By Anirban Choudhury
In yet another manifestation of an assertive, if not aggressive, foreign policy being pursued by the rendra Modi regime, India is all set to invite heads of States of 10 Association for South East Asian tions (ASEAN) member countries for next year’s Republic Day. This will be for the first time that Heads of States of so many countries will be invited to an event that showcases India’s growing prowess over a wide spectrum of sectors, including defence.
The move carries great symbolism, for it marks a clear departure from the past on more counts than one. While this will be a clear departure from the custom of hosting only the Head of one State as chief guest for the Republic Day function, it also drives home the message loud and clear of New Delhi’s aggressive push to ‘Act East’ policy enunciated by the current dispensation. And “Acting East” sans ASEAN is well nigh impossible. So, while the official explation may be that the move is aimed at commemorating India’s 25 years of dialogue partnership with ASEAN, 15 years of summit-level interaction and5 years of strategic partnership, the true meaning is not lost on anyone – how New Delhi greatly values this partnership and the ASEAN will be a pivot in New Delhi thrust towards the East.
Further, the move has another great strategic significance. Almost all the ASEAN countries have border disputes with Chi, especially in South Chi Sea, and the former are livid and paranoid at the way Beijing has been conducting its affairs and trying to settle the rows unilaterally, caring two hoots about the neighbours’ points of view or concerns. It is against this backdrop that countries like Vietm and Singapore are seeking India’s more pro-active role in the region. While New Delhi has been coy so far to such appeals as it did not want to invite Beijing’s displeasure, it now seems to have completely abandoned that approach.
In fact, the latest move by New Delhi is another clear example of how India’s foreign policy under the leadership of rendra Modi has taken a completely different trajectory in the last three years. It has shed the old Nehruvian era of lofty idealism that emphasised on Non-Alignment and lending voice to the Third World, to one now that is embedded more on realpolitik and guided solely by India’s “strategic” tiol interests.
The visit by Modi to Israel recently – the first by an Indian Prime Minister – is another clear indication of how New Delhi won’t shy away from openly embracing someone who’s of great strategic value. It was also for the first time that a visiting Indian dignitary to Israel didn’t visit the occupied Palestinian territories, nor made any mention of their struggle with the Jewish State. Modi has clearly de-hypheted Israel with Palestine vis-à-vis India’s relation with both, like the way the US had in the last decade vis-à-vis India-Pakistan.
Tel Aviv has in recent years emerged as key supplier of some of India’s most advance weapons systems with cutting-edge technologies, besides providing its expertise in the field of agriculture. While the earlier dispensations were rather coy in openly acknowledging Israel’s support, lest it offended the Muslim world, especially the Arabs, the Modi regime has showed no such qualms. And not without reason. The Palestinian struggle today doesn’t find resonce in the Arab or the Muslim world the way it used to in the earlier decades, and nor does any Muslim tion (barring Iran) today vow the annihilation of the Jewish State. So, it was quite logical on the part of New Delhi to no longer shy away from acknowledging its deepening ties with Tel Aviv, while at the same time still not withdrawing its support to the Palestinian struggle (like the way some Arab States had done recently). And when you have a reliable partner in a world where the balance of power is shifting and where idealism has given way to realpolitik, there’s no harm in cementing that tie further. And the Modi regime seems to have done exactly that.
Further, the old line of thinking that supporting the Palestinian cause would accrue benefit as the Muslim world would back India over Pakistan too wasn’t paying any dividend. Countries like Turkey still back Pakistan’s stand vis-à-vis the Kashmir issue, and so do a few other Islamic countries. Also, the Arab world is in itself a mess today and, with growing Shia-Sunni divide deepening the sectarian strife, no longer presents a united bloc.
Of course, Modi had tried to balance his Israel trip with prior visits to both sides of the divide in the Islamic world, including the Sunni kingdom of Saudia Arabia and the Shia republic of Iran.
And full marks to the Modi regime that it has tweaked the change in the line of India’s foreign policy without necessarily disturbing the applecart. Ties with Kremlin today may not be on an upswing due to the growing bonhomie between New Delhi and Washington, but it hasn’t abjectly deteriorated either. While India understands the value of a long-time dependable ally like Russia, it also realises that some of the cutting edge technologies can he obtained only from the Americans. It has also promoted ties with Tehran without any strain in its ties with Washington.
Actually, forced by circumstances where relations among countries today are not determined by lofty ideals but increasingly guided by pure tiol interests and realpolitik, India’s foreign policy has for the first time taken into consideration its own tiol interests. New Delhi is now not shying away from standing up in matters of geo-strategic interests. This is evident from the month-long face-off with the Chinese troops in Doklam in the Sikkim sector, the deepening of defence ties with Vietm and boycott of the OBOR initiative. While the Indian Army is not backing off from the stand-off with People’s Liberation Army at the tri-junction between India, Bhutan and Chi despite Beijing’s open intimidations, which may have astonished even the hawks within the Chinese establishment, New Delhi has also shown tremendous guts to needle Chi in its backwaters (South Chi Sea) by helping Vietm shore up its defences. Also, the OBOR boycott was a snub that few believed New Delhi could give to Beijing.
But, despite all this bravado, New Delhi has also displayed remarkable maturity by not getting provoked vis-à-vis Doklam stand-off despite Beijing constantly upping the ante with jingoism and repeated threats and intimidations. This measured response has undoubtedly helped enhance the country’s image as a responsible emerging power, compared to the Chinese.
With the old global order crumbling down and Uncle Sam no longer able to cast its web of influence the world over and the balance of power still in a state of flux, India today stands at critical crossroads. And so it’s quite tural that New Delhi’s foreign policy embraces pragmatism guided by tiol interests in lieu of lofty idealism. India stands at a geo-strategic location that few can rival, including Chi. It remains to be seen how the country, increasingly guided by its own tiol interests, helps in shaping the dymics of a new world order.
Changing contours of India’s foreign policy
By Anirban Choudhury