Indian Foreign Policy could become assertive and yet flexible

Indian Foreign Policy could become assertive and yet flexible

Balaji Chandramohan

New Delhi, May 25, 2019

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Picture from PMO)

As the largest democracy in the world voted for the incumbent, conservative and nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) once again, the strategic orientation under Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be of interest to Indo-Pacific countries such as Australia, New Zealand and those in the South Pacific.

Paradigm shift in Strategic Calculus

The massive mandate that Parliamentary Elections gave to BJP and Mr Modi could reflect the long and under-represented sections of people who wish to see India’s transition from a geographically and demographically large country to a power to reckon with at international high-tables.

This would incorporate assertive diplomacy and the use of robust military power, backed by a sound and surging economy.

Signalling a paradigm shift, the BJP Foreign Policy agenda could become more realistic. This aspect of strategic conduct was reflected from 1998 to 2004 and again from 2014 when the right-wing BJP occupied the Treasury benched.

In continuation of the May 2014 results which made India to assert itself on the global stage as a great power, the 2019 Election will reflect the same trend in India’s Strategic Orientation.

Balaji Chandramohan

Strong Military Power

When translated as a policy derivate, it would mean that India will be expected to usher in a second set of economic reforms and build a robust military by developing domestic military industrial complex.

The latter would mean jobs to young Indian technocrats, shun dependency on foreign hardware and geographically develop capability from being a net security provider in the Indian Ocean to the larger Indo-Pacific community in one strategic arc .

Australia and New Zealand, which have often viewed India as a reluctant global player will see the country in a different light and as a challenge to China’s increasing influence in the Indo-Pacific.

As a part of establishing its credentials as a global power, India may be required to solve its problems with its neighbours in the first instance. before projecting its diplomatic and military power.

New Postures

Therefore, India’s new posture towards developing friendly relations with its neighbours has found consensus within its ruling elite and among its neighbours.

This approach is deeply rooted in understanding that India’s neighbours, especially the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries are more attracted to China’s Yuan Diplomacy and therefore New Delhi would be obliged to change its regional security strategy that is more flexible.

Trade and Diaspora

It is presumed that the long-awaited Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and New Zealand and India and Australia will get a boost during Modi’s second term.

This can come as a pleasant gift to businesses in New Zealand and India. Despite numerous rounds of talks since 2007, there has been little progress. This will change by a decisive push for the long-awaited FTA with New Zealand from the Indian side.

Modi’s speeches during his recent election campaign indicated a more friendly diplomatic approach in providing business visas to people from New Zealand and Fiji to increase Foreign Direct Investment.

An indication to this effect is the merging of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs with the Ministry of External Affairs, which means that there will be greater focus on making the Diaspora as an integral focus of conducting foreign policy.

New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and New Caledonia have sizable and long-established Indian expatriate communities.

These communities wield significant economic and political influence in each country and are an important source of connectivity.

India could become more assertive during Modi’s second term as Prime Minister in its strategic orientation.

Balaji Chandramohan is Indian Newslink Correspondent based in New Delhi, India.

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