Voices this Week draws together published material on an important strategic issue in South Asia. As election results come out, this week’s topic relates to a new Indian government under the leadership of the BJP and Narendra Modi.
C. Uday Bhaskar lays out the challenges ahead for Narendra Modi, saying attention to the economy, national security and demands for inclusive growth will require the incoming prime minister to hit the ground running. He notes that:
“The much talked-about Gujarat model will now be tested in Delhi, and the challenge for Modi will be to extrapolate the state’s successes to a larger and more complex national level. Modi ran a tight ship in Gujarat and relied considerably on his bureaucracy, while keeping many important ministerial portfolios with himself. The same arrangement may not work quite as well in Delhi, where equipoise between cabinet ministers at the political level and bureaucrats who implement policy will be critical. Thus the immediate challenge will be in selecting the cabinet and other critical appointments, among which the principal secretary to the prime minister and the national security adviser will be foremost.”
On the new government’s foreign policy: C. Raja Mohan contends that the new government need not define, only pursue, India’s foreign policy objectives:
“As India prepares for regime change after the decade-long UPA rule, there will be both continuity and change in India’s foreign policy…. Modi stuck to a simple affirmation that he will uphold the essence of Vajpayee’s strategic legacy. The fact, however, is that Manmohan Singh’s foreign policy was not very different from that of Vajpayee. Whether it was India’s nuclear strategy or the Look East policy, the engagement with great powers or an emphasis on the economic integration of the subcontinent, Singh travelled on the path cut by Vajpayee….
“The next government does not have the burden of defining India’s strategic objectives in the world. Those have already been articulated by Vajpayee and pursued by Singh. If the next prime minister ensures social harmony at home, revives economic growth, offers purposeful governance and seeks regional peace and prosperity, India’s foreign policy might well take care of itself.”
Finally, what effect will Modi’s premiership have on India-US relations? Assuming a Modi-led BJP government, Ashley J. Tellis sees India-US relations and collaboration as “not optional but necessary” but still “more businesslike than warm” in the immediate future. Tellis notes:
“While it is doubtful that a Prime Minister Modi would go out of his way to spite the United States, he would not set out to consciously ingratiate himself with the United States either. If bilateral relations do receive a direct boost, it will be because he views undertaking certain actions as necessary for advancing India’s own interests….
“In his official dealings with his American counterparts, Modi will be exceptionally mindful of what Indian national interests demand—and will do nothing less than what is mandated by those requirements. If both sides can avoid stepping on each other’s toes, especially in South Asia—an arena in which Modi will be fiercely protective of India’s prerogatives—the United States could find itself in a potentially productive bilateral relationship with India.”