Well before he became the prime minister-elect, Narendra Modi had a single phrase about his foreign policy. “Mine will be an economy-driven foreign policy,” was his refrain, publicly and privately. This dovetailed neatly with Modi’s overriding policy priority: get the wheels back on India’s economy.
BJP's Narendra Modi gestures from his car during a road show upon his arrival at the airport in New Delhi. (Reuters Photo)
He has also talked about getting Indian diplomats to do less strategy and more “trade treaties”, as well as merging the foreign and commerce portfolios.
Modi buys the liberal view that countries that trade and invest are less likely to fight and squabble. Open up India’s economy to Chinese investment and Beijing won’t trouble you. Pakistan will be easier to handle if both sides are making money.
Some see naivete in all this and foresee a national security crisis being Modi’s foreign policy shock. “He has never served in the Centre” is something one hears often. Lashkar e Tayebba and Beijing’s leaders play a type of hardball which is little influenced by trade or investment.
Modi and international relations
Modi’s circles dismiss these concerns. Modi may wish to deepen the economic relationship with China, but he has no illusions that a country that is “friend number one of India’s enemy number one” cannot be trusted. As Gujarat CM, terrorism was never far from his mind.
If anything, the incoming government is already concerned that it will be “tested”, probably through a terrorist strike, within a few months of taking power. A Western diplomat said, “It is not if, it is when.”
Yet this will be a prime minister uninterested in the larger world stage.
He is expected to collect fewer frequent flier miles than his predecessors. Modi will work hard on India’s neighbourhood, merging an economic and security agenda with what he feels are his superior skills at working with state governments.