Indigenisation of India’s Foreign Policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi

PM Modi has lifted India’s stature at the Global level by adopting an indigenous paradigm for foreign policy.
Keywords: Modi| Foreign Policy | Leadership | Indigenisation | Atmanirbhar | Neighborhood | Culture | Act East | Indo-Pacific | Maritime | Continental | RCEP | Development

One of the major changes, out of many, brought about under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership has been the appreciable indigenisation of India’s foreign policy. It is becoming more ‘Atmanirbhar’ which the Prime Minister has been advocating. No nation has become great without being self-reliant in all elements of state power. PM Modi has Modi-fied the approach of India, both within and outside the country, which reflects the true Indian character. 

Narendra Modi’s understanding of the world is informed by our epic and classical texts, particularly Mahabharata and Kautilya’s Arthashastra and it is very apt in the present times. After all, Lord Krishna was preparing Arjuna to face the new world order; and it was in this context that the Mahabharata war was fought. The uncertain contemporary world requires new approaches and answers wherein the teachings of Mahabharata become relevant to a large extent.

No nation has become great without being self-reliant in all elements of state power. PM Modi has Modi-fied the approach of India, both within and outside the country.

India’s concept and practice of international relations and foreign policy had remained entrenched in Western political thoughts which were primarily driven by experience of European history. One cannot blame any individual since lawmakers are elected by citizens who experienced more than two centuries of colonial rule. As such our foreign and domestic policies reflected this ‘imported’ mindset. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party came with a vast majority to the Parliament in 2014, which showcased its mandate for New India. The debates in parliament mirrored a society which is more confident, more aspirational and better informed. PM Modi is the first Head of Government to have been born in independent India. He uses his sharp intellect with confidence to tell the world what India was and is, how it is rooted in values of multiple cultures, languages and religions of the soil. This kind of assertiveness is the new normal for India. It is reflected in our foreign policy too.

A number of policy changes have been introduced and redundant procedures discarded. Coming from Gujarat’s Chief Ministership, he was well aware of the key factors of development and prosperity. He also understood the bureaucratic roadblocks to needed reforms. Most policy changes were made to improve ease of doing business in India, remove the multiple service tax regimes and cut down corruption. This was welcomed across the country and he returned as Prime Minister for a second term in 2019, reflecting a wide acceptance of his new policies. He reshaped the diplomatic corps in his own way, rooted in indigenous values, to project India abroad as such. His visit to the US and address to the diaspora in Texas in presence of the US President Donald Trump was a historic event. It was later reciprocated by Trump with his visit to Gujarat where he walked a long stretch with the Indian Prime Minister and was greeted by cheerful Indian citizens. For the President of the United States it was a unique experience.

PM Modi is the first Head of Government to have been born in independent India. He uses his sharp intellect with confidence to tell the world what India was and is, how it is rooted in values of multiple cultures, languages and religions of the soil. 

India has identified its own elements of state power and applied these in its policies for the near and extended neighborhood. While Act East Policy and the membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) reflect India’s historic continental connections, the acceptance of India’s Indo-Pacific strategy manifests a bold realisation of its historical oceanic cultural and trade network. For over six decades, India’s concentration was on the western and northern borders whereas 90% of our trade and commerce takes place overseas. India’s foreign policy was driven by the concept of India being part of the Asian continental mass. Some strategists even described it as India’s sea blindness.

Early in his tenure Prime Minister Modi was convinced that economy and security were two sides of the same coin and as a consequence, he coined the acronym SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region), in Mauritius. He believes that India’s growth story is intertwined with regional growth driven by connectivity in the form of communication, roadways, shipping, airways etc. Modi Govt’s Act East policy, investment in connectivity projects in Southeast Asia, operationalisation of Chabahar port in Iran, expediting road construction through Bangladesh and Myanmar to Thailand, inland waterways connectivity through Bangladesh to North Eastern states and waiver to cabotage laws for Bangladesh coastal shipping are articulations of that belief. Foreign policy is now driven by India centric issues. 

While Act East Policy and the membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) reflect India’s historic continental connections, the acceptance of India’s Indo-Pacific strategy manifests a bold realisation of its historical oceanic cultural and trade network.

