India's Foreign Policy - Building on the Legacy of Non-Alignment or Pursuing World Power Status?
By Gourgen James Khazhakian, Chief Correspondent, Journalist Emeritus of Armenia
Trying to come up with a comprehensive analysis of the foreign policy of the government of India since Mr. Narendra Modi took office is a challenging task which cannot be successfully tackled in a modest newspaper article.
However, even a brief outline of the energetic efforts spearheaded by the External Affairs Minister Mrs SushmaSwaraj may prove useful for all those watching with interest the steadfast rise of the Asian giant. What should we expect from the biggest democracy of the world?
Mrs Swaraj wrote in her address-preface to the recent publication on the India's new government's foreign policy entitled "Breakthrough diplomacy": "Revitalising traditional ties, resettling strategic relations and reaching out to Indians abroad have been primary to India's diplomatic efforts".
As the External Affairs Minister points out, the symbolic first visits after the Prime Minister took office were made to Bhutan and Nepal, India's northern neighbours and traditional friends. "Neighbours First" - that is the New Mantra of India.
After that the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister (not to mention other officials) participated in a relentless drive, dealing with both bilateral and international issues, from supporting statehood for Palestine to inaugurating a railway in Sri Lanka, linking Colombo with Jaffna in the north (a feat unimaginable even a couple of years ago, bringing together two parts of the island nation traumatised by a brutal internal conflict - a bright example of India's influence used to heal the wounds of a neighbouring nation); visits to India by Xi Jinping (the first-ever by an incumbent President of China) and Barak Obama - the latter has become the first-ever foreign leader who stood in the same row with the India's President and Prime Minister receiving military defile on the recent Republic Day, 26 January 2015, the first visit of PM Modi outside the subcontinent - to Japan - the list goes on and on.
The External Affairs Minister is indefatigable - her visits are difficult to enumerate. And we must not forget President Pranab Mukherjee - he invited the Governor General of Australia, made state visits to countries as far apart as Norway and Finland, on the one hand, and Vietnam, on the other.
According to some forecasts, by 2050 GDP of the BRICS quintet member- states will overwhelm half of the total world GDP, so its significance could not be underestimated by the new leadership of India: At the last BRICS Summit held in Fortaleza, Brazil they've established a USD 100 billion contingent reserve arrangement for short-term liquidity, and the Indian to be the first President of the USD 50 bn. New BRICS Development Bank with headquarters in Shanghai.
And it is a quite difficult thing not to agree with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of India to the Republic of Armenia Dr. Suresh Babu when in his foreword to a commemorative publication "India New Vision New Vigour" dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Republic Day of India and issued by the India-Armenia Friendship NGO he writes the following:
"Under the visionary guidance and leadership of Prime Minister Modi and the External Affairs Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, India has achieved a breakthrough in the foreign policy front. Both of them have held Summit level meetings with almost all world leaders and have participated in all major multilateral gatherings within a span of six months".
We need not point out that all those contacts, and many more besides, always bring tangible benefits in the form of economic development, cultural enrichment, scientific cooperation and improved international situation.
The Indian leadership promote Indian (millenia-old and legendary) culture worldwide, from making the UN to declare June 21 "International Day of Yoga" to jointly, with China, publishing "Encyclopaedia of Cultural Contacts".
Indian Govt has been strengthening furthermore contacts with Indian diaspora (Pravasi Bharatiya Divas) worldwide, and we believe, in spite of all the difference between their and our - the Armenian diaspora, first of all in terms of size, experience exchange between the two nations on this matter could be mutually beneficial.
Keeping ties with its long time traditional partner Russia, India's new Govt. develops cooperation with the US: during PM Modi's visit to Washington last year US-India vision statement "Chalein Saath Saath" - "Forward Together We Go" has been achieved, with expected bilateral trade five-fold By Gourgen James Khazhakian Chief Correspondent Journalist Emeritus of Armenia growth, - from the current USD 100 billion to USD 500 billion.
It includes development of three Smart Cities in India with the help of US companies; Proton Accelerator Project with Fermilab and Indian membership in the Thirty Meter Telescope consortium; Inter-Agency WG to speed up deployment of US-origin nuclear reactors in India; And a joint working group to be constituted for collaboration on Mars exploration.
And the last, but not the least, not at all: framework Agreement for India-US defence cooperation to be renewed for further 10 years.
And as far as we've touched upon defence issues, the following seems an interesting thing:
Experienced defence analysts are pondering the significance of the plans for assembly of up to 400 Russian helicopters in India per annum, announced in the wake of Vladimir Putin's visit to New Delhi, and recent abrupt termination of long and detailed talks for purchase of 126 French-made jet fighters for the Indian Air Force.
What could that mean? We hasten to smooth the analysts' brows - Indian negotiators are patient and tough, the decade-long saga of India buying a Russian-built aircraft carrier is the proof, if any were needed. The French asked a high price and wanted to safeguard jobs at home, while the Russians managed to fix a suitable price and agreed that helicopters will be built in India.
Perhaps the French might follow suit and complete the deal to mutual satisfaction? Why are Indians unwilling to splash out the money?
In our view, PM Modi's drive to eradicate poverty still affecting every fifth Indian explains many, if not all, efforts of the Modi government. And thus the question as to what India's intentions really are - are the Indians trying to steer clear of the conflicting world powers, as they did when they were launching the Non-Aligned Movement, or are they striving to achieve the world power status themselves - has a very simple answer.
Both. In the world where regional conflicts and failed states are like local fires threatening to spread and engulf the globe, India cannot prosper and bring prosperity, education, health care and advancement to all Indians. India needs peace and stability in global terms. When the Indian government pushes for localized manufacture of the goods it wants to import, be it high speed trains or jet fighters, they pursue a twin goal of uplifting the economy by creating high-skilled jobs and ensuring India's security.
Very good job, but we need not expect anything else from an ancient culture embracing the future.