Domestic compulsions and foreign policy: PM Narendra Modi's balancing act

Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Pushpesh PantUpdated: Dec 14, 2018, 10:18 AM IST
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File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photograph:(ANI)

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State elections are fought, won and lost according to very different calculations then the Lok Sabha polls

Unexpected reverses suffered by the BJP-NDA combine in recent Assembly elections constrain us to speculate about their impact on India’s external relations-particularly in the neighbourhood. Ever since Narendra Modi assumed office he has set a blistering pace in diplomacy. It would only be churlish to deny him the credit for repositioning India on the international arena. He has tried to increase India’s strategic options and largely succeeded ( with the exception of setbacks in Pakistan) in projecting the image of resurgent India with a dynamic, decisive leader at the helm. 

Now, the boat that appeared to be saying smoothly has been badly rocked. Some of his critics have long been suggesting that our PM has deliberately spent so much time abroad simply to escape any blame for minor or even major failures in domestic politics. But let’s let this pass as a legitimate pastime of frustrated opposition. However, what can’t be denied is the fact that the aura of invincibility exuded by a charismatic leader has lost much of its sparkle. 

One can argue that it was only the campaigning by the PM that saved BJP from much worse rout and that state elections are fought, won and lost according to very different calculations then the Lok Sabha Polls but in the present context, this would appear as a half-hearted attempt at whitewashing an inglorious defeat. 

What is more pertinent is to assess the likely reactions in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan. If the Superman struck by Cryptonite turns out to be Clark Kent who can’t transform to cope with crises then do the smaller neighbours have to exercise restraint? Isn’t the signal going out that they can singly or jointly start flexing their puny muscles to challenge the ‘bullying, bragging and boasting ‘Big Brother’? Don’t get us wrong -we rent for a minute suggesting that India under Modi has behaved in a manner akin to what earned the Americans the prefix Ugly in the 1960s. But perceptions matter no less than reality in international relations. If Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives get the impression that India is beset with domestic strife they would find justification in making the most of the opportune moment.  

Unfortunately for India, the election knock out has coincided with accusations about fudging growth figures, erosion of credibility of institutions like the RBI, CBI and even some exceptionally controversial observation by members of the Bench in higher judiciary. Political partisanship has certainly diminished the majesty of more than one constitutional authority or institution. 

During the election campaign, the pitch of spoken word was unnecessarily raised by both sides. Alas the BJP let loose canons like the UP CM have a free run causing serious collateral damage. The shifting of focus from development to construction of Ram temple or going on a reckless mindless renaming spree has boomeranged on BJP. 

Lok Sabha elections are still a few months away but even this short span of time can prove detrimental to India’s national interest. Time for us to remain on high alert without making too much noise.   

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)