Apart from the frequent flyer miles he has clocked, Prime Minister Modi has very little to show for the 40 foreign trips over the last two years. On the flip side, we have virtually aligned ourselves with the US. The US has also recently placed a resolution in the Congress bringing India on par with its NATO allies; and the long-pending Logistics Service Agreement with the US is back on the anvil, giving the US access to our air and sea ports, and allowing it to establish military bases here.
In an era, when the US hegemony is eroding, and a multi-polar world emerging, the Modi government has shown the bankruptcy of its vision by increasingly aligning with the US. It is willingly becoming a partner to the US goal of the containment of China, and its pivot to Asia. Earlier, even though India was much weaker economically, it had always withstood pressures to become a part of any other global player's geo-strategic policy. Today, India is increasingly seen as a subordinate ally of the US.
The Modi government is also making other concessions to the US. It has succumbed to the US pressure and issued an Intellectual Property Policy document, which explicitly talks about changing our patent laws, the demand of the US big pharma lobby. The Modi government is working on various mechanisms to bypass the provisions of the Nuclear Regulatory Act, so that the US suppliers do not have any liability for supplying faulty reactors leading to a Fukushima-like disaster.
The biggest failure of Modi's foreign policy is in the handling of its relationship with its neighbours – Pakistan, China and Nepal. There were no preparation for any serious engagement; and hurried, ad-hoc meetings with foreign leaders were combined with grandstanding in the media. This has resulted in long-term damage to India's relationship in the region.
In Nepal, India is seen as interfering in the writing of its constitution, and giving tacit support to a section of the Madhesis for a blockade of Nepal. If Modi won brownie points as the first Prime Minister to visit Nepal after 17 years, he has squandered this goodwill. Indeed, India's relationship with Nepal has now sunk to a new low.
With Pakistan, it appeared that Modi made a good beginning by inviting PM Nawaz Sharif and other SAARC leaders to his swearing in ceremony. But soon after, the proposed talks between the two foreign secretaries were called off, because of the Pakistani Ambassador meeting Hurriyat leaders. The nascent peace process was aborted. Modi's recent air dash to Lahore to attend the wedding of Nawaz Sharif's grand daughter, the Pathankot terror attack, and the fiasco over the visits of the investigators, follows by the now familiar pattern: first agree to meet and discuss various steps, followed by break-down of the process, and recriminations. Back-channel diplomacy, preparations on both sides on what is achievable, and laying down do's and don'ts prior to any serious, diplomatic engagement, are all missing.
India's relations with China show a similar lack of preparation and break-down of talks. President Xi Jingping's visit to Ahmedabad and his talks with the Prime Minister, saw a stand-off over Ladakh even before the visit was over. The relations between India and China worsened with India's endorsement of the US position on South China Sea in a joint statement, and then India's participation in a joint naval exercise with the US and Japan. While China's blocking of the declaration of Masood Azar as a terrorist in the UN should be criticised, India's retaliation by first granting a visa to an Uighur activist on a red notice of Interpol as a terrorist, and then withdrawing it under Chinese pressure, does not show Indian diplomacy in a good light. As in the case of Pakistan, Modi's off and on again China initiatives, shows little application of mind and very little preparation.
Modi's foreign policy initiatives appear to have completely cut the Ministry of External Affairs and India's professional diplomats out of the loop. It has been entirely led by the PMO. To compound the problem, instead of a geopolitical vision, the former RAW officer Ajit Doval and now the National Security Advisor, has added a narrow, security lens to India's foreign policy. The other aspect has been the primary focus of Modi's foreign visits -- media events instead of diplomatic engagements. Madison Garden in New York, Shark Tank in San Francisco, Wembley Stadium in London – are all examples of media extravaganzas. Modi seems to be more interested in marketing himself to the Non Resident Indian community, than pursuing a meaningful foreign policy.
India's foreign policy is also not helped by sundry ministers such as Mahesh Sharma, the Minister of State for Culture talking of violence in Africa as an excuse for the murders of African students here, or the vainglorious claims of Rajyavardhan Rathore, Minister of State in the I&B Ministry, regarding hot-pursuit in Myanmar and threats to Pakistan.
On Palestine, India has now firmly aligned itself with Israel. Though it still pays lip service to Palestine, through what it calls de-hyphenation of its relationship with Israel and Palestine, it refuses to even acknowledge that Israel is committing war crimes in Gaza and violating international law in its continued occupation of Palestine. It has lined up $3 billion defence deals with Israel to be signed during Modi's Israel visit, abstained from an UNHRC resolution in 2015 criticising Israel on Gaza, and refused to protest on Israel's stopping the gift of 30 Indian computers and other communication equipment destined for the Al-Quds University in Ramallah.
Policy as showbiz, policy subordinating India to a declining super power: this is the sum total of Modi's two years of foreign policy.