Event ReportsPublished on May 10, 2019
Book Launch - ‘Indian Foreign Policy: The Modi Era’, by Prof. Harsh V. Pant
As the country encapsulates itself into the election spirit, Prof. Harsh V Pant, Director, Studies & Head, Strategic Studies Program, ORF, shared his insights on India’s foreign policy and diplomacy stance in his new book, Indian Foreign Policy - The Modi Era, at the book launch organized on 24 April 2019 at ORF, New Delhi. At the event, he was joined by Dr. S. Jaishankar, Former Foreign Secretary, Government of India and Dr. Samir Saran, President, ORF, as key speakers. Welcoming the audience, Dr. Saran highlighted how Prof. Pant’s book transcends the natural course of a democratic responsibility, to encapsulate the essence of the Indian foreign policy, to a more strategic order. Further, congratulating the author, he also expressed how the book is rather a manifestation of Prof. Pant’s sustained writing on the subject. His belief in the idea of India rising has translated into its various chapters, that provides a vivid trajectory of the evolution of the author’s priorities over the last five years and underscore the shifts and continuities in Prime Minister Modi’s global outreach. The book launch was an active playground of the author’s vision where he discussed the multi-faceted character of the Indian foreign policy, capitalizing on India’s role and global stature, in today’s world. According to Prof. Pant, “The voluminous literature that has been generated by Prime Minister Modi in such a short of time, has forced even the critics to concede that something has indeed shifted on the foreign policy front.” Further, on the brewing outrage surrounding the supposed politicization of the Indian foreign policy and national security, he contested that “politicization was always there” and it is imperative, particularly in cognizance of India’s metamorphosis in this era that India does not bank on a single narrative. India should bring into its purview the broader themes of national security, instrumentality of military forces, risk benefit calculations and development sector – as the core policy propagation. On being asked “whether India is ready to become a leading power”, he observed — “in my sense, the world wants India to be a leading player and India will have to shoulder that burden.” Delving into his literature, Prof. Pant, succinctly coalesced the thematic background and the evolutionary arc of the foreign policy, of the past 5 years, into three paradigms – First, at the ideational level, the foreign policy narrative has grown interestingly, shifting from a discursive course with real time consequences of how India redefines its alignment in terms of a strategic economy; for a strong global image is a pre-emptive for India; Second, at the structural level, managing great power matrix at a time of structural fluidity in the international order has been a core component in the past 5 years. The imagery of an Indian Prime Minister with world leaders presents India’s strengthening position in the global politics and structural order. Third, at the institutional level, remapping India’s strategic frontiers should have important consequences as it redefines India’s role in South Asia and links it substantively with East and South East Asia, something that has been dormant in the past years. A key contribution to this discussion was Dr. Jaishankar’s discourse on the subject matter. Sharing his views on the book, he attributed it to reminding him of, “replaying session by session, times we connected and the times we did not”. “A real time reading of past years’ foreign policy”, he said, the book lends a qualitative yet a helpful interaction for the readers. According to him, constructing Indian foreign policy is a process that transcends time periods and, “the heart of the issue, which still remains is the willingness to accept the necessity of a change”. Further, drawing upon his experience in the Union Government, he said that India has undergone a profound transformational journey in the past 3 decades and we now stand at a higher pedestal. Our capabilities, our salience, our relevance and our impact is greater. Supporting Prof. Pant’s view on India’s emerging role in the ‘new order’, he emphasized on the altering character of a policy-making environment, and called attention to the apprehensions in embracing changes in foreign policy. Dr. Jaishankar pointed at the major challenges blocking the roadway to implementing foreign policy. According to him, a lack of strategic clarity and old habits of war-pressed perceptions is a faulty foundation for political orders. “India’s natural game is to rise steadily and transparently. Chanting mantras of the past in today’s complex architecture, is not helpful rather recognizing opportunities in this multi polar architecture is vital.” Narrowing down to the upsurge of greater unilaterals and stronger bilaterals, he emphasized on India’s need to expand spaces, pursue interests and leverage every relationship – America, Russia, China, Europe and Japan – amidst tectonic shifts in political power. “Prioritizing the neighborhood, developing a more extended definition and solidifying its long standing relationships with the global south, is more important in terms of our regimes”, he added, if India goes up the ladder, in this world of inter-dependence where contradictions and convergence are the yardsticks of the judgement. In a nutshell, then, Prof. Pant advocates for an empirical analysis and individualistic approach to the Indian foreign policy frontier. The writings in this volume covers the author assessment of the Modi government’s foreign policy since May 2014 — its rounded pursuits and strategic influx - in the larger matrix, thereby allowing the readers to engage with the broader arc of Indian diplomacy.
This event report was prepared by Arunima Singh, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation.
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