Modi Government and Changing Patterns in Indian Foreign Policy

Date01 December 2017
AuthorVikash Chandra
Published date01 December 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Dr B.R. Ambedkar Government
Degree College, Mainpuri, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Corresponding author:
Vikash Chandra, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Dr B.R. Ambedkar
Government Degree College, Mainpuri 205001, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Modi Government and
Changing Patterns in
Indian Foreign Policy
Vikash Chandra1
This article examines continuity and change in Indian foreign policy since
Narendra Modi took office. It proceeds with analyzing six issues that domi-
nated India’s foreign engagement between the prime ministerial regimes
of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh as a reference point. To evaluate
the level of change, it defines major change as a major shift in the goals and
strategies of a state’s foreign policy and argues that most often a major
change in foreign policy is a result of changes in the systemic variables
followed by a change in either state- or individual-level variables. Indian
foreign policy under Modi is witnessing a proactive turn infused by a strong
leadership. The new government has redefined India’s foreign policy prior-
ities, and the level of external engagement has also gone up. However,
areas like democracy promotion have not upheld their momentum, and
the government’s regional policy has failed to utilize the opportunities that
were available to it when it began its tenure. Also, foreign policy changes
under the new government cannot be regarded as a major change because
the goals and strategies of Indian foreign policy have not changed.
Major change, strategic autonomy, multi-alliances, democracy promotion,
power transition, soft power, proactive foreign policy
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
21(2) 98–117
2017 Jadavpur University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0973598417731241
Chandra 99
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Narendra
Modi completed three years in office in May 2017. He is among the
few Indian prime ministers who have dedicated much time and energy
to foreign policy. He launched his ‘tenure as prime minister with a
flurry of overseas visits to large and small powers alike’ (Basrur 2017: 7).
As of August 2017, in his thirty-one foreign trips to six continents,
he has visited more than forty-nine states, including eight states twice
and five times the USA.1 To rejuvenate India’s foreign engagement,
the new government has taken several initiatives such as the Act East
policy and Neighbourhood First policy. These initiatives have raised
the hope that Indian foreign policy will witness significant changes.
To tap the dynamics of Indian foreign policy under Modi’s prime
ministership, numerous scholars have studied the different dimensions
of the Indian foreign policy. However, their opinion is divided. Some
have talked about the substantial change and described him as a rescuer
of Indian foreign policy, while others do not see any major shift.
Former Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and former Minister of
State for External Affairs in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
government, Shashi Tharoor, for example, maintain that ‘foreign
policy always operates within a framework of continuity and the core
interests of a nation do not change for long periods’ (The Wire 2015).
Rajesh Basrur (2017) has found that ‘foreign policy under Modi picks
up from where his predecessors left off and is characterised by essen-
tial continuity’. Ian Hall virtually concurs with this view and argues
that despite bringing a proactive turn in Indian foreign policy, ‘Modi
has not made major modifications to the aims and methods of Indian
foreign policy’ (Hall 2017: 127). In contrast, another group repre-
sented by C. Raja Mohan sees the changes as ‘so seminal as to mark
the beginning of the “Third Republic”’2 in Indian foreign policy
(Bajpai 2017; The Wire 2015). Kanti Bajpai (2015) has found a ‘new
zeal’ and rebooting of Indian foreign policy under the new regime.
Sumit Ganguly (2015) also maintains that ‘there is little question that
Modi’s foreign policy constitutes a departure from India’s stances of
the past’.
To assess these competing claims objectively, this article takes six
issues that have been the linchpin of Indian foreign policy since the end of
the cold war, namely, (a) alignment pattern, (b) neighborhood policy,
(c) the role of soft power, (d) international power transition, (e) democracy
promotion, and (f) democratization of foreign-policymaking. It traces
the evolution of the issues and evaluates the extent to which they have

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