‘Neighbourhood First’ policy to the fore again

‘Neighbourhood First’ policy to the fore again

The swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi’s third term as PM is slated for Sunday. The delay is ostensibly due to intense parleys with allies such as...

The swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi’s third term as PM is slated for Sunday. The delay is ostensibly due to intense parleys with allies such as TDP and JD(U) on cobbling up a coalition government. Even as he gets ready to be firmly back in the saddle, Modi is keeping in sight the increasing calls for India to play a greater role in the comity of nations, securing world peace (Ukraine President has reached out to him for India’s help) and addressing the depressing fallouts of climate change. Trust him to provide muscular push to making the wrangling heads of state see the reason.

On the external front, it must be admitted, Modi never lets go of any opportunity to raise India’s heft in international diplomacy. He, indeed, deserves encomiums for carving out a niche for the country on the back of its stable and robust economy. He astutely struck a fine balance in the polarised world, by positioning India as indispensable for both the US-led West and the China-Russia-Iran axis. Closer home, under his stewardship, India is continuously fostering cordial relations with neighbours. Its engagement spans diverse fields, such as trade, fiscal aid, technology, R&D, and, most importantly, connectivity (virtual or physical). The Neighbourhood First strategy, conceptualised in 2008, is now a core component of India’s foreign policy. Recall how Modi turned his first swearing-in event into a ‘Mini-SAARC Summit,’ by having all heads of state/government in South Asia grace the occasion and, later, participate in bilateral talks, too. Collaborations in various fields and people-to-people connectivity have since been on the ascent in the region.

Looking beyond India’s immediate neighbourhood, the first Modi government announced its ‘Act East Policy’ in 2014 to pursue greater economic cooperation, cultural ties and strategic relationships in the Indo Indo-Pacific region. Initiatives have been many, such as ASEAN, East Asia Summit, ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting plus, ASEAN Regional Forum, Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum, Indian Ocean Rim Association, Indian Ocean Commission, Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, QUAD. Prickly relations with China and Pakistan turned bitterer, though. However, Modi has not held back to act tough with Pakistan, the hotbed of terrorism against India. Surgical strikes are a case in point. China’s strategic play in South Asia is a major concern now as it seeks to win over India’s neighbours to its side. It is offering billions in aid and latest technology and military hardware to forge strong ties. India besides standing up to Chinese expansionism on its borders needs to counter the dragon’s influence on its friends.

For Modi’s inauguration as the PM for the second time in 2019, India invited leaders of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. Essentially, during his two terms as the PM, he seemed to spare no effort to protect India’s interests and raise its stature. Now, ahead of his third term as the PM, he is again seeking to turn his oath-taking event into another mini regional summit as further impetus to regional stability and prosperity.

The caretaker PM Modi has extended invitations for his third term swearing-in ceremony to leaders of neighbouring countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Seychelles and Mauritius. In a pleasant surprise, Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu has accepted the invite and would be accompanied by three cabinet colleagues. Relations soured between Male and New Delhi as Muizzu reached out to China, slighting India, and pushed an ‘India Out’ campaign on which he strode to power. Respecting the sovereign stand of Maldives, New Delhi patiently held out its hand to Male. Pertinence of beneficial ties with India, obviously, dawned on Male at last. An auspicious start, indeed, to Modi’s third reign.

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