A day after India warned of “effective and forceful” response to Pakistan over skirmishes along the Line of Control and the international border, foreign secretary S Jaishankar on Friday said that the Narendra Modi government has a neighbourhood policy that puts a premium on connectivity, contacts and cooperation, but it is “reasonable and firm” when required.
Without naming Pakistan even once, Jaishankar said, “The world is beginning to believe that we mean business, in business or otherwise. Perhaps, it is time to reassess our ability, drive and lead on global issues. Be active and nimble, rather than neutral and risk-averse.”
The foreign secretary was speaking at the launch of a book, Modi’s World: Expanding India’s Sphere of Influence, by C Raja Mohan, contributing editor of The Indian Express and Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). The book has been published by HarperCollins Publishers India in association with The Indian Express and ORF.
Giving a sense of the change under Modi, Jaishankar said the government has a “neighbourhood policy that puts a premium on connectivity, contacts and cooperation, when required, one that is reasonable and firm”. He also said that the government has a China policy that triangulates security interest, economic relations and international politics.
He said the impression of India being somewhat easier for business is making an impact as well, and “personal chemistry has emerged as an important tool in our diplomatic kit”—an apparent reference to Modi’s style of connecting with the world leaders. “It is, therefore, time to ask ourselves whether India should raise the level of its ambitions, are we content to react to events, or should we be initiating them or even driving them. Should we remain a balancing power or aspire to be a leading one?”
“Diplomacy involves managment of contradictions in international politics, and the pursuits of contradictory goals. In India’s current position, it is possible to make a case for simultaneous pursuit of multiple relations, creates a virtuous cycle where each one drives the other higher. So, is it then time for greater activism… confidence leads to initiatives, and drives strategy. In contrast, reactive diplomacy is, by nature, one with a lower profile. On the other hand, proactive diplomacy tends to look at a more broader landscape. In its implementation, it overcomes the silos that are the bane of our working style,” Jaishankar said.
The book was released by Jaishankar, along with former minister of state (external affairs) Shashi Tharoor, former PM’s special envoy on nuclear deal and climate change Shyam Saran, The Indian Express wholetime director and head of new media Anant Goenka and columnist Ashok Malik.
Goenka, in his welcome speech, said that “few have traced the evolution of Indian foreign policy as CRM has during his distinguished career”. Stressing that this book was a “fantastic piece of work”, he said, “After a very long time, the world has been curious, rather hungry for information in context of India’s foreign policy.”
Saran called it a “pathbreaking” book, and said this is a “very important contribution in what is a work in progress”. “If Raja Mohan would not have been a distinguished journalist, he would have been a distinguished diplomat,” Saran, who is a former foreign secretary, said.
Tharoor said there was “continuity” in Modi’s foreign policy—on the lines of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s policies—but criticised the government for “incoherence” in its foreign policy when it came to Pakistan and the Israel-Palestine issue. “Foreign policy looks different, when you sit in South Block than when you sit in Gandhinagar,” the Congress leader said.
Malik said that Raja Mohan locates the foreign policy according to the shifts in the domestic politics. Between Y2K and the global financial crisis, India’s economy became more important than government systems. “The link between foreign policy and economic transformation has been made more strongly by this government than any previous government,” he said.
HarperCollins CEO PM Sukumar said the book is a good reference for anyone looking to understand the dynamism of the new government.