The defensive turn in the foreign policy of India, writes Vivek Katju – analysis
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vigorously pursued the full range of multilateral and bilateral diplomatic commitments since his impressive electoral success in May 2019. Some national, social, political and external trade decisions, and the methods adopted to implement them, although in part they have promoted to your foreign policy in defensive directions. On the contrary, Modi was largely in the lead by expanding the scope and quality of India’s external commitments during its first term. He had quickly shown imagination and talent in his external interactions, while firmly embracing politics in the national interest.
Breaking with tradition, Modi invited the leaders of the South Asian Regional Cooperation Association (Saarc), including former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to his oath ceremony in May 2014. This step signaled a wish of undertaking an activist foreign policy and especially taking the immediate neighborhood on the development journey of India.
It extended, with a sure touch, to Eastern and Western countries. Act East policy indicated a more active and comprehensive relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). The success of Modi’s approach was manifested in the presence of leaders of all its members on the Day of the Republic 2018. Staying wisely out of the disputes of West Asia, Modi consolidated relations with all its mutually antagonistic main states.
Modi’s reach to Africa and the Pacific island states and its emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region showed a safer and more focused India abroad. His deepening ties with the United States, while maintaining relations with Russia, and his handling of European states showed a skillful diplomatic mind. He also dealt with China firmly while seeking to expand the coincidence of interests. Modi also reconciled India’s concerns with those of the world on issues of global importance such as the climate crisis.
In these years, the diplomatic machinery of India was busy giving concrete form to Modi’s vision and implementing the decisions that emerged from the decisions that emerged from his interaction with his international peers. The diplomatic approach was external.
Now, as there are questions in important sections of the global opinion on the country’s internal leadership, the political and diplomatic leaders of India have to refute, clarify and explain. This is, of course, part of the diplomatic process, but it spends diplomatic capital and takes some international attention away from issues such as Pakistani terrorism, which India would like to keep in focus.
Modi’s decision of August 5, 2019 on the constitutional state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was directly within the internal sphere of India. Pakistan’s objections were not justified because the changes did not really negatively affect Pakistan’s point of view on the issue, which in any case has been overcome by events. Clearly, informal consultations at the United Nations Security Council showed, despite China’s attempts, that the international community, except for some states, is not interested in this aspect of J&K. However, the arrest of political leaders and communications restrictions raised questions that needed diplomatic responses from India. India also had to reject the repeated offers of the president of the United States, Donald Trump, in mediation and also similar offers of the United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres, although his predecessors had made similar offers in the past.
The granting of citizenship to foreign citizens is an exercise of sovereign power by any government within its internal jurisdiction. The Modi government is correct in stating that the Citizenship Law (Amendment) does not affect the national status of any Indian. It is also correct that non-Muslims have been discriminated against, often persecuted in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. However, the Law, by itself, and due to the alarm that it has caused among large sectors of Indian Muslims as an alleged precursor to an exercise of the National Registry of Citizens perceived as harmful to their interests, has generated a certain degree of concern international that India is moving. Away from their secular moorings. This has forced Indian diplomats to refute accusations about a dilution of India’s constitutional commitments. In such situations, whatever the nature of the refutation, the very fact that it must be done leads to inherently defensive diplomatic positions.
According to the government, India’s decision, after years of negotiations, to refrain from joining the Regional Integral Economic Association was because their interests and concerns were not taken into account. If a country feels that way, it is certainly the right step to take. However, it caused a feeling of disappointment in Asean and Japan about India’s general approach not only to trade agreements, but also to its economic orientation.
This, at a time, when Modi has followed a policy of making Indian industry part of the global value chains and aggressively attracting foreign direct investment. Again, India had to clarify its position. It has to be examined if our commercial diplomacy under political direction could have done a better job.
Naturally, external criticism should never deter a government from making decisions that are appropriate for the country. The question is whether you should examine the achievement of the same objectives so as not to raise such doubts. That is always a prudent choice, as it avoids going on the defensive.
Vivek Katju is a former diplomat
The opinions expressed are personal.