As the former Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi stormed into the Prime Minister’s office with promises of a radical change which also involved better management of foreign affairs and raising India’s stature in the world, which according to him and his backers was not as desired. The major thrust of his foreign policy vision was muscular, FDI friendly and obtaining a seat among the big players. PM Narendra Modi has visited 55 countries on 48 foreign trips spending over Rs 2,021 crore since 2014.
PM Modi’s backers in India and overseas had lauded him for raising India’s stature in the world during his first 5 years in the office. Modi organised roadshows in the US, Middle East and wherever he could find a large Indian diaspora. He went and hugged the two US Presidents Barak Obama and Donald Trump. He then hugged the Chinese President (sic) Eleven Jinping (Xi Jinping) and claimed that China will invest $20 billion in India, a figure which is his trademark fixation. Similar claims of $20 billion dollar investments were repeated after his visits to Japan and the US. A record number of MoUs were signed with innumerable countries. Today, there is no sign of the much-touted $ 20 billion dollar investments and MoUs.
The US’s India tilt came during Dr Manmohan Singh’s tenure with the US President George W Bush (Jr) handing over the nuclear deal on a platter. The engagement continued during the Barack Obama – Manmohan Singh era. Since PM Modi took over, we have not seen many tangible outcomes for India. On the contrary, India has signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) which was being opposed tooth and nail by Mr Modi’s own party when in the opposition. PM Modi also signed the Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC) against Ballistic Missile proliferation seeking US support in getting membership to various export-control regimes such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Today, the issue of NSG membership is conveniently out of the news.
Notwithstanding PM Modi’s efforts on parading a huge crowd of Gujrati’s in the worlds largest cricket stadium for POTUS Trump’s official ego trip to India disregarding the Coronovirus threat, Trump managed to arm-twist India in trade and even export of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to the US. (read Use Clause 92 of the Indian Patent Act, break Remdesivir monopoly, issue Compulsory License) US companies now have unprecedented control over their Indian operations. What is unimaginable in the US and strong countries like China, UK, France etc., Facebook has allegedly meddled in the Indian elections and politics to support the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is Mr Modi’s political party. While Facebook has been dragged into the US executive system for accountability, the ruling BJP in India has succeeded in keeping Facebook out of accountability in the Indian Parliament.
The second major component of PM Modi’s failure is China. China today occupies an additional 1000 sq kilometres of Indian land under PM Modi’s tenure in addition to what was captured under first PM Nehru’s tenure. PM Nehru was braver than PM Modi as he fought and lost. PM Modi has not fought but lost the territory and the Chinese have martyred 20 Indian braves. While PM Modi boasted of his relations with the Chinese President Xi Jinping, Chinese Army was busy making inroads into the Indian territory. (Read Modi Government slept over Chinese encroachment in Ladakh since 2015).In a reverse display of his $20 billion dollar Chinese investments boast, PM Modi is busy cutting out Chinese investments in India. China has also managed to keep India out of NSG.
The third component of PM Modi’s foreign affairs failure is India’s Neighbours. Soon after his election for the first time as the PM, Mr Modi invited all of the Indian neighbourhood including Pakistan, which had beheaded Indian troops a few months before, for his coronation. It was announced to be a new era of India’s relation with its neighbours. Today India is at odds with its neighbours at various levels. The disconnect is not just with an Islamic Pakistan but also with the world’s only Hindu Kingdom Nepal. The domestic Muslim bashing policies have now spilt over to neighbouring Bangladesh after Mr Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Act 2019. Bhutan is also not very happy with India due to India’s overbearing attitude in respect to Bhutan’s relations with China. Even during Dhoklam standoff with China, Bhutanese trade with China suffered due to Indian interference. It is a fact that the Indian economy has been continuously falling under Mr Modi’s Prime Ministership and it cannot be the sole economic gateway to landlocked Nepal and Bhutan. Mr Modi’s muscular policies against these hapless tiny neighbours have created a lot of resentment against India.
Bangladesh, the virulently secular polity envisaged by Sheikh Mujibur Rehman – his legacy continued by his daughter Sheikh Hasina – despises Pakistan, after it’s army unleashed in what is widely considered as the second biggest pogrom after the WW2 Holocaust, slaughtering and raping Bangladeshis in 1971. It is a different matter that Pakistan’s ally then, which turned a blind eye towards the massacre while masquerading as the “champion of democracy and human values”, was the US. It sent a carrier battle group to attack India and prevent it from routing its murderous friend in the ensuing Bangladesh Liberation War, while the godless communists, the USSR came to our rescue. It ended in a momentous victory, still celebrated as the pinnacle of India’s history.
Nearly 50 years later, Hasina is left fumbling before her opponents, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and the radical Jamaat-e-Islami, as anti-Muslim Hindutva politics rolls out under Mr Modi. But things got to a head following PM Modi’s push for the CAA-NRC policies, which had the implicit assumptions that (1) Bangladesh crowds Assam with illegal immigrants causing demographic disturbances, and; (2) Bangladesh also persecuted religious minorities since it is one of those the countries from which such a class of people are granted citizenship under the CAA. In an interview to Gulf News in Abu Dhabi in January this year, Ms Hasina has described the CAA as “not necessary”.
Prior to that in October last year, her irritation over India abruptly stopping the export of onions to meet the domestic demand was palpable in a quip when she said she would have to “ask her cook to stop using onions” in his menu. India brazenly did another ‘onion’ encore, when the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry conveyed its “deep concern” over the second such uninformed ban to the Indian High Commission in Dhaka.
