Narendra Modi made a trip today, down South to the Madras University in Chennai where he delivered the 11th Nani Palkhivala Memorial Lecture. The speech was significant for two reasons. First it was timed with the release of Arun Shourie’s latest book on China titled Self-deception: India China policies. Second and perhaps most importantly was the topic of his speech — ‘India and the World’. This is the first substantial speech by Narendra Modi on foreign policy. In the past he has dwelled on foreign policy but not in a comprehensive way. This makes it the first speech where the entire focus and content was centered on International Relations and India’s Strategic Interests.
At the core of Narendra Modi’s foreign policy vision were three basic tenets that became apparent through the course of his speech. The first was on viewing the world as a single large community rooted in the ancient Indian idea of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. The second was on Strategic restraint and balance in our responses. The third was on being uncompromising on our strategic interests. While expanding on these three tenets, Narendra Modi called for reviving the diplomatic legacy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and for building a strong India that was self-confident and stood for productive engagement with the world.
Each of the three tenets that Narendra Modi laid out during his speech need to be examined at length on what they mean to the kind of foreign policy a future Narendra Modi-led Administration might pursue. By invoking Gandhi’s ethos of peace and global well-being, Narendra Modi has sent out a signal that a future Government led by him would be guided by a moral core as it looks to greater engagement with the global community as one big family. By emphasising the moral dimension, Narendra Modi has underlined that India’s foreign policy would be shaped as much by values as by interests.
Expanding on restraint and balance, Narendra Modi spoke of how many of the global problems between nations have their roots in a lack of appreciation of each other’s viewpoints. He also spoke of a lack of a capacity to accommodate each other’s positions. This brings up another aspect of how Narendra Modi intends to conduct his foreign policy. By speaking about India’s ability to provide a “healing touch” Narendra Modi is signaling that India would not be shy of discharging its responsibility in dealing with the world’s troubled hot spots. The key distinction being though, Narendra Modi sees such interventions being based on India’s soft power – its cultural heritage, its philosophical and spiritual traditions, that, in his view, must be creatively harnessed to create a role for India to heal troubled regions across the globe.
Speaking of securing India’s strategic interests, Narendra Modi highlighted how, during the first few decades after independence, India allowed China to gain the upper hand in our transactions. Citing Shourie’s new book on China, Modi spoke of why India must shed its timidity in its transactions with its neighbours and why it must negotiate from a position of strength. Hailing Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s legacy of striking the right balance between strength and restraint, Narendra Modi recalled the Pokharan nuclear tests of the late 1990s and also India’s unilateral stance of ‘no first use’ while weathering both domestic challenges and international sanctions. The key signal Narendra Modi is sending is that the pursuit of strength and the offer of restraint will both not be found to be lacking in the necessary political will.
The critical element of Narendra Modi’s speech was his emphasis on economic strength as the bulwark of an effective foreign policy. Very strong words were delivered by Modi as he sought to clearly state that putting the economy back on track, growing exports and taking Brand India global was critical to both India’s foreign policy and for securing India’s strategic interests. Soft power and climate change have been two recurring themes in Narendra Modi’s many speeches. Both found an echo in this one as Narendra Modi looked to what India could give back to the world community. By batting for the economic interests of the different States of India, Narendra Modi returned to a familiar theme of making State Governments stakeholders in the pursuit of foreign policy.
Narendra Modi’s first significant policy speech, while steering clear of unresolved country-specific issues, spelled out the broad boundaries within which he intends to conduct India’s affairs globally. In the speech Modi envisions a strong India that would be guided by its moral core while not being shy of playing a role in the world’s affairs, offering a “healing touch”. Modi also envisions an India that will harness its economy and its soft power as the principal engines for advancement of its strategic interests. (Niti Central)