Prime Minister Narendra Modi engaged in an exceptionally busy and a highly personalised style of diplomacy in 2015 with an aim to recalibrate India’s external engagements that saw boosting of ties with major powers like the US, China, France and Japan, and a thaw in relations with Pakistan after prolonged bitterness.
From Pakistan to the US, from African continent to the G20, the government tried to adopt an innovative approach to diplomacy in sync with India’s interests in trade, defence as well as to address its terror-related concerns though the basic contours of foreign policy remained the same as during the previous UPA government.
The government’s handling of ties with Nepal following internal turmoil in that country, after promulgation of Constitution there, drew strong criticism with questions being asked over effectiveness of its “neighbourhood first” approach which it asserted was at the core of its foreign policy.
At the fag end of the year, Modi sprang a surprise with a 150-minute visit to Lahore on way back home from Kabul, during which he visited ancestral home of his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif and had talks to open ways for peace. However, an attack on Pathankot air base by Pakistani terrorists has brought back the focus on whether “talk and terror” can go together.
Earlier in December, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Islamabad for a multilateral meet, during which both sides announced revival of dialogue process after a long spell of tension and acrimonious exchanges.
It was announced by both sides that they have decided to engage in a “comprehensive” dialogue that will include peace and security and Jammu and Kashmir besides addressing all issues connected to terrorism.
The year gone by witnessed government’s initiatives to shore up India’s profile at the global stage — be it launching of a solar initiative at the Paris Climate meet or getting the United Nations to declare June 21 as International Yoga Day.
At the international fora, Modi has also been pushing for India’s old initiative, the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, to effectively deal with terror networks.
“There is no doubt that India’s international profile has been significantly enhanced in the last 18 months,” says Swaraj, who also visited a number of capital cities worldwide to project India’s resurgent image and government’s vision.
A regular feature of Modi’s foreign trips has been his address to Indian diaspora and showcasing them as India’s soft power. His criticism of previous governments in foreign soil drew sharp reactions from opposition parties back home.
Boosting India’s ties with its strategic ally – the US – came across as one of the high points with Modi and US President Barack Obama, who visited here in January as the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations, managing to resolve the nuclear liability issue.
Pushing for stronger measures to counter terrorism and extremism was a salient feature of India’s diplomatic endeavors besides advancing India’s economic growth and defence requirement with a broader focus on geopolitics.
Among the countries Modi visited include the US, China, France, Malaysia, Singapore, Britain, Turkey, Ireland, United Arab Emirates, Russia and a number of Central Asian Nations.
He also undertook visits to Bangladesh, Mongolia, South Korea, Germany and Canada during which scores of bilateral agreements were signed covering a wide-range of areas of cooperation.
In its engagement with the Asian region, India’s major focus was enhancing connectivity and ensuing maritime security while well-being of Indian diaspora was central to its ties with the Gulf region.
India also reached out to Africa to expand its footprint in the resource-rich continent as it held a summit meeting in October here which was attended by over 40 heads of state and government from Africa.
In April, Modi had visited Paris which saw a breakthrough in the protracted talks on the French Rafale jet deal as he announced that India will purchase 36 of these fighter planes that are ready to fly.
During his visit to Canada in the same month, it was announced that country will supply uranium to energy-starved India over a period of five years, a decision which was termed as a launch of a new era of bilateral cooperation and mutual trust by Modi.
In June, Modi’s visit to Bangladesh saw both countries opening a new chapter in bilateral ties as they settled the 41-year-old boundary dispute. As part of the settlement, 111 border enclaves were being transferred to Bangladesh in exchange for 51 that become part of India.
During Modi’s visit to China in May, both countries vowed to address the boundary issue at the earliest as they decided to seek a “political” solution to the vexed dispute.
The Prime Minister strongly pushed for UN Security Council reforms when he addressed the UN General Assembly in September, saying it is essential to maintain its credibility and legitimacy in the current world realities.
India has been pitching for permanent seat in the expanded five-member world body and the issue figured in almost all major dialogue with various countries.
Inking of a pact for civil nuclear cooperation with Japan last month was an icing on the cake for India’s diplomacy as the country signed the agreement, notwithstanding domestic resistance there as New Delhi is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Last month, Modi was in Russia during which both sides decided to expand cooperation in various sectors as they signed 16 pacts, including on joint manufacture of 226 military helicopters and construction of 12 atomic plants with involvement of local companies in India.
The year saw a number of high-profile visits by world leaders to India including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Prime Minister also participated in a host of multilateral events which include summits of ASEAN, BRICS, SCO and G-20 meetings besides the the UN General Assembly.
Rescue of over 4,500 Indians and close to 2,000 foreign nationals from war-ravaged Yemen and hundreds of Indians from Iraq were counted as the major highlights of diplomacy. However, government could not make much headway to secure release of 39 Indians held hostage in Mosul town of Iraq by ISIS militants.