26 May 2022 marks the eighth anniversary of the Modi government in power, five in the first term and three in the second term after coming back to power in 2019. On this day, exactly eight years ago, Narendra Modi scripted a historic victory in the 2014 General Assembly elections and was sworn in as the 15th prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, in a spectacular ceremony held in Delhi.
Modi’s election to the Centre was particularly significant, given that it was for the first time in 3 decades that a single party won the majority seats to form the government at the Centre. BJP racked up a stunning 282 seats on its own, the highest number of seats won by any party on its own since the 1984 Lok Sabha elections when the Congress, led by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi won a decisive victory.
Modi’s triumph was also considered momentous, for it came against the backdrop of myriad corruption scams, failure of the nation’s foreign policy, chronic economic distress and a general sense of policy paralysis at the centre. The Manmohan Singh-led UPA government had failed on multiple fronts, sparking anger among the citizens for squandering a crucial opportunity accorded to them to transform the country and usher it into an era of prosperity.
However, as the emergence of corruption scams one after the other became the highlight of the second tenure of the UPA government, the public disillusionment with the Centre, coupled with PM Modi’s impressive record in leading Gujarat, catapulted voters to the BJP, propelling it to the Centre once again after a decade of remaining out of power.
Then in 2019, PM Modi came back to power once again, demolishing the myth harboured by some that his election to the highest office in the land in 2014 was primarily because of the incompetence and inefficiency of the UPA government. With his victory in 2019, PM Modi proved that his government had worked for the benefit of the poor, improved India’s global standing, brought prosperity to the country, restored cultural and civilisational pride and enhanced its security apparatus.
While the Modi government excelled in various fields of governance, it particularly stood out in designing and deploying a robust foreign policy that forced even bitter enemies like former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to acknowledge its merit. From shunning its “non-aligned” stance to asserting its identity on global forums to displaying zero tolerance towards terrorism emanating from its neighbouring countries to prioritising its self-interest above conformity to the western notions, India’s foreign policy had undergone a remarkable transformation under the leadership of PM Modi.
However, India’s foreign policy has not always been as dynamic and vibrant as it is under the Modi government. For a couple of decades after the independence, India’s foreign policy was a disaster, committing one after another ‘Nehruvian’ blunders. For instance, not obliterating Pakistan for its audacity of attacking and capturing Jammu and Kashmir in 1948, or serving the UNSC seat to China on a platter and later on misreading China’s intentions on Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh that inevitably led to the catastrophic 1962 war.
But, in the last few years, after PM Modi came to power, there has been a radical shift in India’s foreign policy. It carried out Surgical Strikes across the border, both in the east and west, to demonstrate its willingness to go beyond the conventional methods to deal with the scourge of terrorism. With Balakot Airstrikes, it has shown the world that it is no longer the yesteryear’s India that will sit back and lick its wound, but it will mount a swift offensive and exact revenge on its adversaries.
Additionally, the foreign policy of India has also been incredibly malleable, which has helped it foreground India’s interests above everything else as evident in its measured approach to dealing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With the Modi government completing its 8 years in office, here are some of the instances that underscore how India’s foreign policy has evolved drastically under PM Modi.
India jettisons its traditionally-held non-aligned approach and displays more assertiveness in international relations
While India has traditionally been “non-aligned” in its foreign policy approach, after PM Modi came to power in 2014, New Delhi has exhibited more assertiveness in its international relations, especially in its role as an emerging superpower and its commitment toward a multi-polar rules-based global order.
By straying away from the old strategy of strict non-alignment, PM Modi has paved a way for unabashed and stronger ties with great and middle-sized powers. In doing so, PM Modi has turned India into a strategic player with a highly effective foreign policy. It has ceased to remain a bystander and has actively participated in fostering and reinforcing global alliances that have elevated its role as a country that is willing to take the leap and play an important role on the international stage.
As the world found itself in the throes of the coronavirus outbreak, India leveraged its prowess in vaccine manufacturing, developing its own vaccine in record time and rapidly scaling its capacities to manufacture vaccines developed by western organisations. As a part of its foreign diplomacy and its commitment to humanity, India exported 65 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 100 countries across the globe, which earned it the moniker of the “Pharmacy of the world.”
