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Deconstructing the Modi Doctrine: Three Years of Modi’s Foreign Policy

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Dr. Sreeram Chaulia, Professor and Dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs of the O.P. Jindal Global University, speaks at the event.

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Dr. Vijay Chauthaiwale, In-charge, Department of Foreign Affairs, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) speaks to the crowd at the event.

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The audience listens to the panelists during the event.

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Audience members listen to the panelists and take notes during the event.

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Dr. Sreeram Chaulia answers a question from the audience at the event, “Deconstructing the Modi Doctrine: Three Years of Modi’s Foreign Policy.

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Audience members listen to the panel members during the event.

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Dr. Sreeram Chaulia, Dhruva Jaishankar, Dr. Vijay Chauthaiwale and Dr. Rajiv Kumar listen to an audience member speaking during the Q&A session of the event.

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To attempt a critical appraisal of India’s foreign policy over the last three years, Brookings India organized a panel discussion on “Deconstructing the Modi Doctrine: Three Years of Modi’s Foreign Policy.” The discussion featured Dr. Vijay Chauthaiwale, Dr. Rajiv Kumar, and Dr. Sreeram Chaulia, and was moderated by Dhruva Jaishankar.

View Dhruva Jaishankar’s presentation.

The following summary highlights some of Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy achievements in the last three years, as well as criticisms and challenges going forward.

Key Features:

  • Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy is driven to a great extent by personal ambition. He has been completely unideological about his foreign policy and treats it as only an instrument of national interest, a significant departure from the past.
  • PM Modi has tried to manage various conflicting interests in favour of India, through his India-first policy. For example, previously complex relationships with Saudi Arabia, Israel, the UAE and Iran have received new impetus.
  • Prime Minister Modi linking with West Asia for economic prosperity is indicative of the principle of national interest being paramount. He has not only given impetus to connecting with major Muslim powers of the region but also Israel.
  • Prime Minister Modi has made a pragmatic distinction between Indian security and economic interests. For example, despite security concerns with China, the economic relationship with China remains stable.
  • There is a clear articulation of the tight integration between Indian foreign policy and domestic economic interests. Foreign direct investment has continued unabated despite domestic issues. Initiatives such as Make in India, Digital India as well as social initiatives like Swatch Bharat are also examples of this integration.
  • Prime Minister Modi has managed to engage with and visit important countries that have not witnessed Indian Prime Ministerial visits in decades. Canada and the UAE being examples of this.
  • Connecting with the diaspora in countries around the world has been an important objective for the government. Engagements with diaspora have not only raised the stature of Indian diaspora in countries, but also rendered them a political force to be reckoned with.
  • With cross-border surgical strikes, the Modi government has overcome the issue of strategic restraint that constrained our national security position for decades.

Challenges going forward:

  • Despite PM Modi’s persona and initiative, Indian foreign policy continues to be driven by the bureaucracy, which is not always strategic in its thinking and often ideologically dogmatic. This is perhaps true especially with respect to the South Asia policy.
  • Defence reforms don’t seem to have the required sense of emergency, especially if India is to project its power onto the world stage.
  • Policy on South Asian neighbours such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Afghanistan, and even Pakistan, should be reviewed. Indian provinces and states should be encouraged to become critical players in foreign policy.
  • India-China relations will be one of the major challenges for India in the months to come. Hyphenation of the China-Pakistan relationship vis-à-vis India needs to be carefully monitored.
  • The Indo-U.S. relationship is also likely to be more transactional under the new Trump administration, unlike the personal bonhomie between PM Modi and former President Obama. This could pose new challenges as well as opportunities. Therefore, traditional calculations might not work with the new U.S. administration.
  • Relations with Russia also need to be revisited in the light of the changing geo-political landscape
  • The possible emergence of the G2 (China and U.S.) can pose a significant challenge to Indian interests and therefore should be carefully monitored and handled.
  • Indian outreach and engagement with Southeast Asian and African countries has been underwhelming and therefore has scope for improvement.
  • India’s inability to gain entry into global governance platforms such as the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and the UN Security Council have been somewhat of a setback for the government.

In conclusion, overall opinion of Prime Minister Modi’s hectic foreign policy has been largely positive. However, this positive momentum can only be sustained by continued domestic economic growth and stability.

This event report has been written by Shruti Godbole. The views are of the author(s), discussant(s), panelist(s). 

Event Announcement

This is a panel discussion on “Deconstructing the Modi Doctrine: Three Years of Modi’s Foreign Policy” featuring, Vijay Chauthaiwale, Rajiv Kumar and Sreeram Chaulia.The discussion, moderated by Dhruva Jaishankar, Fellow for Foreign Policy at Brookings India, will attempt a critical appraisal of India’s foreign policy over the past three years, and identify areas of agreement and divergence among the participating authors and commentators.

Dr. Vijay Chauthaiwale is In-charge, Department of Foreign Affairs, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and one of the Editors of “The Modi Doctrine: New Paradigms in India’s Foreign Policy” (2016). Dr. Sreeram Chaulia is Professor and Dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs of the O.P. Jindal Global University and author of “Modi Doctrine: The Foreign Policy of India’s Prime Minister” (2016). Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Director of Pahle India Foundation, is the author of the book “Modi and his Challenges” (2016).

The discussion will be on-the-record and open to the media. Due to limited seating, all participants are requested to register their attendance with Shruti Godbole at sgodbole@brookingsindia.org.

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