Posts Tagged ‘Narendra Modi’

This article was originally published by the Centre for Landwarfare Studies (CLAWS), a Defense think-tank, on March 16, 2017 here. Republished in the Indian Defense Review on March 20, 2017 here.  

When Narendra Modi took oath as the 14th Indian Prime Minister in May 2014, he made an unprecedented diplomatic outreach to India’s neighbours by inviting their heads of government. The audacious move generated great euphoria and excitement, especially among the observers of South Asian politics and relations. It was the very first initiative of what later came to be known as the ‘neighbourhood first’ policy of the Modi government.

The day after his inauguration, Modi held bilateral meetings with the South Asian leaders and vowed to work towards making SAARC a strong regional block. He soon made his first foreign visit as Prime Minister to Bhutan, the Himalayan neighbour that has been India’s closest and time-tested ally. India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj too, made her first official foreign visit in the neighbourhood, to Bangladesh, where she laid the foundation for Modi’s visit that followed later on.

The diplomatic priority that Modi attached to the neighbourhood is evident from the fact he made a visit to all of India’s neighbours, except Maldives, and the numerous leaders hosted in New Delhi and meetings at other multilateral fora. With Bangladesh, the completion of the historic land boundary agreement, besides fresh initiatives in energy, connectivity and counter-terrorism, have catapulted the relationship to new heights. With Sri Lanka, the relationship has come back to normalcy after increased strain in ties during the Rajapaksa regime. Modi also made visits to the island nations of Mauritius and Seychelles, giving an impetus to India’s role as ‘net security provider’ in the Indian Ocean region.

According to foreign affairs analyst Dhruva Jaishankar, India’s neighbourhood first policy has four aspects. The willingness to give political and diplomatic priority to its immediate neighbours and Indian Ocean island states, providing them with support as needed, greater connectivity and integration, and to promote a model of India-led regionalism with which its neighbours are comfortable. Modi realises that his domestic agenda of development and rapid economic growth cannot be fulfilled without a stable and conducive neighbourhood. He has often emphasised that India cannot grow in isolation and that there is a lot to gain by mutual cooperation and shared prosperity in the region.

Besides the compelling economic logic, Modi is also watchful about growing Chinese penetration into South Asia. While Chinese presence in the region is not entirely avoidable or undesirable by India, there are some pressing strategic concerns that New Delhi has. China has been steadily building infrastructure, especially ports, at strategic locations around India which is often called as the strategy of encirclement or ‘string of pearls’. It has made deep inroads into most of India’s neighbours, besides emerging as an all-weather friend of Pakistan.

The proposed China Pakistan Economic Corridor, where Beijing plans to invest $46 billion in rail, road and gas pipeline projects, has raised concerns in India as it passes through Gilgit-Baltistan, which is part of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, a territory that India considers as its own. This issue also came up in the most recent round of strategic dialogue held in Beijing, where Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar conveyed that China should respect India’s territorial sovereignty.

Further, the region as a whole ought to be wary of increased Chinese involvement as it could undermine the process of democratization in the delicate and mostly fledgling democracies of South Asia. India has always been at the receiving end of parochial nationalistic politics of some of its neighbours which derive strength from anti-India rhetoric. All countries, including India, would benefit if this is replaced by an atmosphere of mutual trust and cooperation where developmental politics takes the centre-stage. But China has no sympathy either for democracy or developmental politics. As S.D. Muni, an expert of South Asian affairs, opines, China prefers strong, assertive and centralised regimes at its periphery. This is evident from the fact that China never supported or encouraged democratization in any of its neighbours.

While the last two and half years and more have seen a number of ground breaking developments in India’s relations with its neighbouring countries, there have been huge challenges at the same time. Modi’s visit to Nepal, first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister in over two decades, was received with huge fanfare and optimism. India was also the first responder after the Nepal earthquake, providing considerable assistance. Yet, Nepal’s constitutional crisis caused a serious setback in relations with India. Although New Delhi’s stance, that the interests of the Madhesis should be respected in the new Constitution, was in the best interest of both Nepal and India, there was a serious perception problem. India was criticised and accused of causing an economic blockade even though the blockade was actually on the Nepalese side of the border, enforced by the angry Madhesi population. Relations between India and Nepal, however, seem to have gotten back on track with the new government, led by Prime Minister Pushpa KamalDahal or ‘Prachanda’, in Kathmandu.

The biggest roadblock for India’s neighbourhood policy, however, has been Pakistan, a country which is not only serving as an epicentre of terrorism in the region but has also been quite unabashed in holding up regional integration and connectivity. Repeated cross-border terrorist attacks from Pakistan led to the cancellation of the SAARC summit scheduled in Islamabad last year, besides causing a meltdown of Indo-Pakistan relations.

