The doctrine of Modi
In his ambitious but hagiographical book, Sreeram Chaulia attempts to delineate the vital parts of Narendra Modi’s foreign policy
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi
After a resounding victory in the 2014 parliamentary elections, Narendra Modi invited the heads of states of neighbouring countries for his swearing-in. India’s phlegmatic foreign policy establishment was taken aback by this move that was described as the first step to give meaning to his government’s “neighbourhood first” approach. Leaving aside Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina Wajed, every leader including Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif showed up. The thought process that underpinned Modi’s move raised hopes of a new compact in the region which promised to usher peace and prosperity in the sub-continent. This was the unveiling of the Modi doctrine on foreign policy, which gained more flesh with the passage of time as Modi scoured different parts of the world, signing deals and taking selfies. The big question is, how was his approach to foreign policy different from that pursued by earlier governments?
Sreeram Chaulia, dean of Jindal Global University, who is a perceptive commentator on foreign policy, chooses to address many of these questions about Modi’s muscular and demonstrative foreign policy in his book, Modi Doctrine. The key pieces of research which underpin this book’s hagiographical narrative are 1) What elements of style and substance set apart Modi’s foreign policy from that of his predecessors? 2) What is Modi’s worldview and how does this fit his political and ideological upbringing as a cultural nationalist? 3) How is Modi perceived by his foreign counterparts and what does this say about the changing image and profile of India? 4) What are the signature achievements in his foreign policy and how do they amount to a paradigm shift in India’s relations with the world? 5) Can Modi propel India to the status of a leading power through its diplomacy? 6 ) What is missing in his foreign policy arsenal and what can he do in the rest of his term?
This way Chaulia sets about delineating the ambitious scope of his book and suggesting that Modi is as transformative a leader, if not more, than India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. He believes that Modi’s foreign policy complements his “revolutionary” shift in governance at home. The good professor also claims that before Modi put in place the grand strategy, the earlier government of Manmohan Singh was confused and ambivalent on how to define India’s national interest. This is a rather uncharitable view of Singh’s performance in the realm of foreign policy. In his 251-page book, Chaulia marshals his facts as only a good researcher can; however, there is a case for a compelling counterpoint that a biographer of Singh can provide.
While applauding Modi’s “bold strides, certitude” what is largely forgotten is the work previous governments did to build the country’s profile. Singh may have been understated, but it does not mean that he was not cognisant of what was needed to be done to further India’s national interest. Under his leadership India flaunted a growth rate of 9-10 percent, enough reason for P5 countries to aggressively woo him and India. Truly, India’s rise in recent years can be traced back to the hike in our growth rate and the signing of the civilian nuclear deal with the US.
Many of those who savage Singh for his public reticence are unaware of how he dealt with heads of state during his interactions with them. In one incident, during a G20 meet, US President Barack Obama walked down to Singh’s seat and congratulated him for his excellent intervention on the imperative to fight poverty.
Unlike Singh, who conducted himself more like a CEO and stayed away from domestic politics, Modi’s strength lies in the enormous mandate he got in the parliamentary elections and the popularity he continues to enjoy amongst the masses. Post the humongous victory in Uttar Pradesh, he is expected to make a few more bold moves in his dealings with Pakistan and Afghanistan. When that happens, Chaulia’s painstakingly researched book will help readers get a good peep into the grand Narendra Modi strategy and how his government is trying to change the way India is perceived by its neighbours as well as the rest of the world.