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Assessing India’s Foreign Policy Priorities under PM Modi

India’s foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has witnessed significant shifts and strategic recalibrations since his ascent to power in 2014. From emphasizing economic diplomacy to asserting a stronger role on the global stage, Modi’s tenure has seen a nuanced approach, a proactive and dynamic foreign policy aimed at bolstering India’s global presence, towards foreign relations.

Economic Diplomacy and Strategic Partnerships

One of the central pillars of India’s foreign policy under PM Modi has been economic diplomacy and fostering robust trade partnerships. The Modi government has prioritized initiatives such as ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ to enhance domestic manufacturing capabilities and promote exports. The signing of key trade agreements, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the India-EU Free Trade Agreement negotiations, reflects India’s efforts to deepen economic engagement with global partners. Furthermore, PM Modi’s emphasis on bilateral trade ties with countries like the United States, Japan, and Australia has led to enhanced economic cooperation and investment inflows. The strategic alignment of economic interests has not only strengthened India’s economic resilience but also contributed to its diplomatic leverage on the international stage.

The G20 has emerged as a crucial platform for international cooperation, economic governance, and addressing global challenges. India’s participation in the G20 reflects its growing stature in the global arena and underscores the strategic significance of this forum in shaping the country’s foreign policy priorities. India’s inclusion in the G20 in 1999 marked a significant milestone, highlighting its status as a major emerging economy and a key player in global affairs. As one of the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world, India’s participation in the G20 provides a platform to articulate its interests, influence global economic policies, and contribute to international decision-making processes. Strategically, the G20 serves as a forum where India can engage with major powers, including the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union, on issues ranging from economic cooperation and trade to climate change and global governance. India’s presence in the G20 reflects its aspiration for a multipolar world order based on principles of equity, inclusivity, and shared prosperity.

Within the G20 framework, India’s foreign policy priorities are closely aligned with its economic interests and development agenda. India advocates for inclusive growth, sustainable development, and reducing economic inequalities both domestically and globally. As a member of the G20, India engages in policy coordination on issues such as financial regulation, trade liberalization, and investment facilitation to promote economic stability and resilience. India’s emphasis on initiatives like ‘Make in India,’ ‘Digital India,’ and ‘Skill India’ finds resonance within the G20 discussions on innovation, digital economy governance, and human capital development. The G20 platform enables India to collaborate with other member states, share best practices, and leverage international expertise and resources to achieve its economic objectives.

Strategic partnerships with countries like the United States, Japan, and Israel have also been prioritized. The Indo-US relationship, in particular, has witnessed significant advancements, with cooperation in areas such as defence, technology, and counter-terrorism. The signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and the Quad alliance (comprising India, the US, Japan, and Australia) reflects India’s growing strategic alignment with like-minded democracies.

The G20 provides India with an opportunity to engage in high-level diplomatic outreach and strategic dialogue with a diverse set of countries and regions. India’s interactions within the G20 context extend beyond economic issues to include geopolitical concerns, security challenges, and regional cooperation. Dialogues on counterterrorism, maritime security, and connectivity initiatives complement India’s broader foreign policy objectives of promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. India’s engagement with G20 members like Japan, Australia, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia strengthens bilateral relations, fosters strategic partnerships, and enhances diplomatic synergies. The G20 summits, alongside sideline meetings and consultations, serve as important venues for India to articulate its strategic vision, address bilateral and regional concerns, and build consensus on shared priorities.

Regional Dynamics: Balancing Act in South Asia

In South Asia, India’s foreign policy has navigated a complex web of regional dynamics. Balancing relations with neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka has been a key challenge. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project poses several challenges in terms of trade and security issues. Pakistan and Sri Lanka’s involvement in this project has intensified the worries. However, India has raised its concerns and rejected the Chinese BRI project and efforts have been made to enhance connectivity and economic cooperation in the region through initiatives like the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) framework, security concerns and geopolitical rivalries continue to shape India’s approach in the region.

The Modi government’s response to cross-border terrorism, illegal trade, and trafficking and its assertive stance on national security have influenced India’s foreign policy calculus in South Asia. The surgical strikes in 2016 and the Balakot airstrikes in 2019 were indicative of a more proactive approach to dealing with security threats emanating from the region. In 2015, the Modi government signed a Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh to settle the border dispute that arose after the partition of 1947. Under the auspicious approach towards the neighbours, PM Modi frequently visited Nepal and Bhutan and has signed many developmental projects for regional stability and development.