These challenges, however, should not distract New Delhi from pursuing its agenda of greater regional integration and cooperation. The idea of ‘neighbourhood first’ need not include an errant neighbour like Pakistan, which can be dealt with separately. Even though SAARC has hit a roadblock, there are other institutional mechanisms such as the BIMSTEC, Mekong-Ganga cooperation mechanism, etc. where India can engage multilaterally. Even within the SAARC framework, India has been working on a ‘SAARC minus one’ approach. The Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) grouping has been one such example under which connectivity, energy and water management initiatives have been pursued. The common SAARC Satellite, which India has decided to go ahead with despite Pakistan’s objections, is another case in point.

The neighbourhood first policy has been one of India’s key foreign policy goals under the Modi government. It needs to march on, with or without Pakistan. Political engagement with the neighbours must continue to be prioritised in order to accelerate regional cooperation and integration which is the best interest of the region.

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This article was originally published in The Diplomat Magazine here on 24 July 2015 and was re-published by Gateway House here on 29 July 2015. 

As the world prepares for the crucial negotiations of COP 21 to be held in Paris this December, where an agreement is expected to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a new framework that limits the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, India has been showing a renewed interest – and confidence – in leading the talks.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked his diplomats to “shed old mindsets” and said India must take the lead in countering the challenge of climate change. Some three months later, India’s Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian gave a glimpse of India’s strategy for Paris and signaled a confident approach. It is interesting, therefore, to consider what kind of role India, a key player, is likely to have during the negotiations in Paris.

With a business-friendly government, India today is looking to begin writing an economic growth story that will enable it to lift millions of its citizens out of poverty. Achieving this aspiration will require high and sustained economic growth that is buttressed by a sound strategy for energy security. Unlike China or the East Asian Tigers, though, India will have to pursue economic development alongside significant commitments toward climate change action. But herein lies an opportunity, to choose a path of development that unlike the Chinese approach doesn’t have to be environmentally painful. India can save its population from the harmful effects of the unchecked exploitation of energy resources such as coal. Moreover, as India is home to some of the most vulnerable areas and people when it comes to climate change impacts, policies need not be seen as obligations alone, but as voluntary actions that will help save its people and environment. In the summer of 2015 alone, India has seen more than 1,800 deaths linked to heatwave conditions. Neighboring Pakistan also saw over 800 deaths due to a heatwave around the Sindh region. Reports have suggested that these conditions can be largely attributed to the effects of climate change. There were also reports that climate change stalled the monsoon this year. In recent years, these extreme weather conditions have become increasingly prevalent in South Asia and will only become more so unless strong climate measures are taken urgently.

In an article published by the Indian Express in May this year, Arvind Subramanian gave a backgrounder to India’s approach in Paris. He explained that the setback to climate change action that came in the form of a large decline in international energy prices could have been dealt with in a much better way had governments taken offsetting actions to impose taxes on petroleum products. India has done well on this front: It increased taxes while advanced countries preferred to pass on the benefits of price reductions to consumers and producers. Subramanian noted that India has taken a number of positive actions to combat climate change, which include increasing the excise duty on petrol and diesel, quadrupling the coal cess from Rs.50 per ton to Rs.200 per ton, and unveiling Modi’s ambitious plan to ramp up the production of solar energy from 20 Gigawatts currently to 100 GW by 2022.

It is encouraging from the Indian point of view that U.S. President Barack Obama during his meeting with the Indian prime minister in January agreed to help finance this planned $100 billion expansion of solar power in the next seven years. With its recent actions, India seems to be pushing hard to achieve its solar power objectives. Solar power projects are being encouraged and accelerated in a big way and the country is moving on track to become one of the largest solar markets in the world. Even Indian Railways is looking to chip in, starting trials of solar powered trains last month. It is also planning to come out with a solar policy for procuring 1000 MW solar power in the next five years.

India has also been aggressively looking to ramp up its nuclear power capacity. From operationalizing the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement to striking nuclear cooperation pacts with countries like Russia, France, Canada and Australia, New Delhi seems to be taking steps to achieve its target of 14,600 MW nuclear capacity on line by 2020. Additionally, if India manages to accede to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it would raise the bar for the country’s nuclear power capacity even higher.

In light of these government initiatives, India is poised to take a much more confident and dominant role in the climate change negotiations in December. India has set an example of newer types of climate change action that could be employed by other countries and that could also be included in the general global framework. For a successful meet in Paris, India, as one of the most important stakeholders, will clearly need to be in accord with the world’s advanced countries. For this to happen, all sides must reach out and help each other, quite literally, to combat the common challenge of climate change. The recent acknowledgements from the developed world of India as an important partner are welcome. There is a new vigor and willingness to partner India constructively in green initiatives such as the Global Apollo Programme – a plan to find ways within the next 10 years to make green energy clean cheaper to produce than energy drawn from coal, gas or oil. Such partnerships, technology transfers, and collaborations would go a long way in increasing the confidence and trust among the developed and developing world. That in turn will make it easier to find common ground for climate change action.