I am delighted to join you all this evening at the launch of the book "The Modi Doctrine: New Paradigms in India’s Foreign Policy”. Let me begin by congratulating the editors – Dr. Anirban Ganguly, Dr. Vijay Chauthaiwale and Dr. U.K. Sinha – for their compilation of these essays. Contributors include a very broad spectrum of both practitioners and analysts. They span diverse specialisations, experiences and even nationalities. I am confident that their collective efforts would be a valuable addition to the understanding of contemporary foreign policy.
Two years ago, the Modi Government came to power with a decisive mandate. It rode on the expectations of change in our society, responding to the mood of the nation. Before the election, there was a perceptible sense of drift in policy, whether domestic or external. The feeling, particularly among the younger generation, was that India deserved better and we could, in fact, do better. Much of it was focussed on a better quality of life and greater security, especially against terrorism. But in looking out at the world, there was also a growing feeling that we could contribute more and shape its future. Consequently, our Government came in with more ambitious goals, bolder policies to achieve them, and a commitment to more effective delivery. Two years later, much progress has been made. In addressing the external aspects of this endeavour, let me stress the linkage between domestic and foreign policy. This is key to understanding what the authors term as the Modi doctrine. It is not just that policy and priorities are articulated differently from the past. At the heart of the change is a vision of India’s place in the world, its relationship with the international community, and indeed, an understanding of a rapidly transforming world itself.
A week ago, in responding to questions on the second anniversary of MyGov.in, Prime Minister summed up our foreign policy approach with the phrase "India First”. This term not only captures our commitment to protect strategic interests but also towards greater prosperity and development at home. In our diplomatic engagements in the last two years, you will therefore find that a major focus now is in using international partnerships to advance domestic flagship programmes like Make in India, Digital India, Skill India or Smart Cities. Equally important, we have been extremely active in spreading the message of India being easier to do business. If railway modernisation, for example, is a priority at home, it is so too for our diplomacy abroad. This tight meshing of domestic and diplomatic goals is in fact one of the hallmarks of the Modi Doctrine. It has led not only to flagship programmes accessing greater technology, capital and best practices but also to a marked improvement in FDI flows.
The very first diplomatic move made by the Government was on its inauguration day, by inviting leaders of neighbouring nations to join us on that occasion. The underlying thought has since expanded into a ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy that stresses cooperation, connectivity and greater people to people contacts. By visiting virtually all our neighbours himself – many of them after a long gap – Prime Minister Modi has articulated a strong message of regional prosperity that resonates with the masses. Naturally, the pursuit of these objectives has not been without its challenges, among them cross-border terrorism. But the wisdom of our approach and the sincerity of our efforts are clearly gaining broader support.
Comprehending recent shifts in the nature of international politics is essential to framing policies and choices. The global order has not just become more multi-polar. In fact, there is an overall loosening of relationships and even countries that are formal allies are now hedging. Though the world as a whole is more globalised, distinct regional dynamics have also emerged. Situations to the east and west of India both offer examples. As a result, effective diplomacy increasingly calls for simultaneously engaging competing powers. It is now an exercise to manage differences and expand areas of agreement. Consequently, remaining passive to international developments is no longer an option. This understanding of the world explains the more active nature of Indian diplomacy now. We believe that India’s interests and prestige have been well served by this more energetic engagement.
An India that aspires to a greater global role must necessarily have a larger diplomatic footprint. At a structural level, this means more Embassies and a larger foreign service. Both are part of ongoing efforts. But more immediate is the requirement for broader and frequent engagements with other leaderships. It was clear to us that interactions can no longer be limited either by distance or size. We cannot expect understanding, leave alone support, from those who have not been engaged. And you would be astonished at the gaps we found when analysing high-level visits. It was, therefore, with a strong sense of purpose that the Modi Government approached this issue. In the last two years, in addition to the very vigorous efforts of the Prime Minister personally, my Cabinet colleagues and I have been to more than 140 countries. I have myself met almost 170 of my counterparts, Heads of State/Government and other dignitaries in this period. The impact this has had on the world’s perception of India cannot be overstated. In addition to these bilateral engagements, we have also broken new ground in terms of multilateral gatherings. The Indian Africa Summit was expanded from the earlier 17 nations to its full complement of 54. For the first time, a summit of Pacific Island states with India was held, not just in that region but in India as well.
