A few days ago, we witnessed an unprecedented sight on Rajpath that would have been unimaginable some years ago: all ten leaders of the ASEAN nations being welcomed as Chief Guests for India’s Republic Day Parade. In fact, from the moment the leaders of all our neighbouring countries were invited to the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet collagues, a clear signal was sent that India’s approach to the world around us would be one that befits its rising global stature - an innovative, confident, bold and pragmatic approach that welcomes one and all to share in India’s growth.
In last three and a half years, the Modi government has presented new approaches and charted new directions with emphasis on operationalisation and implementation. The new energy and visibility in our foreign policy has been noticed all around the world. It is reflected in India’s enhanced international standing. Samriddhi(economic interest),Suraksha(national security),Samman(dignity and honour),Samvad(greater engagement),SanskritievamSabhyata(Civilisational and cultural links) are the driving forces behind India’s global engagement today.
There is today a greater expectation of India’s role at the international level, as reflected in India emerging as a natural participant in several regional and global discourses. Our constructive approach to global issues is widely recognised, and was reflected recently, inter alia, in our entry into the Wassenar Agreement and Australia Group; our membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO); and the coming into force of the International Solar Alliance, a treaty-based international organisation initiated by India.
The primary driver for this change has been the nature of domestic political evolution that India experienced in 2014. For the first time in nearly 3 decades, the people of India brought to power a Central Government with a decisive majority in the lower House of Parliament. The verdict was for change and for good and effective governance. It was also a call for development reflective of growing aspirations of India’s youthful millions. The government has responded to the mandate by unveiling a range of measures and initiatives aimed at economic transformation of India. All this has conveyed a message of India as a country with a decisive and energetic leadership and a government which is committed to transformative change.
Another development, not unrelated to the first, has been the way the world has begun to look at India. In the last two years, the “India Story” has revived itself not the least because of the energy and vigour demonstrated by the government. India has emerged as the fastest growing major economy in the world even in face of difficult global economic environment. Rating agencies have upgraded India’s rankings as an investment destination and there has been a nearly 40% surge in inward FDI. There has been a remarkable jump in India’s position on the index of ease of doing business. There is a clear sense that these naturally open new opportunities that require a recalibration of our foreign policy to take advantage of these developments, and to buttress them further through proactive and energetic diplomacy.
In terms of our international outreach, there has been an unprecedented expansion of India’s diplomatic canvass, including at the highest levels, both in terms of regularity and quality of exchanges. Even as we have engaged with our traditional partners with greater warmth and frequency, the coverage of our diplomatic outreach has extended to new countries and regions. It has also extended in terms of covering countries and regions that had not received adequate attention for a long time. This includes our immediate and extended neighbourhood, West and Central Asia and the Indo-Pacific region.
Earlier in January 2018 in Davos, we heard Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi share India’s vision of creating a shared future in an increasingly divided and fractured world. Improving connectivity and facilitating freer movement of goods, people and ideas is a crucial part of this vision. Whether it is domestic, external or regional, in the decades to come, connectivity will determine how India and indeed Asia achieves the goals of growth, employment and prosperity. There is now growing awareness that lack of physical and digital connectivity, both within India and in the larger South Asian neighbourhood and beyond, is a major constraint on both our capabilities and our competitiveness. However, these connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality, and must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In the past year there has been significant progress in infrastructure and connectivity projects undertaken by India in our neighbour-hood. Projects in rail, road, ports, inland waterways, coastal shipping, energy and fuel transmission are being implemented with our partners in the neighbourhood to realise the vision of a modern, secure, economically prosperous and better connected South Asia. Multimodal connectivity projects underway in Bangladesh and Myanmar have the potential of closing the physical connectivity gap between South Asia and the ASEAN region, giving an impetus to our ‘Act East’ policy. We are working with international partners to further extend this into an Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, which will revitalise the centuries old linkages of trade, commerce and connectivity between the two largest continents of the world.
