Event ReportsPublished on Jun 04, 2014
Mr Narendra Modi's decision to invite the Head of Governments of India's neighbouring countries for his swearing-in was appreciated by Dr Sanjaya Baru, former Media Advisor of Dr Manmohan Singh. Modi's emphasis on the economy was also noted.
The Manmohan Doctrine and Narendra Modi's Foreign Policy

"The time has come for India to reinforce the importance of trade through business to business and people to people links" said Dr. Sanjaya Baru (Director for Geo-economics and Strategy, IISS ), the keynote presenter, at a panel discussion and conversation on "The Manmohan Doctrine and Narendra Modi’s Foreign Policy" hosted by ORF on June 4, 2014. Dr. Baru discussed India’s foreign policy under Dr. Manmohan Singh in the context of his recently published book "The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh" and made some observations on how India’s foreign policy would move under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The other panellists included Mr. Seshadri Chari, Executive Director, Forum for Strategic and Security Studies; Mr Tarun Vijay, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha); and Mr Ashok Malik, senior journalist and Australia India Institute-ORF Chair for Indo-Pacific Studies.

Dr Baru remarked that Dr Singh had managed to construct an intellectual framework within which foreign policy initiatives were pursued by his government. Some of the major steps taken during his tenure included the civil nuclear cooperation with US, India-ASEAN free trade, border talks with China and negotiations on Kashmir with the then President of Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The India-Japan relations had lost some of its momentum after Shinzo Abe was out of power, but his return to power could revitalise bilateral ties and should become the dominant theme of the new government’s foreign policy in India.

Dr. Manmohan Singh had always drawn on the early "Nehruvian Realism" and on this basis claimed that "whatever policy we may lay down, the art of conducting the foreign affairs of a country lies in finding out what is most advantageous to the country." He was of the opinion that India’s economic rise and its regional and global profile would increase India’s standing within the international community. Dr Singh also stressed that the foreign policy should evolve from time to time in response to the changing realities of the world. His emphasis on India’s economic interests, its economic relations with the other Asian economies, other developing and developed economies, in shaping Indian Foreign Policy became the letimof of the ’Manmohan Singh Doctrine’.

Dr. Baru then explored the possible changes in India’s foreign policy under the new government. He appreciated Mr Modi’s decision to invite India’s neighbouring countries as he believes that India’s destiny in the world is always linked to its neighbourhood. It is important to look at India’s future through this context. Modi’s emphasis on the economy has to be dually noted as well. The economic factors and seeking stronger economic relations with the developed countries are one of the foreign policy priorities of India, and Modi is likely to focus mainly on five Ts - trade, tourism, tradition, technology and talent, which are important defining principles of India’s foreign policy. The main actors for India could also possibly change under the new government. There has been a shift in India’s relations with the US. Dr Singh’s second term and Mr Barack Obama’s first term undid all the gains achieved from Dr Singh’s first term and Mr George Bush’s second term. It is possible that Japan may emerge as the key partner for India in the future. Dr Baru concluded with the observation that domestic economic political situation is the first priority today for almost every single leader and Mr. Modi must take foreign policy initiatives accordingly.

Mr Seshadri Chari argued that although the UPA was in a position to draft a roadmap doctrine for India’s foreign policy, it failed to do so. A major gap in the foreign policy was the lack of leadership or split leadership with regional leaders in Chennai and Kolkata acting as road blocks to major foreign policy decisions. This clearly reflected a politically weak centre which was concerned with other things, rather than foreign policy. The failure to maintain good relations with Sri Lanka cost India significant strategic opportunities in the Indian Ocean. v He urged that the focus of the foreign policy should be towards neighbouring countries, followed by the surrounding region and the broader international community. He noted that Indian Subcontinent has the most regional organisations, but in the past decade they have received very little focus.

He concluded on the note that the foreign policy architecture of India requires a revision without changing any of India’s core principles. If Mr. Modi is able to achieve this with a strong leadership in place, India’s relations with the international community will improve substantially.

Mr. Ashok Malik explored some of the possibilities regarding the nature of Mr Modi’s foreign policy. The goals of India’s foreign policy are likely to remain the same under Mr Modi as they were under Dr Singh. The fundamental constructs of the Manmohan Doctrine and of Mr Modi’s foreign policy is that economic growth should be the main driver and instrument of foreign policy. Dr Singh’s recognition of the linkages between trade and traditional foreign policy should be appreciated.

However, he was unable to maximise the potential of the high growth rates experienced during his first term to build linkages with the rest of the international community. It is hoped that Mr Modi’s government will be able to revive the economy and use that to revitalise India’s ties with the rest of the world. There is also a possibility that Mr Modi may be successful in merging the Ministry of External Affairs with the Ministry of Commerce, a task that Dr Singh was unable to complete.

Another continuity in foreign policy is likely to be the emphasis on East and Southeast Asia, where relations with Japan will assume great significance.

A major difference in the two governments is likely to be in execution of foreign policy decisions, wherein Mr Modi will be far more assertive than his predecessor. Dr Singh had promised a lot, especially with respect to East Asia and the ASEAN region but was unable to deliver on those promises. The role of the states in shaping the foreign policy is also likely to be very different. Mr Modi is likely to see the states as partners in his foreign policy, as opposed to Dr Singh, who represented a very Delhi-centric traditional view with respect to the country’s foreign policy. However, at the same time, it is unlikely that Mr Modi will allow certain state governments to stall India’s relations with neighbouring countries as was the case with the previous government.

Mr Malik concluded on the note that Mr Modi is determined not to make promises on which he couldn’t deliver. The BJP manifesto clearly bears testimony to this fact as neither NAM nor the UNSC were mentioned in it as they are not immediate priorities. Instead the focus was on the country’s economic and security capacities which would be the fulcrum of Modi’s foreign policy.

Mr. Tarun Vijay felt that Dr Singh’s foreign policy agenda missed the "Indian" factor. He, however, acknowledged some of the achievements of the previous government in the domain of foreign policy, especially the efforts to cultivate closer ties with Japan and India’s Look East Policy. It is hoped that Mr Modi would build on India’s ties with this region. At the same time, it is unlikely that he would pursue his foreign policy in a manner wherein one country would gain centrality in India’s foreign policy. Mr Vijay also felt that domestic economic prosperity and military excellence is critical if India needs to have better ties with neighbouring countries and the rest of the world.

(This report is prepared by Sruthi R, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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