Prime Minister Narendra Modi has parked India on the international highway to greatness, but much more needs to be done in terms of foreign policy to ensure continuity in the years to come – that’s the message that Sreeram Chaulia seeks to deliver with his book, “Modi Doctrine – The Foreign Policy of India’s Prime Minister”. According to Chaulia, “By raising the bar of expectations to the level of an Indian century, Modi is trying to engineer a Gerschenkron-style mindset transformation”. Chaulia is a Professor and Dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, in Sonipat. The book, which is divided into five chapters, dives deep into the origins of Modi’s foreign policy, his love for people-to-people interaction, and how the ‘hidden Gujarati businessman’ is smart enough to look at India’s interests in every interaction that he has. From India’s changing relation with the USA and China to Modi’s relentless zeal to improve ties with all countries be it Japan, Israel, Middle-East, UAE, Africa, or India’s neighbours – the book is as comprehensive as the author says Modi’s policy is.
The origins of Modi Doctrine
Chaulia looks to highlight the reasons for PM Modi’s foreign policy successes, tracing them to the Prime Minister’s RSS roots. Throughout the chapter, various events in the life of Modi, are dwelt on to trace his foreign policy approach to RSS pillars of “Samvaad, prachaarak, and vistaarak”. He adds that the cultural refrain in the Modi Doctrine mirrors the BJP’s foreign policy pillar of Sammaan or national dignity and honour.
Chaulia feels that “one of the highlights of the Modi Doctrine is that he does not treat Samvaad as dialogue only with elites in foreign nations, but also with ordinary citizens”. The writer also credits Modi’s policies as Gujarat CM, and how the Gujarat model of attracting foreign investment and interest, paved way for a national policy as Prime Minister.
Modi is analysed as a PM who is constantly looking for takeaways for India. From calling PM Modi the “diplomat-in-chief” to stating that he has brought about a “paradigm shift” and rewritten the stoic and impersonal style of Indian diplomacy. Chaulia dismisses all comparisons that people inevitably tend to make of Modi with global leaders in the past. “Modi is Modi with his own inimitable characteristics, style and personality,” he says. In fact, for the author, Modi is the “phoenix which rose from the ashes of international outcaste”.
The role of Indian diaspora
After defining Modi’s foreign policy origins and style, Chaulia in the second chapter explains how the Prime Minister sees the Indian diaspora as a force multiplier for India’s foreign policy. For Modi, diaspora form the “fourth D” in Modi’s concept of 3Ds of democracy, demography and demand. Chaulia believes that the Modi Doctrine’s “dynamic diaspora policy” has been “so incredibly fruitful that the Indian Prime Minister’s own language and strategy are being parroted by his foreign peers, offering NRIs and OCIs a psychological morale booster of incalculable value.” Modi is working towards building “mini-Indias”, Chaulia explains.
While lauding the approach, the author goes on to caution, and agreeably in my view, that you cannot take the diaspora for granted. “The gap between Modi’s breathtaking policy pronouncements on easing visa restrictions and their actual enforcement by India’s obstructive officialdom remains a troubling one,” Chaulia observes as one of the many issues that still haunt the relationship. The chapter concludes by prescribing that the diaspora’s lobbying capabilities should be moved beyond the US to other parts of the world as well.
Modi – the CEO Prime Minister
The book has by now built pace and has laid enough groundwork for one to understand the methods and origins of the Modi Doctrine. As noted earlier, Modi’s foreign policy is centered around takeaways for India, and in the third chapter, he dives into the economic advantages of the policy shift. The chapter explores how Modi has elevated trade and commerce to take centre stage in India’s foreign relations. For Chaulia, Modi is the proverbial ‘Gujarati business genius’.
The author assesses the leaps that have been taken in attracting FDI since Modi came to power and the importance he gives to wooing centres of world finance. “Modi comes across as a sharp business brain with an earthy, commonsensical grasp of monetary matters and a clear liking for financial issues,” he says. From innovations such as ‘government-to-business’ approach and competitive federalism to preferential trading agreements and focus on ‘Ease of Doing Business’ we are made to see how Modi has “packaged” India well on the international stage. It ends by looking at the domestic impediments which hobble the full potential of realising Modi’s dream of maximising inward FDI and doubling India’s goods and services exports.