India, under PM Modi, has also been aggressively pursuing challenges posed by Climate Change. On November 2, 2021, PM Modi pledged to cut the country’s emissions to net-zero by 2070, an ambitious target for a developing country like India where fossil fuels are still the primary source of energy. PM Modi, however, has repeatedly insisted on harnessing the wellspring of renewable sources of energy available and reducing the carbon footprint of the country.
However, nothing exemplifies India’s marked change in its foreign policy after 2014 than the recent picture from Tokyo that took the internet by storm. Prior to 2014, India was considered a reluctant regional power that was let down by its corrupt and byzantine governance model. But after 2014, the world has grown to admire and come to recognise the inherent potential India possessed.
In the viral image, PM Modi was seen leading a group of global leaders, including the US president Joe Biden, Australia PM Anthony Albanese and a retinue of diplomats accompanying them, underscoring the country’s growing influence and stature across the world.
Zero tolerance for terrorism emanating from neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan
One of the cornerstones of the Modi government’s foreign policy has been its zero tolerance for terrorism emanating from neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan. The Indian government, under the leadership of PM Modi, has called out Pakistan’s nuclear bluff on more than one occasion, sending a clear message to Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the two power centres of the dysfunctional country, that India will not be as accommodating to terror attacks as it had been during the UPA years.
While the UPA-II exhibited shocking pusillanimity in refraining from taking Pakistan to task after the dastardly Mumbai 26/11 attacks, PM Modi authorised an audacious surgical strike against the terror launchpads responsible for sending terrorists that carried out the Uri terror attack in 2016. Days after the terror attack, the Indian Armed Forces launched a counter-operation, inside Pakistan occupied Kashmir, and destroyed the terror launchpads, signalling the fundamental shift in its policy on tackling terror attacks in India, and by extension Pakistan.
Before striking along India’s western borders, the Indian Armed Forces had carried out similar surgical strikes to eliminate the terrorists hiding in the thick forests of Myanmar to avenge the death of its soldiers martyred in a cowardly terror attack. Years later, in 2019, the Modi government sanctioned an unprecedented airstrike in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan, to annihilate a terror camp operated by Jaish-e-Muhammad in response to the Pulwama terror attack.
If this was not enough, the Modi government went a step ahead and abrogated the contentious Article 370 that granted Jammu and Kashmir a separate status and effected a greater integration of the state with the union of India. Two union territories—Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh—were carved out of the erstwhile state, wresting the control of the border state from self-serving local politicians with separatist tendencies and transferring it to the Centre.
Pakistan, propagandists in India and across the world, squirmed and caterwauled over the move, but the Modi government remained steadfast on its stand that Jammu and Kashmir is an internal matter of India and those who were losing their sleep over the move had no locus standi to be bothered by the abrogation of Article 370. Pertinently, the invalidation of Article 370 struck a death blow to the terror funding in the valley, depriving the overground terror workers of the funds flowing in from across the border. As a result, incidents of stone-pelting and terror attacks came down drastically after the abrogation of Article 370.
But more importantly, the hollowing out of Article 370 demonstrated a departure from India’s longstanding foreign policy on the issue of Kashmir. Past governments had extended a long rope to Pakistan and separatists in Kashmir, thereby empowering them to continue with their nefarious designs with impunity. However, with the abrogation of Article 370, in one fell swoop, India not only changed the terms of its further discussions with Pakistan but also signalled to the world that it is resolute in its commitment to bring the stolen parts of Kashmir back.
Ensuring the safety of Indian expatriates in distress
For the Modi government, forging lasting relationships with foreign nations for mutual growth and development was just one facet of the foreign policy. The other important one was to ensure the safety of Indians in distress abroad. For the first few years of the first Modi government, the late Sushma Swaraj spearheaded the policy, turning Twitter into a helpline and coming to the rescue of distraught diaspora.
The Indian government has also been quite dextrous and proactive in navigating complex crises erupting in different parts of the world, effectively calibrating its response to the requirements and rescuing stranded Indians.
But executing an evacuation plan is not an easy job. It’s a Herculean task, a disastrous nightmare that a country has to see through to safely rescue its people. The fluidity of the situation makes it incredibly difficult for the authorities to draw up a blueprint for the evacuation amidst perpetual volatility.
The complexity of the task at hand adds to the pressure on the government and the officials involved in the evacuation. The country is also severely constrained in case it does not share a contiguous border with the nation from where it plans to pull out its people.
