Manmohan and Modi Foreign Policies Have Been Seamless: Ex-PM Aide

A more prosperous, stable, secure and open India is in the interests of all, including China, writes Sanjaya Baru.

4 min read
(Photo: Hardeep Singh/ <b>The Quint</b>)

India has a peculiar set of commentators on foreign policy and national security that believes it is a more loyal minder of the nation’s interest than the elected government of the day. They populated print media columns and waxed eloquent on television during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 10 years in office, warning him about the evil designs of Uncle Sam. Clearly, they were so effective that after he took the leap of faith and concluded the nuclear deal with the United States in his first term in office, they paralysed him from moving forward in his second term.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is completing Singh’s journey. He too is being warned by the same lot of patriotic commentators not to get carried away by all the June warmth in Washington DC, and sacrifice India’s national interest. Ah well, at least the columnists get paid for it.

Modi will, of course, ignore all such critics for he knows that the agenda he is pursuing is no different from what so many of his predecessors pursued.


Shared Interests

It all began precisely 25 years ago. In January 1991, US war planes took off from bases in the Philippines and headed towards Iraq. Their target – Saddam Hussein. They would get there faster, using less fuel, if India allowed them to fly over the peninsula. The then Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, a diehard socialist, said yes.

The Cold War had ended. India’s ally, the Soviet Union, was breaking up. It was time to build new bridges. Chandra Shekhar also knew that while Indira Gandhi had allied with the Soviets to take on the US-China-Pakistan axis, Jawaharlal Nehru had reached out to the US in the aftermath of China’s attack in 1962.

In international relations, there are no permanent friends or enemies. Only permanent interests. India and the United States have come closer over the past quarter century due to shared interests.

As Singh and Modi explained to the US Congress, the former in July 2005 and the latter in June 2016, India’s rise as a vibrant democracy, an open economy and a provider of security and stability in Asia and the Indian Ocean region is in the interests of the United States.


Overcoming ‘Hesitations of History’

  • January 29, 1991: Political outcry over Chandra Shekhar govt giving permission for refuelling of US military aircraft during the Gulf War.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru had written to the then US President John F Kennedy during the 1962 war with China, reveals Bruce Riedel’s book.
  • July 18, 2005: Joint statement by George Bush and Manmohan Singh affirms US assistance to India’s civilian nuclear programme.
  • August 3, 2007: BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie criticise the 123 Agreement on Indo-US nuclear cooperation.
  • June 7, 2016: After Narendra Modi-Obama meeting, the two countries agree to begin work on building six nuclear reactors in India.

US-China Equation

Guided by Chairman Mao and his successors, China moved close to the US in the 1970s and after, so as to emerge as a major economic and strategic power in Asia. China learnt from the experience of Germany and Japan – both first fought the US and then allied with it. The USSR, on the other hand, carried the fight too long and collapsed under the weight of its own armed might.

Today the US and China may view each other with suspicion, but over the past three decades China has benefited from its relationship with the US. India seeks a cooperative partnership with the US – on the economic, educational, technological and military fronts so as to accelerate its own journey towards a better world.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing  the joint session of the US Congress, in Washington DC, USA on June 8, 2016. (Photo: IANS/PIB)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the joint session of the US Congress, in Washington DC, USA on June 8, 2016. (Photo: IANS/PIB)

Taking Manmohan’s Legacy Forward

The agreements that Prime Minister Modi and President Barack Obama reached this month in Washington DC take forward those signed by Prime Minister Singh and President George Bush. The continuity in foreign and security policy between Singh and Modi has been seamless.

Indeed, during the period when several BJP leaders, including the present External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, were vocal in their hoarse criticism of Singh’s outreach to the United States, it would seem Modi had inserted cotton in his ears! If he did remove that cotton it was to hear what Singh had to say to the US Congress, because he has diligently repeated many of the formulations of his predecessor.

In my book, The Accidental Prime Minister (2014), I named Singh’s foreign policy approach as the ‘Manmohan Doctrine’. What we now have is a “Man-Modi Doctrine”. Both Indian PMs have overcome “the hesitations of history”. It is time their critics also did. India and the US have shared interests and shared values. It is in India’s long-term economic and security interests that it has a strategic partnership with the US now. Ditto-ditto for the US. A more prosperous, stable, secure and open India is in the interests of all – including China!

(The writer is director for geo-economics and strategy, International Institute for Strategic Studies, honorary senior fellow, Centre for Policy Research, and former media advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He can be reached at @barugaru)

Also read:

Will the US Keep China at Bay to Push for India’s NSG Membership?

Sense of Urgency Over South China Sea Explains PM Modi’s US Visit

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