To the West, we saw last year the inauguration of the first phase of the Chabahar Port project, the inaugural consignment of Indian wheat being delivered to Afghanistan through Chabahar, and the establishment of the India-Afghanistan air-freight corridor. These innovative initiatives, along with our engagement with regional partners in Central Asia on the International North South Transport Corridor, will pave the way for operationalisation of the Chabahar port as an alternate, reliable and robust connectivity hub, and promote trade and transit with Afghanistan and the wider region.
With the historic launch of the South Asia Satellite, India demonstrated its commitment to sharing the benefits of its technological capabilities with its regional partners. As a first responder in emergencies and natural disasters, India’s proactive and professional response in providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) has underlined its readiness to stand by its friends in times of their need - be it in safe evacuation of civilians from conflict zones, rendering earthquake and flood relief in Nepal and Sri Lanka, organizing special medical camps and delivering fresh water to the Maldives, or providing humanitarian assistance for displaced persons in Bangladesh.
For a developing country like India, diplomacy must, above all, be an enabler of domestic growth. Never has this principle been more salient to the actual working of diplomacy than now. In the past three and a half years, advancement of India’s economic and commercial interests has been at the forefront of all Indian diplomatic activity. These efforts have been greatly facilitated by enunciation of domestic developmental objectives into concrete and identifiable flagship programmes by this Government. This has enabled Indian diplomacy to consciously survey the international landscape and identify the best bilateral or institutional partners that can contribute to programmes like Make in India, Skill India, Digital India, Smart Cities, Swachh Bharat, NamamiGange, AMRUT (Affordable Medicines and Reliable Implants for Treatment), etc.
Another equally important focus area for the Modi Government has been rekindling and strengthening of linkages with Indian Diaspora. As amply demonstrated by the enthusiastic participation in the first ever PIO Parliamentarians Conference in January 2018, many of these children of India have risen to positions of importance in their chosen professions, and can contribute materially to advancing India’s relationships with their host nations. Some of them are equally keen to contribute directly to India’s growth and social development through their investments, skills, experiences and talents.
The IndianGovernment has finally put Indians back at the heart of India’s foreign policy. Whether it is through increased resources and focus on protection and facilitation of the large community of Indian nationals who live and work abroad, or through transforming the public interface of the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry now takes pride in being the “Madadgar” Ministry. The passport offices in India and the consular departments of Missions 85 Posts abroad, the visible face of the Ministry seen by our citizens, are being transformed through the use of digital platforms and innovative use of social media. The Ministry is also placing emphasis on creating robust emergency response systems in parts of the world where there is larger concentration of Indian citizens, to protect them in times of crisis.
To sum up, a distinctive change has come about in India’s Foreign Policy since 2014. The change can be described in three words - chaal (pace), charitra (character) and chehra (face) - of India’s foreign policy. The ‘pace’ is reflected in the fact that infrastructure projects in neighboring countries taken up by India, which were stuck since very long time and where costs had overrun by 5 times, are nearing completion now because of constant monitoring at the highest level in Government. The pace has become much faster.
Charitra or character can be seen in the logo placed in every Indian embassy saying “Pardesmeipakka dost, Bhartiyadootavaas” (Indian embassy is a home away from home). The Ministry has sensitised its embassies to a great extent and has become more helpful. Its portal called ‘Madad’ enables Indians abroad to register their requests online and they are thereafter contacted by the embassy staff. Some people choose to tweet, which is also responded to. This is the new sensitivity.
Chehra, the face of India has become more influential. India’s image has been enhanced by the manner it successfully evacuated its personnel and those of other countries in conflict zones such as Iraq, Libya and Yemen. This simply reflects a revitalized India’s Foreign Policy.
(This article is a summary of the remarks made by Smt. SushmaSwaraj, Minister for External Affairs,
GoI on 30th January, 2018 at New Delhi at the workshop on India’s Foreign Policy organised by
India Foundation in partnership with the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.)
(This article is carried in the print edition of March April 2018 issue of India Foundation Journal.)