Yet, the Modi government showed extraordinary gumption in evacuating people stranded in faraway places. Last year, India set in motion an evacuation plan to extract its citizens stuck in Afghanistan after the Taliban overthrew the US-backed government and took control of the country.
In 2019, India had successfully exfiltrated a CRPF contingent marooned in Libya amid a deteriorating security situation on the ground due to civil unrest. Before that, the Indian government rescued more than 4,500 Indians and 960 foreigners from war-ravaged Yemen in 2015. India also rescued 46 nurses from ISIS captivity in strife-torn Iraq in 2014.
Looking Dragon in the eye: India’s uncompromising stance on protecting its territorial integrity and border security
Under the leadership of PM Modi, India has grown to assert its territorial integrity in the face of mounting Chinese aggression. While the previous governments did little to protect India’s border areas from China’s salami-slicing, Beijing could no longer continue its evil plans of discreetly expanding its frontiers without facing tough resistance from India.
In June 2017, Indian armed forces and China’s PLA troops were engaged in a tense stand-off over the Chinese construction of a road in Doklam near a trijunction border area, known as Donglang, or Donglang Caochang. India opposed Chinese construction, expressing concern over its vicinity to the Indian border.
As a part of Operation Juniper, India deployed 270 troops armed with weapons and two bulldozers crossed the Sikkim border into Doklam to stop the Chinese troops from constructing the road. After weeks of negotiations and diplomatic manoeuvres, on 28 August 2017, both India and China announced that they had withdrawn all their troops from the face-off site in Doklam. The end of the Doklam standoff heralded possibly one of India’s most spectacular diplomatic victories in decades, looking the Chinese in the eye and standing up to their expansionist designs.
In 2020, the Indian troops in eastern Ladakh were engaged in what turned out to be a months-long face-off with the Chinese army along the friction points in Eastern Ladakh. The face-off was a result of Chinese aggression in the region and a unilateral attempt to alter the status quo at the border while India was busy tackling the coronavirus outbreak that had its roots in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Believing India would have no appetite for a border confrontation amidst the pandemic, the Chinese PLA attempted to clandestinely expand its presence in the border areas and stake a claim on Indian territories. However, the Indian armed forces resisted China’s salami-slicing tactics, touching off a stand-off between the armies of the two countries.
On June 15, 2020, a clash between Indian and Chinese troops at Galwan Valley in Ladakh erupted against freezing sub-zero temperatures in the night which escalated border tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbouring nations. While the Indian government acknowledged the casualties suffered and honoured its soldiers, China has been hiding its casualties in the clash since the very beginning. Even though China has been vague on the number of soldiers it lost in the Galwan clashes, western media outlets assert that 35-40 Chinese soldiers had died in the clashes with their Indian counterparts.
Since then, the tense stand-off between the armies of the two countries along the border in eastern Ladakh has defined India’s foreign policy toward China. It has conveyed to Beijing, in no uncertain terms, that India values its territorial integrity and it will not shy away from using militaristic means to counter Chinese aggression along the border regions.
India’s strategic ambiguity in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
More recently, India has maintained a measured silence on Russia’s war in Ukraine, placing self-interest above the desire to seek validation from the West. While it has attracted the wrath of virtue-signalling leftists and hypocritical western commentariats, who feel outraged that India’s foreign policy has not aligned with the West in confronting Russia, India’s strategic ambiguity over the issue has ensured that it has not antagonised Russia, one of its oldest and most-reliable defence partners.
Until recently, India bought almost all its frontline arms from Moscow. India’s major weapons are overwhelmingly — about 85% — of Russian origin. In addition to this, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says that “new orders [from India] for a variety of Russian arms in 2019–20 … will probably lead to an increase in Russian arms exports in the coming five years.”
Despite the west’s sanctions against Russia, India bought more than twice as much crude oil from Russia since it invaded Ukraine as it did in 2021 as New Delhi snapped up discounted Russian oil to fulfil its energy requirements. With inflationary pressures looming and the fuel prices hitting record-high, it was an astute move on the Modi government’s part to disregard the western diktats and buy Russian oil available at discounted rates.
With its refusal to toe the western line in the Russia-Ukraine crisis and embrace neutrality, India demonstrated that its foreign policy is rooted in the country’s self-interest and not in abiding by the hypocritical standards of morality preached by the West.