Act East Policy and Engagement with ASEAN

India’s Act East Policy, aimed at strengthening ties with Southeast Asia, has gained momentum under PM Modi. Enhanced engagement with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries has been a key focus, with initiatives such as the ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement and the establishment of the ASEAN-India Centre reflecting India’s commitment to regional integration and economic cooperation. The growing strategic significance of the Indo-Pacific region has also shaped India’s approach towards ASEAN and its member states. As China’s influence expands in the region, India has sought to bolster its partnerships with countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore to maintain a balance of power and safeguard its maritime interests. Under PM Modi, the Act East Policy emphasizes proactive and comprehensive engagement with ASEAN member states, focusing on five key pillars: economic cooperation, connectivity, cultural ties, strategic partnership, and people-to-people contacts. PM Modi’s tenure has witnessed a significant deepening of India’s engagement with ASEAN, characterized by high-level visits, strategic dialogues, and concrete initiatives across various sectors. The ASEAN-India Plan of Action (2021-2025) outlines priorities for cooperation in areas such as maritime security, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and disaster management, reflecting a shared commitment to regional stability and security.

PM Modi’s leadership has been instrumental in elevating India-ASEAN relations to new heights and reinvigorating cooperation across multiple domains. His frequent visits to ASEAN countries, including participation in ASEAN summits and bilateral meetings, have underscored India’s commitment to deepening regional partnerships and enhancing mutual trust and goodwill. Key initiatives such as the Act East Policy, Project Mausam (reviving maritime links), and the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (promoting maritime cooperation) have demonstrated India’s proactive role in fostering regional connectivity, promoting sustainable development, and addressing common challenges. Furthermore, PM Modi’s emphasis on a ‘Quad Plus’ approach, involving India, the United States, Japan, Australia, and ASEAN partners, has contributed to strengthening maritime security, promoting rules-based order, and addressing emerging security threats in the Indo-Pacific region.

As India continues to play a pivotal role in the Indo-Pacific region, its partnership with ASEAN will remain central to advancing shared interests, fostering regional stability, and shaping the evolving regional architecture. The Act East Policy, under PM Modi’s leadership, reflects India’s commitment to a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, grounded in principles of mutual respect, cooperation, and shared prosperity.

Security and Defence Cooperation

Security and defence cooperation have emerged as critical components of India’s foreign policy under PM Modi. Strengthening defence capabilities, enhancing maritime security, and fostering defence partnerships with key stakeholders have been key priorities. The Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) reforms aimed at promoting indigenous defence manufacturing and technology transfer have been significant steps in this direction.

India’s defence engagements with countries like France (Rafale aircraft deal), Russia (S-400 missile system), and Israel (defence technology collaboration) have deepened under the Modi government. These partnerships not only enhance India’s defence preparedness but also contribute to its strategic autonomy and deterrence capabilities.

Multilateralism and Global Governance

In the realm of multilateralism, India under PM Modi has sought to play a more proactive and assertive role in shaping global governance structures. From climate change negotiations to UN peacekeeping operations, India’s contributions and leadership have been increasingly visible on the international stage.

The International Solar Alliance (ISA), launched by India in partnership with France, exemplifies India’s commitment to addressing global challenges such as climate change through innovative multilateral initiatives. India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and its active participation in forums like the G20 and BRICS reflect its aspirations for greater influence in global decision-making processes.

Global South Engagement

India’s foreign policy towards the Global South, comprising developing and emerging economies primarily in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, has witnessed significant evolution in recent years. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, India’s engagement with the Global South has become more strategic, multifaceted, and focused on mutual cooperation and shared development goals. India’s foreign policy towards the Global South has its roots in historical solidarity and shared anti-colonial struggles. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), founded in 1961, played a pivotal role in shaping India’s stance towards issues of decolonization, development, and South-South cooperation. However, in recent years, India’s engagement with the Global South has undergone strategic recalibration, reflecting changing geopolitical realities, economic imperatives, and a more proactive approach towards regional and global affairs. Under PM Modi’s leadership, India’s foreign policy towards the Global South has focused on several key priorities and initiatives:

  1. Economic Cooperation and Development Assistance:India has strengthened economic ties and development cooperation with countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America through initiatives such as lines of credit, capacity-building programs, infrastructure projects, and trade facilitation measures. The India-Africa Forum Summit, India-LAC (Latin America and Caribbean) Conclave, and bilateral engagements with countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam highlight India’s commitment to promoting inclusive growth, sustainable development, and poverty alleviation in the Global South.
  2. Trade and Investment Partnerships:India has pursued trade agreements, economic partnerships, and investment opportunities with Global South countries to enhance market access, diversify trade portfolios, and promote entrepreneurship and innovation. The establishment of trade promotion councils, business forums, and sector-specific collaborations in areas such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and information technology reflects India’s efforts to boost economic synergies and create win-win outcomes for all stakeholders.
  3. Digital Diplomacy and Technological Collaboration:India’s expertise in digital technologies, space exploration, and innovation has been leveraged to foster digital connectivity, e-governance solutions, and skill development initiatives in the Global South. Platforms like the International Solar Alliance (ISA), Digital India, and e-learning programs have facilitated knowledge sharing, technology transfers, and capacity-building efforts, contributing to bridging the digital divide and promoting digital inclusion.
  4. Cultural Exchanges and Soft Power Diplomacy:India’s rich cultural heritage, traditions, and soft power assets have been harnessed to enhance people-to-people contacts, cultural exchanges, and tourism promotion with Global South nations. Cultural festivals, art exhibitions, yoga diplomacy, and academic collaborations have fostered greater understanding, goodwill, and cultural diplomacy, reinforcing India’s image as a vibrant and diverse civilization.
  5. Strategic Partnerships and Regional Cooperation:India has deepened strategic partnerships, defence cooperation, and regional alliances with Global South countries to address common security challenges, counterterrorism, maritime security, and disaster management. Initiatives like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), and ASEAN-led mechanisms have facilitated dialogue, cooperation, and confidence-building measures in the region.

PM Modi’s approach to India’s foreign policy towards the Global South has been characterized by proactive diplomacy, strategic outreach, and a focus on pragmatic solutions to common challenges. His emphasis on ‘Neighbourhood First,’ ‘Act East,’ and ‘Africa Outreach’ initiatives underscores India’s commitment to fostering regional stability, economic integration, and mutual prosperity. PM Modi’s personal engagement, high-level visits, and summit diplomacy with Global South leaders have strengthened bilateral relations, built trust, and expanded strategic partnerships across multiple domains. His vision of a ‘New India’ as a responsible global player, development partner, and champion of South-South cooperation resonates with aspirations of Global South nations for inclusive growth, sustainable development, and a rules-based international order.

Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy

India’s rich cultural heritage and soft power assets have been leveraged effectively as tools of diplomacy under PM Modi’s leadership. The promotion of yoga, Ayurveda, and Indian cinema abroad has enhanced India’s cultural footprint and fostered people-to-people exchanges. The ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative, providing COVID-19 vaccines to countries worldwide, showcased India’s humanitarian leadership and solidarity during the pandemic.

Furthermore, digital diplomacy and public diplomacy campaigns have amplified India’s voice on global issues and countered misinformation. Platforms like the Indian diaspora and Track II diplomacy forums have also played a significant role in building bridges and fostering understanding between India and other nations.

Challenges and Way Forward

While India’s foreign policy under PM Modi has made notable strides, several challenges persist. The unresolved border disputes with China, regional instability in Afghanistan, and the evolving dynamics of great power competition present complex challenges that require strategic foresight and diplomatic agility.

Furthermore, navigating the delicate balance between strategic autonomy and alignment with major powers remains a recurring challenge for Indian foreign policy. The Quad alliance, for instance, while enhancing India’s strategic position vis-à-vis China, also necessitates careful calibration to avoid antagonizing other stakeholders and maintaining a balanced approach.

Looking ahead, India’s foreign policy priorities are likely to be shaped by evolving geopolitical realities, technological advancements, and global governance imperatives. Strengthening partnerships with like-minded democracies, enhancing economic resilience, and leveraging India’s soft power and cultural diplomacy will continue to be key focus areas.

In conclusion, India’s foreign policy under PM Modi reflects a mix of pragmatism, strategic vision, and proactive engagement with the world. From economic diplomacy to security cooperation and multilateral engagements, India has sought to assert its interests and influence in an increasingly complex global landscape. As India’s role as a major regional and global player continues to evolve, the strategic choices and policy decisions made under PM Modi’s leadership will shape the trajectory of India’s foreign policy for years to come.

Adaptability, resilience, and a nuanced understanding of emerging challenges will be critical in navigating the intricacies of India’s external relations in the 21st century.

Dr Ambikesh Kumar Tripathi
Assistant Professor, Department of Gandhian and Peace Studies, Mahatma Gandhi Central University, Motihari, Bihar
Ms Kirti Dwivedi
Masters in Political Science, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gorakhpur University, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh
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