Book Review: A ready reference to PM Modi’s foreign policy

Book Review: A ready reference to PM Modi’s foreign policy

By N.SATHIYA MOORTHY | CHENNAI | 28 May, 2016
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Madison Square Garden in New York, in 2014.
A complete work of such breadth and depth would have benefited if at least a few of the analysts had bench-marked Modi’s foreign policy against those of his predecessors, even to tell the reader where his has departed from, why and how, and what is it that has made his foreign policy great and unique.

Title: Modi and the World: Ring View, Inside Out

Editors: Yamini Chowdhury and Anusua Diya Chowdhury

Publishers: Bloomsbury

Pages: 317

Price: Rs 499

 

The challenge before India today is to keep everyone hopeful and to derive benefits from each. By asserting strategic autonomy without undue concern about the baggage of the past, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made India a swing state in which many major countries have a stake. India’s powerful voice and actions are heard and watched more than ever before.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though a novice in international diplomacy, has proved his ability to juggle around with several options with the agility of an Indian magician. His style is not to postpone decisions, but to take them at the right time, and correct mistakes, equally decisively.”

T.P. Sreenivasan did not add that PM Modi was also at the right place at the right time, with what the editors of the book, Modi and the World: Ring View, Inside Out rightly describe as his “firebrand statesmanship and his unabashed connect with the people abroad”, but the introduction to his brief chapter on “India’s Voice on the World Stage” sums up the state of India’s foreign policy just now than is being made out to be, as much by most other national/international contributors to this compendium of essays as has been by most media analysts elsewhere.

The 45 essays/analyses spread out across six heads cover much of the global spectrum in geo-political terms. It leaves out geo-strategy other than in the context of China and to a lesser extent, Pakistan. There cannot be a Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, but that’s all to it. Most essays hinge on to economy as the new-era fulcrum of India’s foreign policy, and rightly so.

This volume will thus remain a ready-reference of sorts for all time to come, particularly over the early months and years of India’s foreign policy under PM Modi. Whether he builds on it, or deviates from it, or ends up as a disaster, this volume could be the benchmark against which the future could be tested.

In each of the essays, individual authors—at times, more than one—have recalled PM Modi’s specific initiatives, viz., specific countries, his specific visits, meetings and joint statements. At times tending to be monotonous as one chapter leading to the next, and the whole reading like the annual reports of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), if that is the purpose that the editors and authors have intended it to be, there can be no complaints.

The other problem for a serious and long-term student of India’s foreign policy is that the volume is a stand-alone eulogy of Modi. There is no healthy criticism, nor valid suggestions and recommendations for the future, as if all that the PM has touched has turned into gold, already.

But the greater loss, both for the academic and those who rediscover India and India’s foreign policy, is about the absence of any mention of his predecessors, anywhere in the book by any essayist. Manmohan Singh gets a singular reference, if at all, and Jawaharlal Nehru gets a passing mention or two. Going by the essayists’ presentation and packaging, even A.B. Vajpayee as BJP Prime Minister before Modi may have contributed very little, if at all.

Leave Nehru, Indira Gandhi and even Vajpayee aside, not to mention Rajiv Gandhi, worse is the case of P.V. Narasimha Rao, who set India as much towards foreign policy reforms as to economic reforms. As coincidence would have it, Singh followed up on them. Much of the groundwork for whatever is being attributed to Modi and his successes—and successes they are—had begun either under Rao or Singh, but Modi adulation has carefully taken the gaze away.

The corporatized style of editing may read monotonous after a time, but the short essays in a simple style make it all extremely readable and easily digestible even for non-serious students/followers of India’s foreign policy and other common readers, particularly Modi supporters and sympathisers.

A complete work of such breadth and depth would have benefited if at least a few of the analysts had bench-marked Modi’s foreign policy against those of his predecessors, even to tell the reader where his has departed from, why and how, and what is it that has made his foreign policy great and unique. That kind of critical analysis is lacking, entirely and in its entirety.

With the result, even a rare, oblique reference of the kind gets obfuscated. Arndt Michael’s penultimate chapter, “Modi’s Foreign Policy 2014-15: Old Wine in New Bottles”, may possibly be a departure, at least as far as the title goes. Even reading between the lines as eulogies tend to go, there is nothing suggestive of anything, even praise that is due, but equally substantiated.

Conversely, criticism, if any of Modi’s predecessors, and his own points of departure, if that’s what has made his foreign policy great/greater, too is conspicuous by its absence, and in every context, chapter and section. Everything is thus left to the reader’s surmise, his own knowledge and memory, from the past and of the present, too.

For a Prime Minister without foreign policy experience and exposure, Modi commenced his tenure with the imaginative gestures of them all, by inviting neighbourhood heads of government for his inauguration. However, his choice of Bhutan for his first overseas visit was natural, but a lot is being read into it, as media analysts at the time had done, without telling the reader why it is so.

Both China and Pakistan are also India’s immediate neighbours, a fact often forgotten by members of the academia and the strategic community, in India in particular. So is SAARC not the sole repository of what India’s neighbourhood is all about. Some writers on the region have mentioned it, but there again theirs is all a statement of facts, nothing beyond for new, Modi kind of “initiatives”, if new ideas would help.

It does not stop there. Going beyond it all, India has simmering problems with other neighbours like Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka, some of it unresolved from previous eras, but some created/added under Modi. Conversely, positive pacts with Bangladesh, for which negotiations had commenced under Singh in particular, are shown up as Modi’s exclusive, double-quick time successes. Such memory-loss is spread across the volume, and no author seems exempt from it.

After all, Modi’s outreach, particularly outside the country, with host leaderships, Indian Diaspora and local populations has made him a darling of the local media, but like Nehru and to a lesser extent, Indira Gandhi before him. To the extent, this volume can be a beginner of sorts for those outside and inside India, who want to know more about the nation’s foreign policy, commencing from the immediately contemporaneous.

For all such short-comings, if they are any from their own perspective, the editors, and even the publishers, have done a good job of their respective parts. Rarely does a volume of the kind take off as a seamless continuation of one chapter from the previous one, and one section from the earlier one.

The corporatized style of editing may read monotonous after a time, but the short essays in a simple style make it all extremely readable and easily digestible even for non-serious students/followers of India’s foreign policy and other common readers, particularly Modi supporters and sympathisers.

After all, Modi’s outreach, particularly outside the country, with host leaderships, Indian Diaspora and local populations has made him a darling of the local media, but like Nehru and to a lesser extent, Indira Gandhi before him. To the extent, this volume can be a beginner of sorts for those outside and inside India, who want to know more about the nation’s foreign policy, commencing from the immediately contemporaneous.

The other strikingly positive point about the book is that it is as hot as hard-bound volumes of the kind can come out of the press. Published in March/April 2016 or even earlier, it has references to PM Modi’s Lahore visit on 25 December 2015, to greet Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the latter’s birthday and also to the terror-attack on Pathankot airbase, a week later, just a day after the New Year. With a lucid, concise and matter-of-fact foreword by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley that says it all, the volume is as much a collector’s item as it is reading pleasure.

N. Sathiya Moorthy is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. Email: sathiyam54@gmail.com

 

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