It’s a widely held notion that issues concerning Foreign Affairs are not much relevant to people inside the country. The External Affairs Ministry under PM Modi has done a tremendous job in breaking this false assumption. It made our Foreign Policy relevant to the common man.
Sushma Swaraj’s motherly touch
Diplomatic tables are considered to be the most ruthless jungle in civil discourse. It is next to impossible to indulge human feelings in it. Even the best Foreign Ministers including female ones like Indira Gandhi and Israeli Golda Meir failed to do so. But, Sushma Swaraj was cut above the rest. Along with the trademark hardness of being a lawyer, she brought in her soft skills as well.
When it comes to foreign policy success, people often credit PM Modi for strengthening India’s bonds all around the world. But Sushma Swaraj was an equally strong pillar of India’s regional outreach. She launched India’s “Fast-Track Diplomacy” and called for a proactive, strong and sensitive approach towards foreign engagement.
She proved her ‘proactive’ emphasis with round table meetings with Indian delegates to regional blocks like SAARC, ASEAN and the Middle East. Then she paid rapid visits to neighbouring countries especially those that are part of regional initiatives like ASEAN, SAARC and the Middle East. Then she took on the responsibility of strengthening PM Modi’s Act East Policy.
In the year 2014 itself, Shrimati Swaraj toured 16 countries in total. These were both bilateral as well as multilateral visits. Most of the countries covered under bilateral tours were key pillars of ACT EAST POLICY. In fact, two out of three visits for multilateral events were of SAARC and ASEAN.
Through her handling of the Maldives crisis, Nepal blockade, Doklam stand-off with China and successful challenge of the Kulbhushan Jadhav case in the International Court of Justice, Swaraj manifested India’s emphasis on ‘strong Fast Track-Diplomacy’
The third pillar, sensitive, was visible in her initiative to help every Indian stuck in somewhat troubling situations outside the country. It was the result of her diplomatic outreach that India was able to conduct a rescue operation like Operation Raahat. Though Operation Raahat is called the face of Swaraj’s humanity led foreign policy, her efforts to rescue individuals in trouble are no less important. She made social media a platform to reach out to needy Indians stuck in foreign countries.
It was the first time in human history that an EAM was out there in a public space to help citizens. Sushma Ji was able to hit the core of soft power.
Strengthened regional forums
When Sushma Swaraj came to the fore, regional forums were heavily dominated by China and Pakistan. Shrimati Swaraj hit the first nail on the head when India refused to make SAARC a forum for Kashmir discussion. Foreign Ministry then proceeded to strengthen India’s ties with the virus (China and Pakistan) free ASEAN. Currently, the total value of trade between India and ASEAN nations is $78 billion. One of them, Singapore, is the highest FDI contributor to India.
On the other hand, India decided to engage with SAARC nations on a different forum, free of any political tussle. Like, the 2014 inaugural ceremony of PM Modi’s cabinet was a stage to reach out to SAARC, in 2019, SAARC was replaced by the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). Foreign Ministry is now negotiating a free trade agreement with BIMSTEC countries.
Eliminated China and Pakistan on the diplomatic front
Under Shrimati Swaraj, Foreign Ministry led a concerted effort towards cordial bilateral ties with Pakistan and China. But both countries did not respond in kind and launched violent actions against India. The Defence and Home Ministries did their respective jobs of retorting to them in their manner, but often EAM’s role is ignored.
India’s EAM went on a spree and destroyed each and every one of the diplomatic stunts attempted by both hostile neighbours. It made it clear to the terrorist nation that Kashmir is India’s integral part and it needs to stop dreaming about the valley. India walked out whenever Pakistan used the word Kashmir in the UN.
India’s biggest contribution to China’s decline was registered in its systematic destruction of China-led initiatives. By bilaterally engaging with countries like South Africa and Russia, India virtually diminished the importance of organisations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and BRICS. Both organisations are on the verge of sinking into oblivion. Similarly, PM Modi refused to join China dominated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Brought West on its knees
Throughout its existence as a civilisational state, the only time when India was not a major voice in international affairs was during the time when it was a Western colony. Under PM Modi, Foreign Ministry took revenge in an innovative way. While first EAM Sushma Swaraj took the initiative and built a base, seasoned Diplomat and India’s current EAM S Jaishankar did the rest by going for a kill.
India maintained stable bilateral relations with almost every country in the western hemisphere. While India did antagonise the USA and its allies through its S-400 deal with Russia, the Foreign Ministry enforced a thaw in their response to the agreement. Similarly, it was only India which could adopt an independent approach based on its own interest in the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
To counter the west, India decided to respond with its own method. It cornered the USA on multiple issues including bringing Cuba under its fold. Similarly, the Foreign Ministry took the initiative to lessen diplomatic outreach to those western countries which no longer served our needs. It had a counter effect and now western countries started to run towards India to feed their population. It was on the back of the renewed confidence that current EAM Jaishankar fiercely rebutted Uncle SAM.
Dominated multinational forums left, right and centre
During the last 8 years, India’s Diplomacy team dominated almost every forum. It had no qualms in leaving RCEP when India’s demands were not subsumed in its structure. Similarly, whenever the United Nations and other organisations tried to take up causes antithetical to India’s interests, India was quick to rebut it or decided to stay away from it.
India’s aggressive posturing was recently quite visible when it decided to take on the whole United Nations for recognising crooked ‘Islamophobia’ as a phenomenon. Similarly, it refused to kowtow to the supranational body’s line on the Ukraine war.
India is also emerging as a key voice on other forums. In fact, our Foreign Ministry has single-handedly carried forward the QUAD initiative throughout the years. India is a dominant force in this implicit anti-China forum. The QUAD initiative is soon going to bear fruit as India is aiming for large-scale reform in the way in which the World Trade Organisation (WTO) functions.
India’s Foreign Policy during PM Modi has been one of the biggest hits of his tenure. But it is a never-ending process and India needs to further strengthen its position.