The USA-India-China triangle with the Modi angle
As Chaulia points out in the first chapter, out of all the multiple friendships that Modi has nurtured, the one with Obama has been the most consequential one. This chapter, and one of the most important ones in the book I feel, explores Modi’s strategy of dealing with existing great powers that USA and China ahd how he is trying to position India as more than a mere ‘swing state’ or a balancer between these two power centres.
With the US, BJP’s pillar of Sammaan is the most pronounced, he says. “Modi’s vision from day one as the Indian prime minister has been to reset the crucial bilateral relationship with the USA to maximise benefits for India’s rise,” he says, adding that for CEO Modi, getting US investors to return to India has been of paramount importance. “The urge for equality with China and the USA in status, and eventually in capabilities, is a tenet of the Modi Doctrine whose first part has already come true,” he says. Obama’s highlighting of the India-USA relationship as a defining relationship of the 21st century and his record personal meetings with Modi prove that, the author notes.
With China, Chaulia feels that the relationship is not as clear or easy. Here, he says, Modi has used the carrot-and-stick strategy. China, on the other hand, is in a wait-and-watch mode. “Modi’s determination to speedily improve India’s border defence infrastructure along the LAC has provoked China to carry out more preemptive military incursions into territory claimed by India, suggesting rough weather ahead,” Chaulia warns.
Modi on his part may indulge in “creative diplomacy” with the two nations. “Modi Doctrine’s avoidance of any formal alliance with the USA and its parallel interest in managing its rivalry and resolving outstanding disputes with China leaves room for creative diplomacy,” he says. The chapter goes on to ellaborate on Modi’s successes in yielding soft power, his steps to promote the ‘I’ in BRICS among other things.
Expanding India’s reach beyond major powers
This chapter touches upon on how the Modi Doctrine, while treading new terrain, must push for preferential trading agreements, economic corridors and defence linkages with strategically vital regions of the world. From Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, SAARC countries to others in Middle-East we are made to understand how the Modi Doctrine is all encompassing when it comes to bilateral ties. Yet, as Chaulia says, much endeavour lies ahead if the Modi Doctrine is to reap the benefits of vast goodwill in the Indian Ocean region. Act East, ASEAN – the evolution of India’s relation with each country and regional group is explained. “If Modi’s embrace of Japan is a quantum leap in India’s foreign policy, then his unapologetic cultivation of a special partnership with Israel is a paradigm shift in the way India has handled the Middle East or West Asia,” the author writes.
What is the way forward?
While stating that India is headed upwards under the Modi doctrine, Chaulia points out, there is need to transform the Indian mindset and to institutionalise the image makeover of India that is currently underway. “Modi’s ‘Team India’ in the foreign policy sphere has to, therefore, expand and include more think tanks, educational institutions and youth organisations in actively debating, interpreting and formulating strategies on multiple issue areas and regions of the world.”
Chaulia advises the ‘CEO Modi’ to focus on five objectives going ahead; continue the intensity of Samvaad, encourage new mediums, especially digital, to reach a broad spectrum of people across the world, nurture non-bureaucratic talent, prioritise speedy implementation of promises to the world, and finally do not permit Indian domestic politics to destroy the hard work and accumulated gains of the Modi Doctrine since 2014.
The book does well to provide an insightful round-up into the Prime Minister’s many foreign trips and policy initiatives, the thought behind them, and the advantage that PM Modi hopes India will get from them. While lauding the Prime Minister’s efforts, especially with regards to the US, Chaulia rightly gives prescription pills for India’s foreign policy and the Modi Doctrine. With over 2.5 years left for the Prime Minister in power, we hope to see the author come subsequently come out with a follow up book that explores how the world now sees India and the shortcomings in initiatives taken.