It is not enough that India is heard or seen in different parts of the world. Perhaps our own people don’t appreciate deeply enough how much of an example we can be, especially on development and governance issues. Our capabilities in technology, education or industry can make a difference to the growth of others. Even our inter-faith practices and resistance to radicalisation has a message for the world. Expanding programmes and platforms that share experiences and contribute to global development is an increasingly important element of our diplomatic outcomes. You can see this reflected in growing lines of credit, more grants and technical assistance, as well as in major development projects abroad. These are truly win-win situations because they also advance the international operations of Indian businesses. In an era where it is fashionable to talk of global issues, Indians must realise that representing one-sixth of humanity ourselves, we must do our utmost on challenges that will determine the future of our planet. It is with this global perspective that the Modi Government approaches key international negotiations in a positive and constructive manner. We not only had a key role to play in the Paris Agreement but also took the lead in creating the International Solar Alliance. Whether it is SDGs or PKO, we have built further on a long tradition of international activity. The sense that interests of the India and the world are in harmony pervades our thinking and is certainly one of the noteworthy aspects of the Modi doctrine.
Among the issues that dominate global concerns today is the threat of terrorism. As you all know, it is an issue which has confronted Indian diplomacy for many years because of its cross-border manifestation. Unlike in the past, we cannot agree that dialogue with sponsors and supporters of terrorism should carry on without being linked to action in that regard. In fact, we have insisted that addressing the terrorism challenge is central to engagement. At the international level, we are also putting the spotlight on early conclusion of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Equally important, we have made counter-terrorism cooperation a key element in many of our bilateral interactions. I can share with you that this is having its impact.
At a time when there is talk of a demographic dividend, it is also worthwhile to examine its foreign policy implications. India will surely make its presence felt in the world through its people. You can already see this happening. And as education, skills and employment progress, we can truly be a human resources super power. Already, there is an Indian diaspora that wields considerable influence in many nations. There are also other Indians, with varying levels of skills, who earn their living abroad and contribute to our prosperity at home. Our country makes as much by services and remittances as it does by trade in goods. These Indians abroad are a huge asset for the country, whether in the economy, in image or in influence. The Modi Government has broken new ground in appreciating their contribution, enhancing their standing and protecting their interests. The Prime Minister has again led the way himself. Another method of expressing that is to give them the comfort that the Indian Government is always there for them. That is the least we can do for our nationals who do so much for us. Perhaps you will now understand why Sushma Swaraj responds 24X7 to Indians in distress abroad. Or why General V.K. Singh has been sent to Saudi Arabia to deal first-hand with the problems of our stranded workers. In fact, we have brought about a change in systemic attitudes towards them – whether it is in faster issue of passports at home, better consular responses abroad, or even in major evacuation operations like Yemen, Iraq, Libya or South Sudan. Conversely, we are also working on involving PIO/NRIs more closely in the unfolding of our development flagship programmes.
Projecting cultural identity and national branding are integral elements of enhancing global standing. India is actually particularly blessed because more than many others, our cultural heritage and traditions have an international relevance. This is a reservoir of goodwill that has not been utilised as effectively as it could have been in the past. We have devoted energies and resources to enhancing global appreciation of Ayurveda and of Indian languages. Its impact, as that of the IDoY, is known to all of you. Recognising the work of Indologists abroad is another expression of this intent. A defining characteristic of our Government has been its focus on delivery. In the realm of foreign policy too, we are striving hard in that regard. Long pending projects abroad, especially in the neighbourhood, are moving forward. The completion of the Parliament building and the Salma dam in Afghanistan, the Duriappah stadium in Sri Lanka, the Petrapole integrated check point with Bangladesh or the Trauma center in Nepal are some notable milestones. On the consular side, issuing passports on a pre-verification basis is a radical departure. Simplifying visa issuance through electronic format and merging PIO cards with OCI are also noteworthy. Within the Ministry and outside vis-a-vis the rest the Government, we have consciously moved towards a more integrated way of working.
The Modi doctrine is led by vision and implemented through delivery. Its difference is there for all of you to see. How it will unfold in coming years is naturally a subject of great interest. But in foreign policy, as in other areas, we believe that broader consultations make an important contribution. I see today’s event in that light and I once again thank the organisers for inviting me to it.August 13, 2016