Sunday, December 6, 2015

Article: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Foreign Policy (

Date: 6th Dec 2015
By Cleo Paskal

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's foreign policy has shown a remarkable deftness of action and cohesion of vision. As a result, the last eighteen months have marked one of the fastest changes in the international profile of a major state in recent years. Whatever the outcome, it is worth taking a closer look at some of the elements that have catapulted India back to the center of global affairs. These lessons learned have relevance for anyone in management.

Consolidate your base

Modi's inauguration was the first indication that there was going to be a major redesign of Indian foreign policy. By inviting SAARC leaders, Modi highlighted the neighbourhood's importance to India, and India's importance to the neighbourhood. The 'peer pressure' component ensured that anyone tempted to not attend would be put on the back foot; Modi would look magnanimous, and they would look out of step with the mood of the times. In the end, all SAARC nations sent top leaders. And so, from his first day in office, Modi not only signaled to the region that 'India is back', he signaled to the wider world India's centrality in the region.

Be clear about your goals

From the beginning, Modi made it clear that his top priority was inclusive growth, and to create that growth he wanted to attract investment, 'make in India' and encourage entrepreneurship. On the international front, that meant doing what anyone expanding their business would do, going forth and selling their product, in this case India. He was always clear, however, that the core goal wasn't just growth, it was inclusive growth, so potential partners would understand from the outset this wasn't about throwing open the doors to all comers. It was about looking for the right partners. In that way, the most unrealistic expectations would be avoided.

Additionally, it meant that at various negotiations, for example at the Paris COP, India's 'red lines' were clear. If the West wanted India to shift away from fossil fuels, it would have to make renewables more affordable because growth would not be sacrificed. Others might not like India's position, but at least it wasn't fuzzy, making negotiations more straightforward. White House spokesman Josh Earnest recently told reporters that Modi "is honest and direct. He is also somebody that has a clear vision for where he wants to take his country. And that makes him not just an effective politician but an effective Prime Minister."

Understand and leverage your partners' priorities

One of the most remarkable moments was Modi's September 2014 Madison Square Garden event. It was his first US trip since he took office, and some media were still roiling with stories about his past visas issues. The Madison Square Garden event steamrolled right through those issues, and set a completely new standard for foreign leaders visiting the US. 

Modi understood that the Indo-American community is one of the wealthiest, most engaged and best-educated groups in the US, making it a very desirable demographic for American politicians. As they are not strongly aligned to either political party, Indo-American votes and campaign funding could be seen as 'up for grabs'. That is the reason that over three dozen US congress members from both houses, and both parties, happily shared the stage with Modi at the Garden. They included Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair) and the Republican Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley. In one deft move Modi showed US politicians that he held sway over a chunk of their own political system. 

Identify overlooked opportunities

Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Mongolia, and the first in over three decades to visit the UAE, Fiji, Seychelles and elsewhere. The visits, especially to smaller nations, garnered enormous positive local media coverage that often highlighted linkages with India, reawakening old bonds. By visiting often-overlooked areas so early in his tenure, he showed that India was interested in engaging in a much deeper and more complex way than previously seen. 

This dovetailed with a widespread desire, especially in smaller states, to have a 'third option' to supplement the West and China. Both the West and China carry a certain baggage with them that, in many sectors, India doesn't have. For example, Indian pharmaceuticals are often cheaper than Western products and more reliable than Chinese ones. Similarly, Indian education is seen as more affordable than Western education, but more linguistically and culturally compatible than Chinese education.

By spending the time to visit these less obvious parts of the world, Modi is signaling that India seriously wants to engage with all. 

Follow through

However good Modi's foreign policy may be, it will need effective implementation to sustain it and ensure that it accomplishes its goals. And that is something that Modi can't do alone. However sharp the tip of the spear, if the shaft and bow are weak, the target won't be reached. 

As of now, follow through on a wide range of foreign policy initiatives has been lackluster. While there are major efforts to reform the bureaucracy, there are still large cracks that can swallow up policies. At the same time, there are those inside and outside the system who would benefit from Modi's failure. 

So far, Modi's foreign policy has exhibited intelligence, focus and vision. Time will tell if that vision becomes a reality or stays a mirage.

Thursday, December 3, 2015