Will India vote for a PM who gave new pace to foreign policy?

Will India vote for a PM who gave new pace to foreign policy?

New Delhi, The BJP is in triumphant mood in the run up to the elections. Some of its leaders are cautious though about the limitations too – as had happened in 2004 and the saffron outfit saw 'India Shining' boomerang. But it goes without saying that in terms of policy matters, several BJP leaders and perhaps even a section of their critics believe that the 'foreign policy' front is one area where the Modi government has not disappointed. Firstly, in the words of a foreign policy observer, "it was never expected" of a mofussil-level or provincial politician to set the kind of 'thrust' that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has. Will India vote for a regime which pushed soft power and the Yoga but dealt with firm hands when it came to backroom negotiations with Pakistan on Wing Commander Abhinandan. "To make India a land of opportunities, what is the kind of government we require," wondered Finance Minister Arun Jaietley and he hastened to add - "India cannot experiment with adventurism of failed ideas". This is also a regime that 'befriended' the US, enhanced strategic ties with France, handled China tactfully during turbulent period of Doklam crisis and has a Prime Minister who has won highest awards from three key nations – UAE, South Korea and Russia. Pakistan's 'isolation' is more than mere desire, it's a story in itself as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was invited by the Organisation of Islamic Countries brushing aside Islamabad's objections. In the words of Biju Janata Dal leader and senior parliamentarian Bhartruhari Mahtab: "Prime Minister Modi has shown it clearly that there should not be any hesitation or a kind of shyness in embracing the US with open arms publicly". The BJP Manifesto waxes eloquently taking the go-global spirit further.

"We believe that India's time has come," the Sankalp Patra says and adds clearly – "The rise of India is the new reality and we shall play a major role in shaping global agenda in the 21st century". Not long ago, RSS leader and Editor of Sanghparivar fountainhead-run 'Organiser' – Praful Ketkar had said: "One single most achievement of the Modi government in foreign policy was the ability to change a global perception that India's foreign policy is generally non-committal and passive". In this paradigm, experts say – Prime Minister Modi has addressed three barriers – personal, ideological and institutional. There was hesitation about engaging with Modi. The US was disinclined also because they preferred India merely as 'an ally' not necessarily as an autonomous partner. They were not clear about institutional engagements. But all these three hurdles have been knocked off. There are yet a few other striking features of the 'Modi era' in foreign policy. The NDA-2 has clearly discarded the approach of 'defensiveness' on global issues. Importantly again, Mr Modi has kept Pakistan 'out' – especially after Pathankot and Uri terror strikes but underlined a strong commitment to regional economic integration in the region. Globally again, PM Modi has not displayed 'embarrassment' while underscoring India's civilisational space and has been hardly shy about the 'Hindutva' identity. All these might have set a stage, but skeptics still say how far the roadmap will go is not clear. Firstly, the record of implementation in India's foreign policy is not quite healthy as the foreign ministry bureaucracy has been generally conservative. However, the BJP sources say under the Modi government a range of new initiatives has been pushed. While the Manifesto talks about 'Vasudeva Kutumbakam' making it the vision of global cooperation, it has also pledged to establish a full fledged University of Foreign Policy, the first of its kind in the region. The 'foreign policy' debate vis-a-vis elections in India cannot be over without reference to Pakistan. Thus, BJP insiders say they are keeping a close watch on how things can really unfold in Pakistan. In fact, Imran Khan's comment a few days back that his government would prefer a Modi-led dispensation in India – is seen largely as a repeat of an old theory – that only a military ruler in Pakistan and hardliner pro-Hindutva leader enjoying RSS backing can only deliver peace between two countries.

This was 'well tried' during Gen Pervez Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee era, but with little success. Imran Khan is not a military ruler, but he is as close to Pakistani military establishment as anyone can be. In 2016 during the World Fest at sprawling Yamuna Bank, Prime Minister had given a push to his 'soft power' diplomacy and has said the world unity is not solely dependent on economic necessities. The big picture message – as underlined by BJP's foreign policy guiding lights – is the international game could be no longer about pushing economic criterion or military strength to fight terror. The Modi government's policy has been right on these matter. In that sense, the soft power also means persuasive diplomacy and the BJP-led regime has been treading such a path. The analysts in the ruling party maintain that in terms of concrete achievements, setting up of International Solar Alliance, a brainchild of Modi, ought to be rated highly. Prime Minister's speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, organised by London-based think tank and hosted by Singapore, too has emerged as a major milestone. The Modi government in last five years has given the country a 'bigger voice' in international affairs. However, can these bring in votes, especially in a country where any election is linked to candidate's caste, religion or the next door neighbour has raised the bogey of joblessness or farmers' distress.


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