India’s geostrategic positioning in the Indian Ocean holds the key to future geopolitics. From hedging between the superpowers, India has now moved on to assertion in its international relations. Policies exhibit new confidence and diplomacy is slowly shifting to respond to this new paradigm. India’s stand that the US should leave behind the policy of alliances and blocs and learn to work with multilateralism is one of many examples of New Delhi’s confident assertiveness. Getting Russia to conduct Navy exercises with the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean immediately after exercising with US Navy aircraft carriers shows a clear intent to keep the Indo-Pacific open and inclusive as articulated by PM Modi at the Shangri La dialogue in 2017. Calling the bluff of Pakistan with a surgical strike and the Balakot airstrike and later calling the bluff of China repeatedly at Doklam and in Ladakh reflects India’s unyielding and effective resolve to block and punish terrorism and expansionism on its territory. 

On the economic front India confidently declined to join the China-centric Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) on the grounds that India’s concerns were not being addressed. After the Galwan and Pangong Tso clashes with the Chinese armed forces, banning of over two hundred Chinese apps and declaring that border violation and economic cooperation cannot take place simultaneously are signals about the ‘New Normal’. India’s upfront assertion at the UN of the Organization’s failures and its scuttling of China’s attempt to raise the J&K issue at the UNSC are among many actions that reflect the indigenous nature of our diplomacy and foreign policy.

From hedging between the superpowers, India has now moved on to assertion in its international relations. Policies exhibit new confidence and diplomacy is slowly shifting to respond to this new paradigm.

Dr S. Jaishankar, the External Affairs Minister, Govt of India, in his recently released book “The India Way” argues- that “our current concerns have an ancient reflection in that tale, especially leveraging the external environment to address bilateral imbalances” (talking about Mahabharata). Dr Jaishankar also says “the most vivid distillation of Indian thoughts on statecraft” and a “graphic account” of real-life situations and complex challenges they present to present political leaders.

India’s flexible and astute policies have been demonstrated on numerous occasions by Prime Minister Modi. Some instances are the acknowledgment of the respective positions and interests of Israel and Palestine, the preservation of good relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran, US and Russia simultaneously, the increasingly close cooperation with the United Arab Emirates and Oman, securing the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s rejection of Pakistan’s attempt to raise the J&K issue at the last Summit meeting and the moves towards forging a strategic partnership with the other QUAD-members countries.

The current crisis created by COVID-19 and Chinese military and economic assertiveness are issues of global concern. India’s outreach to the world during the ongoing pandemic has been widely appreciated abroad. Despite China’s economic pressure and entreaties in India’s neighborhood, India has pursued developmental projects in neighbouring countries with new vigour. Decades-old boundary issues with Bangladesh, both land and maritime, were resolved which led to reciprocation by our neighbour. Indian commercial barges now ply Bangladesh’s inland waterways to transport goods from West Bengal to Tripura and other North-Eastern states. The border trade with Myanmar to and from Manipur is growing.

In the overall analysis it is obvious that an India centric foreign policy has come into being. Narendra Modi has lifted India’s stature by adopting an indigenous paradigm for foreign policy. It is now visible in the clear-sighted and self-confident diplomatic corps and national security establishment of New India.

2 comments

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  • Excellent article. “Indiginisation of India’s foreign policy “ is a term perhaps used for the first time in the literature of foreign relations which finds very credible justification in this article. There are certain bold shifts in India’s foreign policy approach that are very fundamental in nature and clearly denotes the new acquired confidence in the future of the sense of Indianness , its own indipent geopolitical identity rather just being part of system.

    All this is very well reflected in many of India’s foreign policy stances as bought out in this article.

    I havent come across any article in recent times that attempts to bring out this unique aspect of India’s foreign policy as this article has done , hence, deserves special mention and appreciation.

    Grt article sir . Enjoyed reasing it very much .

  • RS Mehta
    September 17, 2020 at 5:49 am
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Excellent article. “Indiginisation of India’s foreign policy “ is a term perhaps used for the first time in the literature of foreign relations which finds very credible justification in this article. There are certain bold shifts in India’s foreign policy approach that are very fundamental in nature and clearly denotes the new acquired confidence in the future of the sense of Indianness , its own indipent geopolitical identity rather just being part of system.

    All this is very well reflected in many of India’s foreign policy stances as bought out in this article.

    I havent come across any article in recent times that attempts to bring out this unique aspect of India’s foreign policy as this article has done , hence, deserves special mention and appreciation.

    Grt article sir . Enjoyed reasing it very much .

Shekhar Sinha

Shekhar Sinha

Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha (Retd.) was the Commander-in-Chief of the Western Naval Command, Indian Navy. He was also Chief of Integrated Defense Staff to Chiefs of Staff committee. He is a Member of the Board of Trustees, India Foundation.

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