Modi doctrine: Same difference

Modi doctrine: The Foreign Policy of India’s Prime Minister
Sreeram Chaulia
251 pages; Rs 599

In less than three years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has built up a solid constituency of admirers among a section of the intelligentsia that is convinced that he, unlike his predecessor, has some special quality of leadership that is reflected in his domestic and foreign politics. This is why Bloomsbury, a reputed publisher, has printed two books in 2016 dealing with domestic policy by Rajiv Kumar and foreign policy by Sreeram Chaulia. 

An admirer has a right to choose his hero. If, however, the object of his admiration is the prime minister and the subject matter of social enquiry is India’s foreign policy and the author happens to be an academic, then it is reasonable to expect the application of academic objectivity as a minimum yardstick. There is little to suggest such detachment. 

The author has explored the multi-dimensional aspects of Mr Modi’s foreign policy in five chapters: (a) The pracharak as diplomat-in-chief; (b) Dancing with the Diaspora; (c) The Business of India is Business; (d) Leading Power vis-a-vis the Great Powers; and (e) Omnipresent India. These chapters are conceptually integrated with the Modi Doctrine, which, according to Mr Modi, is to position India to play a leading role, rather than act as just a balancing force, globally. For him, this is not just the Asian Century but the Indian Century.

The author seems to have been swept off his feet by Mr Modi’s rhetoric and hyperbole without subjecting the statements to scrutiny. On the basis of Mr Modi’s inauguration speech in May 2014, the author says his three tickets to great power status for India are three Ds: Democracy, Demography and Demand. In the author’s telling, after decades of disappointment, Mr Modi has transformed and globalised India’s parochial, inward-looking perspective on foreign policy. The essence of the Modi doctrine is to spell out how national resources have to be allocated, distributed and deployed. In short, the doctrine is a lever to advertise the state within the paradigm of a preferred national image and exert its weight in world affairs. 

Chapter 2 on the diaspora is set against this context. As the author reminds us, Mr Modi told NRI (non-resident Indian) gatherings in every foreign country that though they belonged to their adopted countries, they were, at the same time, part of a globalised family of Indians. For many NRIs of a certain persuasion, this was a cathartic moment. Indeed, Mr Modi attaches such great importance to the diaspora that his government merged the ministry of overseas Indian affairs with the ministry of external affairs in 2016 and introduced an Amendment of Citizenship Act in 2015. 

The other chapters are devoted to the study of economic diplomacy and the pursuit of strategic goals for the security of India. Much of this can be analysed from the prism of Mr Modi as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak, which views Mother India in territorial and civilisational terms. Thus, as Mr Chaulia breathlessly explains, “In the Modi doctrine, foreign policy is not just a government-to-government, business-to-business, or even people-to-people affair. It is also a leader-to-people channel that must create social goodwill in foreign lands.”  As India’s “diplomat-in-chief” himself stated, “This chemistry has not just bought me and Barack [Obama] closer but also brought Washington and Delhi and the people of our countries closer together.”  

Mr Modi’s personal activism in foreign policy has encouraged the author to observe that “his economic diplomacy is driven by a sense of India retaking its position as a leading commercial power that once determined prosperity and business on a planetary scale.” Hence, in April 2015, the government announced a five-year foreign trade policy (FTP) aiming to double India’s export of goods and services to $900 billion and integrate it with the Make in India and Digital India initiatives. 

In Chapter 4, we are told that Mr Modi’s approach to the great powers is based on the premise that power is shifting from the West, and India’s democracy, youth power and judicial system have put in on an equal footing with America, China and other powers. On this basis, Mr Chaulia argues that if the Modi doctrine has purposefully lifted India’s hard power capacities it has been phenomenal in augmenting its soft power. As he sees it, the prime minister’s three meetings with Mr Obama or President Xi Jinping of China, making Japan a permanent third participant of our annual war games, and the active role in Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and other international fora has made Mr Modi a great transnational leader.  

If the thrust of the study is that under Mr Modi India has arrived on the global stage and traditional and emerging powers are taking note of Modi’s India, a clinical analysis of the prime minister’s performance in dealing with complex issues of foreign policy is conspicuous by its absence. For instance, it is clear that America’s Asian pivot towards India has contributed in no small measure to China’s adoption of Pakistan as the new client state, with the impending construction of an economic corridor that will isolate India in the region. As in the past, Pakistan continues to export terrorism, and Mr Modi has not managed to halt this process nor recalibrate relations with China, which continues to block our membership to the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. 

Had he been genuinely objective, the author would have noticed Mr Modi’s record is, in the final analysis, not very different from that of his predecessors.

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