Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India's Foreign Policy and the New Government

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India's Foreign Policy and the New Government

Article excerpt

The coming to power of a majority government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi opens up new possibilities in India's foreign policy and external relations. India's engagement with the outside world has lagged during the past five years, hamstrung by a weak coalition government preoccupied with managing internal cohesion and keeping afloat. This drift has been apparent in internal governance as well, with decisions on many key issues left dangling. The negative impact of this on economic growth, internal security and national morale has greatly diminished India's role in the increasingly complicated and competitive global environment.

What are the new possibilities and opportunities opened up by the new dispensation? And, will the new government be able to seize them? Rather than harping on the omissions and commissions of the past years, we should take a forward-looking approach. External relations are built on the foundations of national strength. Increased national economic strength and political and social cohesiveness will translate into greater options in India's foreign policy, and a greater Indian impact on global affairs. Therefore, it is necessary to look at some of the key areas wherein domestic policy changes could affect foreign policy.

Effects of Domestic Policy and Reforms

The greatest priority for the new government should be to boost India's economic strength, to unleash the latent energies of its people, and provide more resources for internal and external activities. Obstacles to business growth must be demolished, and all sectors opened up to foreign participation with minimal but effective and sensible regulation. India's business climate and environment must be competitive to attract global business and economic engagement.

The new government has raised high expectations among the business community. But if reforms take too long, disappointment will set in. Reforms are urgently needed in many areas. For example, to allow 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in all sectors, reduce corporate taxation from the present high level of 30 per cent to a more competitive 20 per cent (the average in the Asian region), and reforms to raise India's ranking in the ease in doing business from the present dismal 131 by streamlining all processes related to business start-ups. This will unleash investment flows and business growth in our economy. Our manufacturing sector is hampered by poor infrastructure and high capital costs, which must be improved. State governments must be encouraged to compete for national and foreign investment. Education and training for India's large young population must be stepped up in quality and quantity, with the participation of private parties, domestic and foreign, in order to meet the needs of a growing economy. Agricultural sector reforms are needed to boost productivity and efficiency. Energy is a key requirement for the economy, and secure and stable supplies must be assured.

Political cohesion must proceed along several strands. Most important is the outreach to the State governments who should be made real partners in the pursuit of development. The ruling BJP needs to reach out to Southern and Eastern India where it has less support. It also needs to reach out to people belonging to all religious communities, and enlist their support in the cause of national development. Religion has been a strong factor in ensuring social cohesiveness in India over the centuries, especially when its universal ethical content is emphasized. Promoting universal principles common to all faiths will strengthen national cohesiveness. Conversely, focusing on divisive aspects will weaken it. The BJP needs to transition to a genuine centre-right party, while the opposition Congress has a key role to play in the centre-left political space. Finally, political support of the states, major political parties, and the public is important for a successful foreign policy, especially when dealing with neighbours. …

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