Since the Modi government came to power in May 2014, Indian foreign policy has been drastically transformed. It is initiating new bilateral ties, reviving dormant ones, and upgrading the existing relations with more comprehensive and strategic cooperation. Prime Minister Modi’s policies are more international and ambitious than ever before.
India has traditionally been perceived as a passive power with an ambitious, but undefined, regional and international agenda. It has positioned itself as a friend to all and a foe to none, which has allowed it to win the confidence of many major nations. The majority of India’s international engagements has resulted from its geostrategic advantage in Asia and its growing economy, which other ambitious states could not afford to ignore. India has attracted significant foreign investment and has been part of many regional and international programs focusing on a variety of issues. However, India’s regional and international influence has been constantly challenged either by China or by its own over-ambitious nature. The Modi government is exploring a unique avenue in its foreign policy by reaching out to not only strategically active global powers but also passive states. In addition, Modi is making an effort to strengthen bilateral ties with countries of similar cultural backgrounds. India is transforming its inward-looking foreign policy of attracting investment and strategic favoritism into an outward-bound foreign policy of expanding its sphere of influence and identifying markets to further expand Indian trade and culture. Although India’s desire to become a serious international player has existed since the time of Nehru, it has never been pursued with such vigor and enthusiasm.
Modi’s strides in foreign policy became evident starting from his inauguration day, where the prime minister invited all of the leaders of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) conference. Since then, Modi has had a keen focus on the immediate neighbors of India. On his trip to Sri Lanka in March, Modi emphasized improving the bilateral ties between two countries. Although few major deals or projects were signed, apart from the ones which were agreed upon between previous governments, a visit from an Indian PM after 28 years is of great strategic importance considering China’s growing influence in South Asia. In a similar attempt Modi visited Nepal and announced multiple new treaties on traditional medicine, education, and tourism in order to lure the Himalayan nation into the Indian sphere. During the visit the two countries also finalized a $1 billion credit line. Since then, apart from its unclear and ever-changing policy towards Pakistan, the Modi government has successfully resolved several border issues with Bangladesh, improved trade ties with Bhutan, enhanced its strategic influence in Maldives, and strengthened its friendship with Afghanistan.
The Modi government is essentially creating a second neighbourhood sphere by increasing its influence in countries which are in its close proximity but are not direct neighbours. India’s ‘Look East’ policy which was rebranded the ‘Act East’ policy by Modi during his visit to Myanmar, has only strengthened India’s relations with ASEAN and other Eastern nations through several trade, energy, and development agreements. Prime Minister Modi is taking initiative and conducting visits to states where no Indian leader has stepped before. His recent visit to the Central Asian states of Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan not only resulted in a range of trade treaties, but also established important military cooperation pacts and energy trade deals. On his most recent visit to UAE, Modi highlighted the critical role of the Gulf country in India’s economic, energy and security interest. Large investment commitments, to forge new partnerships are a result of Modi’s lucrative moves.
India, in cooperation with Japan, Germany and Brazil, has been pushing for reforms in the United Nations Security Council, only to continuously lose to opposition led by China. In order to forward the inter-governmental negotiations, a framework document was introduced with an intention of developing it into formal text based negotiations. However, in response to China’s recent opposition to UNSC reforms, India has significantly increased its outreach programs to the Pacific Islands and African states. India increased its efforts in aligning African nations by organizing the largest ever India-Africa Summit in 2015 and in building a new partnership with fourteen pacific island states by initiating Forum for India-Pacific Island Cooperation during Modi’s Visit to Fiji in 2014. In order to balance China’s tactical pressure, India has come out in full open support of the UN Convention on Law of Sea, which questions China’s blatant expansionist agenda in the South China Sea. Additionally, Indian government is not only expanding and improving its bilateral ties, but also is familiarizing these nations with the larger goal of the UNSC reforms to counteract China’s efforts.
India has developed its international presence and strategic influence greatly through soft power initiatives rather than through its military. The Indian government under Modi is taking the right steps to make India a major international player.