Prospects for the far flank: Balaji Chandramohan comments on India's strategic orientation after the recent general elections.

AuthorChandramohan, Balaji

With the largest democracy in India having voted for the incumbent conservative and nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party once again, the strategic orientation of the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be of interest to the countries in the Indo-Pacific region, not least Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands countries.

Modi has assumed power for his second term with a popular mandate that reflects the Indian population's long under-represented aspiration to see India move from being a geographically and demographically large country with marginal power to something more important in the international sphere. That means a more assertive diplomatic stance and a shift from the traditional Indian limited use of force to a robust military stance backed by a sound and surging economy.

This worldview is opposed to both the traditional Nehruvian liberal worldview, which found expression in support for the Non-Alignment Movement, and the neoliberal worldview underlying India's economic liberalisation in the 1990s. India's small but influential group of Western liberal intellectuals promoted these worldviews. (1)

Neither the Nehruvian liberal worldview followed by India from Independence in 1947 to 1991 nor the neo-liberal worldview followed thereafter has been accepted within India as a credible way of conducting strategic policy in the 21st century. They have not promoted consensus among India's immediate neighbours, which has undermined the effectiveness of India's voice in international forums. In this situation, immediate neighbours like the Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, despite having their traditional roots in the Indian sub-continent, have looked elsewhere for diplomatic support--to countries such as China and the United States.

Signalling a paradigm shift, the BJP's foreign policy agenda aims at changing this situation and conducting foreign policy in a much more realist fashion. Such an approach was apparent from 1998-2004 and, with a right-wing nationalistic party in power, also from 2014.

The Indian electorate has given Modi a mandate to continue to project India's power through the realist worldview. In the years to come, India can be expected to

* strengthen its economy,

* build a robust military by developing its domestic military industrial complex, which provides jobs to young technocrat Indians

* shun dependency on foreign hardware for its military and,

* geographically, extend its capability as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean to the larger Indo-Pacific community in one strategic arc.

Such a stance will supposedly be welcomed by countries such as Australia and New Zealand, which have often viewed India as a reluctant global player that will challenge China's increased influence in the wider Indo-Pacific region.

Before projecting its diplomatic and military power as a global power, India must resolve issues with its immediate neighbours. Recognition of this requirement means, therefore, that there is consensus within the ruling elite about the new focus on developing friendly relations with these neighbours. And countries in the...

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