The Himalayan nation of Nepal has long been a casualty of India’s big brotherly meddlesome conduct – even before its arduous transition from an oppressive monarchy to a democratically elected socialist/communist state. If a devastating earthquake in 2015 was enough, India within a few months imposed a blockade of essential items like petroleum, cooking gas and medical relief material, to force Nepal to accommodate Madhesi agitators’ demands.
This turned every Nepali against India. While India still denies imposing the blockade, activists and politicians have provided evidence of the blockade originating from the border crossings in Bihar and UP. The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) chief Pushpa Kumar Dahal Prachanda expressed his resentment in a speech in September 2015 when he said, “Nepal wants to be a good friend of India, not a yes man.”
Five years later, the Nepalese protest over India arbitrarily including the tri-junction of Kalapani-Lipulekh-Limpiyadhura in a new map was claimed to be China’s doing, poaching India’s Neighbours as a part of its diplomatic offensive over the Ladakh standoff. The government’s social media warriors and its army chief, General MM Naravane – who claimed on May 16 this year that the protest in Nepal was “on someone else’s behalf”, alluding to China, forget that the issue was six months old. The publishing of the map and Nepal’s subsequent objections were reported since October, the previous year in 2019, coincidentally culminating with the embarrassing Chinese incursions in May.
The fourth component of PM Modi’s failure is the neglect of Europe. For India, Europe seems to be consisting of only two countries, the UK and France. The UK is the favourite punching bag of Mr Modi’s unofficial troll army. France, on the contrary, seems to be the flavour of the day. Mr Modi supporters are gaga over the arrival of French Rafales which reek of a mega scam due to the lack of buying protocol, astronomical pricing and favouritism in offsets. French companies are dragging their feet on offsets as reported by India’s Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). Rafale has emerged as the new cocaine for Mr Modi’s supporters just like American F-16 fighter jets are for Pakistani radicals. There are no tangible results seen from Indian foreign policy in Europe.
PM Modi’s surprising wins in foreign policy seems to be the ties with Islamic Countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and the UAE. However, the ties are strained with the rest of the important Islamic countries like Turkey and Malaysia. The Kashmir perception war with Pakistan also seems to be working, but on the ground, the situation is no better.
Iran is not a total success either for PM Modi. Iran, a strong bulwark against radicalism amidst India’s Shia population, especially in the icy heights of Kargil, had also supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. However, being possibly the only Middle East country still invested in the Palestinian plight against Israel, Iran has been quite vocal during far-right Hindu upheavals in India. For a country which helped smoothen a brief strain with the Muslim world, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, through a visit by then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, statements by its current Supreme Leader and Foreign Minister now over Kashmir were severely scathing.
On August 29 last year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Mohammed Ali Movahedi-Kermani called the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy an “ugly act”, warning India to “prevent confrontations” with Muslims, during Friday prayers.
Then on March 2, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Iran “condemned the…organized violence against Indian Muslims,” in a tweet, following the communal violence in Delhi earlier this year. “For centuries, Iran has been a friend of India. We urge Indian authorities to ensure the well-being of all Indians and not let senseless thuggery prevail.” That it was only extreme communalism under the BJP forcing Iran to discard diplomatic niceties is a trivialization of its larger geopolitical suffering under the US, to which India has willy-nilly been a party.
It was under the pressure of self-styled US sanctions that India could not proceed speedily with the investments in Chabahar, its much-touted gateway to Central Asia, causing a lot of frustration amidst Iranian officials. That India’s most culturally and historically closest ally remained under cruel sanctions even at the height of the pandemic did not seem to move Indian diplomats, who had scaled down their oil purchases from Iran.
But India’s complete acquiescence to American unilateralism in the Middle East which has caused consistent chaos in the region for the past 70 years, was seen when New Delhi did not offer even a shrouded criticism of Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani’s assassination by the US, that nearly sparked another war. With Syria already burning after the US-backed anti-Assad uprising and the subsequent aerial bombing in the country, another war would have invited apocalyptic chaos. But India used the term “killing” (rather than “assassination”) saying the increase in tension alarmed the “world” (and not India) and did not identify the instigator. Eventually, a desperate Iran dropped India from the Chabahar port project, while signing a $400 billion economic and military deal with China, the latter which has been eager to expand its gargantuan Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the region.
Meanwhile, American sanctions got harsher worsening the unprecedented economic and humanitarian crisis in the Persian country, with ineffective resistance from Europe and not even a whimper of protest from India, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani lamented Iran’s “friends not standing up to America” on September 5 in a live broadcast on state television. “Over the past months since the coronavirus arrived in our country…no one came to our help (as the) heartless and evil United States imposed new sanctions and pressures…these past seven months of coronavirus. Not a single friendly country told us that ‘we will stand up to America’ and do business with Iran despite threats of U.S. retaliation,” Rouhani said, widely seen addressed to India and Europe.
The engagement with the US has been at the cost of ties with Russia. Mr Modi’s co-dependency on the US is very evident. Russia – India relationship is now reduced to be mere arms buying.
In spite of the above failures, the perception is that Mr Modi has a great foreign policy due to his excellent PR set-up and the troll army. But whitewashing the above failures also helps the offender countries.
PM Modi today is a pale figure in comparison to the former PM Dr Manmohan Singh whom Mr Modi had criticised as weak.