting in the way. India’s blistering growth rate of 7.4% p.a. in a sluggish world economy, is pushing it towards the top.
The Indian diaspora around the world, and there are few places on earth where Indians cannot be found, is ecstatic. At last an Indian Prime Minister has recognised their salience and contribution. Modi’s considerable oratorical skills, his obvious pride in his country and its 125 crore inhabitants, makes for an inspiring tableau wherever he goes. And the fact that he still enjoys a 70% plus personal popularity rating at home is both impressive and heart-warming.
All in all, the unalloyed success of the Modi Doctrine, could have it go down in history as his best work, despite all the domestic initiatives taken and to be taken as yet.
Gautam Mukherjee is a veteran columnist
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Last Updated 5, Jul 2018, 9:50 PM