International Affairs

Love Thy Neighbor: A Peek into the Foreign Relations Policies of the New Government

Ever since the declaration of election results that confirmed the highly anticipated landslide victory for BJP, its then Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi got flooded with invitations from foreign countries to visit them and hold talks. The President of the world’s most influential country USA, Barack Obama personally called Mr. Modi and was one of the firsts to invite him to Washington. Also, what many might not know is that Modi is close friends with Shinza Abe, his counterpart from Japan and is in fact one of the three people followed by the Japanese Prime Minister on twitter. For the swearing- in ceremony held on 26th May, 2014 Mr. Modi decided to invite the Head of States of all the SAARC countries, a first- of- its- kind decision that has by no means happened before in Indian history. This decision by Mr. Modi has sought to convert his historic election victory into a platform to formulate better foreign relations, a more assertive foreign policy and promote trade and investment.[1]

What came as a surprise was that rather than Washington, Tokyo or Beijing, Narendra Modi chose Bhutan as his first official foreign visit as India’s Prime Minister. In a press statement released on 6th June, 2014 the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mr. Syed Akbaruddin said that “The Prime Minister’s inbox relating to foreign policy is very crowded,” India’s foreign policy priorities are in the neighborhood.”

Bhutan is a landlocked country, which shares its borders with India and Chinese Tibet and has a small population of 1 million people. Now, Bhutan is not very influential in the world scenario, Modi is not good friends with the Prime Minister as such and is definitely not an emerging power like China, then why would Narendra Modi give such importance to a country that is almost inexistent to the rest of the world?

The PM personally chose Bhutan as his maiden foreign trip which none of his predecessors have done. There are a variety of reasons for choosing Bhutan. Bhutan is rightly dubbed as “the friend of all seasons” this is because Bhutan had conducted ‘Operation All Clear’ in December 2003. This was a military operation against the insurgents targeting India who had set up camp in Bhutanese territory. This was an operation that no other neighbor has ever done for India.

Another reason why Mr. Modi chose Bhutan is to reassure Thimpu that it has not lost a friend in New Delhi despite what the UPA-II regime had done. China had shown a very keen interest in extending diplomatic relations with Bhutan and has desired the setup of its embassy in Thimpu. A reflection of close political ties between the two countries can also be seen in their bilateral trade activities. India serves as Bhutan’s largest trading partner. 98% for its exports and 90% of imports are with India. Additionally, in a few years Bhutan will serve as a major source of hydel power for India and the dividends worth $1.2 billion will be reaped by India on account of investment in three hydropower projects with a combined capacity of 1,400 megawatts in Bhutan.[2]

The most obvious reason for making this choice is that Bhutan is the only zero- problem neighbor for India.[3] Had the Prime Minister chosen Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, problems would have been created domestically just like during the protests carried out in South India before the swearing- in ceremony along with deteriorated relationships with the State Governments.

Japan and China have also been two other possible destinations that the PM could have chosen. Japan is the only major country with zero- bilateral problems with India. China, on the other hand, was an option because its Premier Li Keqiang chose India for his maiden foreign visit as a symbol of diplomacy. The Chinese Premier then went to Islamabad from New Delhi, an option that Mr. Modi could have considered between Beijing and Tokyo. But given the age-old animosity between China and Japan, Mr. Modi wanted to stay safe and not hamper his diplomatic relations with such influential countries this early in his tenure.

The Prime Minister is set to visit Thimpu on the 15- 16th of this month, with less than a week left, hectic efforts are being made by the governments of both the countries to make this meeting a success. Mr. Modi will be in Thimpu for less than 24 hours in which he will hold meetings with his counterpart Tshering Tobgay and will also meet the present King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

After analyzing the moves of Mr. Modi regarding foreign relations policies it is evident that the NDA government has a clear agenda on where it wants to stand on the world map. Up until now they have repeatedly made it clear that for India to become an influential country her utmost priority should be its neighboring South Asian country and not just the USA. In the President’s address to the Parliament on 11th June, 2014 in which he laid down the roadmap for the new government, Pranab Mukherjee mentioned that the priority shall lay foremost on SAARC countries, then other South East Asian nations, then Japan and China and lastly, on Russia, UK and the USA. The tactics used by the government are just in line with those of the President and are very different from what we have seen from the previous governments. But still the biggest challenge that lies in front of Mr. Modi and his government is not only making new and better relations with other countries but also cleaning up the mess left by the previous governments.

About the Author

Tarang- ImageTarang Nagar

A student of Symbiosis Law School, Noida she has an aptitude for public speaking and likes reading. She has an inclination towards International Law, affairs and economics. When she manages to get spare time she is daydreaming about travelling all over the world.  She is a big novel and movie buff. She has a special interest in taxation law and wants to pursue the same in the future.

Endnotes

[1] http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/06/06/uk-india-modi

[2] http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-modi-picked-bhutan-for-his-first-foreign-visit-as-pm-1559503.html

[3] http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-modi-picked-bhutan-for-his-first-foreign-visit-as-pm-1559503.html

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