Despite enjoying a clear-cut majority in parlia- ment, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhara- tiya Janata Party government has been able to make only limited progress with its domestic political agenda. The reasons for its failures are
fairly straightforward. The Congress, the principal Opposition party, though a minority in the lower house still enjoys
a plurality in the upper house.
Unable to proffer viable alternatives it has nevertheless
proven to be a successful force for obstruction. Apart from
the Congress’ intransigence, the ruling party has also not displayed much legislative dexterity. These two factors in tandem have prevented the government
from implementing a substantial, domestic agenda.
On the foreign policy front, however, it
is not similarly hamstrung. Consequently,
the government has been able to pursue a
far more expansive agenda and has had
its share of successes. That said, it has
also displayed a surprising degree of
naivete on a host of fronts, has stumbled
in its efforts on others and remains to follow up on some promising initiatives.
What are its principal successes? There
is little question that the prime minister
displayed the right instincts immediately
upon assuming office. In a hitherto unprecedented move, he invited every principal elected representative of the states of
South Asia to his inauguration. This was
obviously a grand, symbolic gesture. However, it nevertheless signaled his apparent desire to seek good relations with India’s immediate neighbors including Pakistan. Not long after, he successfully managed to settle a long-standing territorial
dispute with Bangladesh even though it
required a constitutional amendment.
His government also displayed remarkable alacrity as well as organization in
responding to an earthquake in Nepal in May of last year.
Indeed at the time, his government’s timely and generous
assistance generated considerable goodwill in Kathmandu.
Such bonhomie, however, proved to be short-lived. In late
2015, unhappy with certain constitutional arrangements in
Nepal, his government imposed an informal blockade on the
land-locked country imposing severe costs. Eventually, it was
terminated but not before virtually all the amity toward
India had evaporated.
Unlike the previous regime, which had dithered in its ties
with Sri Lanka, Modi has displayed a keen interest in working with the new government. Of course, his willingness to
engage the regime stems from two distinct sources. At one
level, the government of Maithripala Sirisena has displayed
some willingness to address the legitimate grievances of the
country’s Tamil population.
This conciliatory approach toward the Tamil minority
makes a more friendly attitude toward the country far more
domestically palatable in India. At another, Modi and his for-
eign policy team recognize that they can ill-afford to overlook
China’s increasing presence in various sectors of that coun-
Modi’s symbolic and substantive forthrightness in taking
swift and decisive steps were not limited to India’s neighbors.
In a remarkable departure from past tradition where no government would have even entertained the idea, he invited
and hosted President Barack Obama, as the chief guest at
India’s Republic Day parade.
Given the long history of reflexive anti-Americanism that
had been part of the warp and woof of India’s political culture, especially under several, if not all, Congress governments, Modi’s decision to host Obama was little short of dramatic. Since then, however, apart from small measures of no
particular significance, little of consequence has happened in
The security arena is the only venue which has witnessed
substantive progress. However, even a relatively simple and
anodyne matter that of a logistics agreement has yet to be
Accordingly, as his visit to the United States now looms it
remains to be seen if he can jump-start an otherwise viable
but not quite vibrant relationship.
He has also displayed similar verve in other important
bilateral ties. For example, on a visit to France last year, much
to the surprise of many in the Indian security policymaking
establishment, he made a surprising commitment to purchase 36 Rafale medium-multi-role combat aircraft in flyaway condition. Despite this straightforward decision his
government remains bogged down in protracted negotiations over the ultimate pricing of these aircraft.
His skill in handling India’s two most trying adversaries,
however, has been less than entirely adroit. Even as he was
feting Chinese leader Xi Jinping at a lavish banquet in his
home state of Gujarat, the People’s Liberation Army made a
series of incursions in September 2014. After these incursions Indian forces were beefed up in Ladakh as well as along
other parts of the border. However, despite this obvious
provocation Modi has not adopted a particularly firm stance
This can be inferred from President Pranab Mukherjee’s
recent visit to China even as its leaders were taking critical
steps to block India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers
While in the country, Mukherjee reminded his hosts that
India had been a staunch supporter of China in various international fora in the early years of the republic. However, it is
most unlikely that this gentle nudge will have any effect on
his intended audience.
Nor has he shown much diplomatic shrewdness in handling Pakistan. Early in his term he had terminated the foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan. This had transpired
in the wake of Islamabad’s disregard for New Delhi’s explicit
warning to not invite the members of a Kashmiri secessionist organization, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference to the
Pakistan high commission on the eve of the talks.
Despite this display of firmness Modi nevertheless made
an abrupt visit to Lahore while returning from a State visit to
To the amazement of many observers,
his government even agreed to a joint
investigation with Pakistan to ascertain
the antecedents of this terrorist incident.
The abrupt shifts in his attitude and pol-
icy toward Pakistan do not betoken a
coherent approach to dealing with the
country’s most nettlesome neighbor.
This seeming disarray in policies tow-
ard Pakistan and China is obviously per-
plexing and ill serves India’s long-term
strategic interests. It is intriguing to note,
however, that his government has been
far more sure footed in dealing with a
complex set of relationships in West Asia.
His government has maintained and dee-
pened a multi-faceted relationship with
Israel, has nevertheless managed to reach
out to Saudi Arabia and most recently
has concluded a $500 million deal to
build a port at Chabahar in Iran. Few, if
any regimes of consequence in the world can boast having
simultaneously cordial ties with all three warring States.
As Modi concludes two years in office a fair assessment of
his foreign policy record must be deemed to be one that is
decidedly mixed. He has, on occasion, obviously displayed
much skill, has shed past shibboleths and has sought to forge
However, he and his foreign policy team still need to find
ways to pursue firm and consistent policies toward India’s
principal adversaries, to continue to build upon the goodwill
that he has generated in his dealings with other neighbors
and above all boost the multi-dimensional relationship with
the United States.
Sumit Ganguly is the Director of the Center on American
and Global Security at Indiana University, Bloomington and
is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in
FEW, IF ANY REGIMES OF CONSEQUENCE IN THE WORLD CAN BOAST HAVING
SIMULTANEOUSLY CORDIAL TIES WITH ALL THREE WARRING STATES — ISRAEL,
SAUDI ARABIA AND IRAN — SAYS SUMIT GANGULY.
Modi has consolidated India’s
relationships in West Asia
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, May 23. India will invest $500 million to develop Iran’s Chahbahar port. P R E