Impact on foreign policy
Indian foreign policy will be impacted. To
begin with, there will be a positive, though largely perceptional,
change in India’s stock abroad. The emergence of a strong government at
the centre led by a decisive and charismatic leader will inevitably be
contrasted with an outgoing government, seen as preoccupied with
multiple crises, unable to make any bold moves or even deliver on its
own previous initiatives.
Interest in engaging India will revive in
the major capitals of the world and we will witness a sense of urgency
in key international leaders wanting to interact with and take measure
of the man who has joined their ranks, beating all the odds. This gives
the incoming government a welcome head start.
There may be a temptation to focus the
energies of the new government on setting the domestic house in order
and turn to the world outside only later. This must be resisted.
External engagement must go hand-in-hand with domestic repair, since
success in the latter may depend heavily on the former, given the
reality of a globalised India. For example, reviving investment and
re-energising the manufacturing sector will need capital and technology flows from advanced industrial economies, in particular, the
United States, Germany and Japan. India’s relations with these countries
will need immediate attention.
India’s neighbourhood holds the key
It is India’s neighbourhood that holds the
key to its emergence as a regional and global power. If India’s
neighbourhood is politically unstable and economically deprived, there
will be bigger challenges to India’s security and its own economic
prospects. India’s security is inseparable from that of the Indian
sub-continent. Its economic destiny is likewise enmeshed with that of
its neighbours. Here is an opportunity to clear the decks in our
neighbourhood, so that India is able to break out of its sub-continental
confines and expand its footprint beyond its borders.
Under successive governments, India’s
engagement with its neighbours has at best been episodic and mostly
crisis-driven. This must change. The new prime minister must not follow
his predecessor’s example of rarely travelling to our neighbouring
capitals. In fact, the first order of business should be to connect with
leaders of the sub-continent, including Pakistan.
There will be continuities in the
challenges confronting India. Managing an essentially adversarial
relationship with China will require a mix of expanded engagement and
robust deterrence. There is greater power asymmetry between our two
countries than ever before and this will require asymmetric responses.
The infrastructure on India’s side of the contested border requires
urgent and sustained upgrading and we must build our maritime power to
safeguard our ocean space.
Above all, we must reject the notion that
we are condemned to live with the current asymmetry with China. If any
country has the prospect of closing the gap with China, it is India and
a strong and committed government will be able to pursue this goal as it
The challenge of Pakistan
The other continuing challenge is
Pakistan. Prime Minister Mammohan Singh often said that while he had no
mandate to change India’s borders, he did have the people’s mandate to
render these borders irrelevant and allow the free flow of goods and
people and the celebration of shared cultural affinities. I believe this
is a sound approach, but it is an approach which has often become a
casualty of continuing hostility from the Pakistani establishment, in
particular, its use of cross-border terrorism as an instrument of state
India needs to use a diverse mix of
instruments to try and change the strategic calculus in Pakistan. This
includes measures that will convince Pakistan that the continuing use of
terrorist violence against India will entail a significant cost. There
are several vulnerabilities on the Pakistani side which are potential
pressure points. India should certainly signal its readiness to settle
the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, but we should not unilaterally accept
the status quo. The Line of Control (LOC) as a border may well become
the end point of bilateral negotiations. They cannot be the starting
point. Until then the Manmohan Singh formula is a sensible posture to
Expanding India’s options in external
The advent of a new government, which is
expected to revive the economy and provide coherent and effective
governance, will expand India’s options in its external relations. There
is no doubt that in the decade of 1996- 2006, India emerged as a major
and influential power on the strength of its high economic growth rate
and its growing engagement with the world.
If Prime Minister-designate Modi succeeds
in putting India back on the growth highway, handling foreign policy
issues will become that much easier.
While he will need an accomplished team to
support him, he will himself be the chief asset India needs to
re-establish its credibility and clout in the councils of the world.
Having proved himself successful in navigating one of the most complex,
diverse and rapidly transforming polities in the world, he comes with
proven credentials to help make the world a better and safer place for
all its citizens.
The piece appeared at
RSIS site as a commentary under title "India’s
External Relations: What the Modi Factor Promises."
Saran is a former Foreign Secretary of India. He is currently Chairman
of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and the Research
Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) as well as Senior
Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New
Delhi. Views are his personal.]