August 15, 2022
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India needs to maintain a strong balance among major powers
India is now in the midst of a major transformation which will determine its own future and the role it is likely to play in coming years at the global stage. The new NDA government which came to power four months ago has vigorously pursued a strong foreign, strategic, and economic policy to boost India’s image. In fact, it done a lot of brand making ever since it took stage. This may allow India to catch up with lost time of 10 years which is known as UPA misrule. Although Congress Party has been routed in the elections, the damage is done. Now, the NDA under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing for a regional realignment and economic reforms. While long term economic policies and bold reforms can open the way for foreign investors to look at India differently, strong foreign policy initiative has given regional countries a sense of relax. Now they look at India differently. Modi is giving them a hope and confidence that all can grow together, there is no need to fear India’s rise. Because once the smaller neighbours start cooperating and believe in India’s growth story, the task will be much easier. This was the first step Modi government had taken. Now, Modi government is reaching out to all major powers in the world. The recent visit to Japan, US and receiving Chinese President indicate that India is back. This signals a major engagement for India which was losing its power till few months ago. The Modi government needs to know that in some areas India’s interest will converge with them but in other areas they may clash with them. Moreover, India does not have much experience in dealing with top ranking powers at an equal level and getting into regional crisis management. This is quite new for India but it will have to be done.

However, a realignment of relationship may not necessarily always bring desired results immediately but it could be a stepping stone to climb on the ladder. Life is not a mathematic, so as relationships. Thus, there is no clear cut way out or proven track. It has to be created. India’s internal and external relations will have to undergo a fresh recast. Even then India should deal with major powers and middle powers with confidence. This is precisely Modi has done quite successfully. From here it is a tough journey. Once the recast of ties is done, India needs to develop a long term perspective. While a tactical approach will still be needed, long term perspective should have clear objectives under a time bound limit. Since India is trying to alter the status quo by the way of revitalising its relations and bringing massive reforms to make it more attractive, there will be clash of interests as well. When India succeeds in a particular sphere, it might bring competition from others in the same sector. Also, India’s rise which is being attributed as sudden under NDA rule can invite attention at some point of time. India should be able to anticipate the threat and ward off harmful effect to the best possible quantum. Therefore, a two track engagement with major powers will be required to maintain a balance of action and counter action. While Japan sees a good prospect to work with India, China is reluctantly catching up. If Beijing does not cosy with India, then it will lose out to Japan and US. This time India is also being wooed by middle powers such as South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa.

All that will bring a new prospect for Indian diplomacy. The Prime Minister is clear in his vision as what is to be achieved but implementation will be a huge challenge. He says publicly that there is a need for out of the box thinking. Since India’s present approach is unconventional, it also requires people with unconventional thinking and spirit. The IAS, IFS, IPS and others are not in a position to handle present situation. Modi can think like the way Dr Manmohan Singh went for NandanNilkani and E Shreedharan to implement mega projects. If the vision is unconventional, the administrator should also be unconventional. Modi’s challenges at present are far bigger than his predecessors. Modi has no time for himself and his ministers may not get enough education period. They will have to act now or never. While India should put in place an active neighbourhood policy, it must widen the scope of this definition. This means it must include Central Asian countries, Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, SAARC, ASEAN and China as its greater neighbourhood. At the same time, it must have a unified maritime neighbourhood policy as well, spanning from Western Pacific to Indian Ocean and African shores. Then it can have economic partnerships and technology partners. As an emerging power it will have to shoulder some responsibility in the region and it can take a lead role in containing terrorism. Slowly it can push its soft power and cultural affinity to promote peace, familiarization and connectivity. For example, India can be a centre of Buddhism and provide alternate thinking. By this, it can be a land of attraction and respected by all those who believe in peace and development in faraway regions.