Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Modi and the World

360_rana_foroohar_uncertainty_10_31_11Time Magazine, 22 May 2014

Siddharth Varadarajan

Often fiery and intermittently reasonable, sometimes banal but occasionally innovative, Narendra Modi’s statements on foreign policy over the past few years have been so meager and uneven that they cannot readily serve as a guide for how he will act as India’s Prime Minister. Wonks call him a realist. Political admirers and critics both say he’s hard-line. But the specifics of what he might do in office are unclear.

In the past, Modi has berated the Manmohan Singh government for being weak in its dealings with Pakistan and China, two of India’s most important neighbors. During the election campaign, however, he was careful not to paint himself into a corner. In his first major foreign policy speech, he gave pride of place to a corny slogan—“Terrorism divides, tourism unites”—but also showed a capacity for out-of-the-box thinking, saying India should convene a global summit with countries interested in developing solar power as a major source of future energy.

While there is likely to be continuity in many aspects of India’s foreign policy—its stand on major international issues, its bilateral and multilateral partnerships—Modi’s tenure will be defined by how he responds to four specific challenges.

The first is economic, where everything depends on his ability to boost growth. Besides strengthening India’s economic partnerships with the U.S., Europe and Asia, a stronger economy will give the country the heft it needs to play a larger role on the world stage.

Politically, the big challenge for Modi will be to move away from his Bharatiya Janata Party’s rhetoric of “Hindu nationalism” and find ways of forging closer ties with India’s two Islamic neighbors, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In opposition, the BJP attacked Singh for his initiatives on this front. During the campaign, Modi played on the sentiment of Hindus living near Bangladesh, describing Muslim migrants as “infiltrators” out to destroy India. The reality is more complex. While there are large numbers of Bangladeshi migrants in India, many Indians work in Bangladesh and send back nearly two-thirds of the amount of money that Bangladeshis in India transmit out of the country every year, according to the World Bank. Closer ties with Dhaka, and Islamabad, are clearly in New Delhi’s interest. Inviting neighboring leaders, including Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration is a good first step by Modi.

On the strategic front, the shifting geopolitics of the wider Asian region will present Modi with difficult choices. His instincts may lead him to seek closer ties with a more assertive Japan and a U.S. officially committed to the Asia “pivot.” But the economic pragmatist in him will be wary of fanning Chinese fears about encirclement. As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi visited China several times, and China’s President Xi Jinping is due to visit New Delhi in the fall. The Shinzo Abe government is keen for Modi to visit Tokyo before that, and the new PM will meet with President Barack Obama in New York City in September. Striking a balance between the three will require great dexterity.

When it comes to Washington, much has been made of the denial of a U.S. visa to Modi when he was chief minister. In campaign interviews, the Prime Minister–elect chose to strike a philosophical tone, saying one should look forward and not back. And although the chances that Modi and Obama will hit it off are close to zero, both leaders know the stakes are too high to let feelings come in the way.

The greatest—and most immediate—foreign policy challenge for Modi is likely to be on the crisis-management front. What happens if Lashkar-e-Taiba, al-Qaeda or other Pakistan-based terrorist outfits stage an attack against India? Modi would come under enormous pressure from his party’s rank and file to react in a muscular manner, though the country’s diplomatic and security establishment is likely to drive home the absence of any neat military options. A crisis may also come up on the Chinese side if there is a repeat of the kind of intrusions Chinese military patrols have engaged in along the yet-to-be-settled international boundary between the two countries. Vague as Modi’s positions have been thus far, he will have to get very specific, very quickly.

Varadarajan is a senior fellow at the Center for Public Affairs and Critical Theory at New Delhi’s Shiv Nadar University

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6 comments on “Modi and the World

  1. ANIL GOYAL
    May 28, 2014

    I feel LET is unlikely to strike in India. Pakistan is unlikely to take that risk now due to American pressure secondly the Indian intelligence appears to be much better prepared. Their focus will be to attack Indian interest in Afghanistan. One can be reasonably sure that Herat is going to be repeated. The only reason Herat was chosen was that Pakistan will be able to deflect the blame on local Afghan elements.

    The Indian strategy so far has been to give Pakistan a long rope. Any precipitative action by India is likely to unite the different factional players in Pakistan which is going to be counterproductive.

  2. Fahad Mohammed
    May 27, 2014

    Hmmm. Interesting read. If you could, please write the major issues he would have to deal internally.

  3. kRam
    May 24, 2014

    What will be Modi’s action on KG Gas basin scam?Will he allow 16 dollars and allow the loot of 50 thousand crores per year??

    What will his action be on Coal scam?Will he save India from loss of 2 lakh crores?

    What about Black money and Mauritius Tax hole?

    What will be his policy on SEZ scams, land banks, black money in Real estate and their effect on INFLATION and Real estate prices?

    What will be his action on PAID MEDIA that is the biggest danger to our country?

    How will he increase income from Taxes instead of massive Tax sops and Tax evasion by corporates?

    How about Administrative Reforms to avoid missing files and fire accidents in offices to destroy evidence?

    What about Police Reforms to cut down on crime?

    What about Judicial Reforms?

  4. Abhi
    May 24, 2014

    Which World bank report mentions that Indians staying in Bangladesh remits 2/3rd of what illegal bangladeshis are remitting out of India? Have you done any study on the numbers of illegal bangladeshis staying in india in WB, Assam, Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur and spreaded thick in N Delhi, Mumbai and in huge numbers even to the farthest Kerala?

    These infiltrators are crossing borders at will and almost 100% of them are muslims. Many of them have been provided with ration cards, voter IDs by Cong, TMC, Left parties.

    like you, I dont have a ‘World Bank’ or an UN report to substantiate, but many sources in the net , suggest that the number of illegal muslim bangladeshi immigrants in India are close to or more than 20 Million.

  5. ANIL GOYAL
    May 24, 2014

    The situation would have been much easier if India had a good economy and well equipped robust military capability. Unfortunately last decade has been a wasted decade on many counts. I feel Pakistan military is itching for a war with India as they feel Indian defenses are at the weakest point now. A war with India may also help push Pakistan’s internal problem of terrorism out of sight and help highlight the Kashmir issue on the international scene. It is only the expected international pressure and weak economy which is holding Pakistan back.

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This entry was posted on May 22, 2014 by in Indian Foreign Policy, Narendra Modi.

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