Harsh V. Pant
Non-alignment - now that's a word few have heard over the last few months coming out of India. Even as a battered and bruised Congress tries hard to reclaim the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru, Narendra Modi is busy challenging India's grand old party on its own turf. He might not have been welcome at Nehru's 125th birth anniversary celebrations organized by the Congress, but he is likely to shape Nehru's legacy more significantly than many in India anticipate. And one of the legacies that Modi is gradually dismantling since coming to office is India's default foreign policy posturing of non-alignment. Moving beyond ideological rhetoric, Modi is busy engaging confidently with all major global powers without inhibition. Foreign policies of nations do not alter radically with changes in governments. But with the backing of the Indian electorate's decisive mandate, Modi today has an opportunity to bring about a realignment of Indian foreign policy priorities and goals.
In his first few months, Modi has defied many expectations and confounded his detractors and supporters alike. On the economic front, the government is only now coming into its own as its recent spate of decisions underlines. But on the foreign policy front, remarkably for a politcian who was considered provincial before the elections, Modi hit the ground running from the very first day. On the security front, there is a new, purposeful response to China with a focus on more efficient border management and defence acquisitions. Modi has reached out to the United States of America, in spite of the personal grievance of having had his visa denied by Washington, and there is a refreshing focus on immediate neighbours. The manner in which evacuations from Iraq were handled earlier this year as the threat from the Islamic State gathered pace showed a government that is operationally well-prepared. The Modi government has been more hard-nosed about Pakistan and is not backing down in face of Pakistan's escalatory tactics. So the larger picture that is emerging in the first few months is of a government that is not as risk averse as the previous governments and will be willing to take risks should the need arise.
With India's immediate neighbours, there are certainly signs that there is a new dynamism in bilateral ties as New Delhi is putting renewed emphasis on revitalizing its regional profile. India's neighbours, barring Pakistan, are certainly looking at India with a new feeling of expectation. Delhi now has to operationalize the aspirations that have been articulated. Recognizing that the implementation phase has always been a problem for Indian credibility, the Modi government is focusing on completing projects in its neighbourhood that are already in the pipeline rather than announcing new ones.