FOREIGN policy is an extension of the domestic policies pursued by the ruling classes. The foreign policy of the Modi government in the last 20 months, since it assumed office, reflects the rightward shift in Indian politics. The foreign policy and strategic orientation militates against India's sovereignty, an independent foreign policy and strategic autonomy.
The journey away from a non-aligned foreign policy began with the liberalisation process in the 1990s under successive governments. But whenever the BJP heads the government – as in the period of the NDA government in 1998-2004 and now the Modi government – there has been an acceleration in the pro-American stance in foreign policy. The BJP-led government has sought greater interlocking with the economic-financial systems led by the United States in its aggressive pursuit of neo-liberal policies. This has resulted in a foreign policy and strategic approach which seeks to mesh India into the US strategy in Asia.
The Hindu communalism expounded by the BJP and the RSS has no anti-imperialist content. On the contrary, the objective of the Hindutva forces is to align India with the United States in order to fulfill the goal of India becoming a `great power'. Over the last two decades, the foreign policy of India has been shifting away from its independent, non-aligned basis towards alignment with the United States. When the first BJP-led governments (1998-2004) were in power, Prime Minister Vajpayee had declared India to be a `natural ally' of the United States. Narendra Modi is now taking forward the strategic alliance that the previous Congress-led government forged with the United States.
India has aligned itself more closely with the US strategy in Asia than before. During President Obama's visit to India in January 2015, the two governments issued, for the first time, a Joint Vision Statement on the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region. The statement specifically referred to congruent views regarding the `rebalancing' of US policy towards the Asia-Pacific region.
The burgeoning of US-India strategic ties must also be perceived from the perspective of the United States. Faced with the challenge posed by China at the beginning of the 21st century, the United States zeroed in on India as a countervailing force in Asia. India, with its big economy, large population and growing military-technological strength, was seen a potential counterweight to China. India's parliamentary democracy scored as a political plus point. A strategy was thus formulated to augment India's economic and military heft under the aegis of the United States.
The first decade and a half of this century has seen this alliance emerge and consolidate. India and the United States signed a Defence Framework Agreement in 2005; the agreement was renewed this year for another ten years. India has more joint military exercises annually with the United States than does any other country in the world. The United States is becoming the largest supplier of arms to India.
A qualitative step in the military-strategic ties was the signing of the India-US Defence Framework Agreement in June 2005 by the UPA government. Consequently, the United States mounted pressure to get three "foundational agreements" signed by India. They are: the Logistic Supply Agreement (LSA), the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). These agreements would have led the Indian armed forces to achieve an integration with the US armed forces, akin to the status of a military ally. The LSA, for instance, would allow the US armed forces to use the Indian naval and airbase facilities. It was the strong opposition of the Left parties, which were supporting the UPA government at that time, which prevented the signing of these agreements. The renewal of the Defence Framework Agreement for another ten years has once again led to the US demand that these agreements be signed. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, in his first visit to the United States after the agreement, has promised to keep "an open mind" on accepting these agreements. If these agreements are signed, it would end up making India a military ally of the US, just as Pakistan is today.
The privatisation drive has now reached the armaments industry. In earlier years, the Indian State had sedulously kept the ordinance and weapons manufacturing in the public sector. This began to change in the last decade. The BJP government is now actively promoting private sector participation in defence production and has raised the permissible level of foreign direct investment in this sector to 49 percent. Big Indian companies, including Tata, Reliance, Larsen and Toubro and Adani have entered the defence production sector. Under the slogan `Make in India', India is trying to get US armaments companies to enter joint production agreements. The contours of a military-industrial complex are emerging. This has serious implications for India's strategic-military future.
The United States wanted to bring Japan, its oldest military ally in Asia, into a trilateral security arrangement with India and has succeeded in doing so in recent years. For Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a political soul-mate and Modi has moved speedily to cement military and security ties with Japan. The BJP government has taken, along with United States and Japan, a categorical position on the South China Sea dispute. During Shinzo Abe's recent visit to India, it was announced that Japan would become a regular partner in the Malabar joint naval exercises which was up-till now a India-US bilateral exercise.
The other vital factor in the US geo-political strategy in Asia is strategic collaboration between India and Israel. Such collaboration has also developed steadily over the last two decades, with the relationship deepening whenever the BJP is in power. Military security drives the relationship between the two states. For Hindu nationalists, Israel – in particular, the hegemony of Jewist racist nationalism, which is both anti-Muslim and anti-Arab – is a model to emulate. For the first time, India did not vote on a resolution favouring the Palestinians. India abstained on a vote in the United Nations Human Rights Council on a resolution referring Israeli actions to the International Criminal Court.
Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Israel sometime in 2016. This will be the first visit of an Indian prime minister to the country thereby underlining the close ties which have developed between the two countries. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj's visit to Israel this month was in preparation for the prime minister's visit. India is involving Israel in its internal security apparatus apart from being one of the major customers for Israeli arms and weaponry.
From Japan in East Asia to Israel in West Asia, India is forging close ties with both countries as dictated by American imperialist strategy.
Modi has also, in his fixation with ties with the US and its allies, neglected India's traditional friend, Russia. It is only after visiting all the major countries that an official visit to Moscow took place in December 2015, eighteen months after Modi took office. US and Israel have become more important partners for defence equipment, displacing Russia from the top position. Neither is the BJP government showing much interest in developing wider cooperation or enhancing trade ties.
The contradictions inherent in the foreign policy influenced by Hindu nationalism became most apparent in the relations with Pakistan. For most of the twenty months, the policy on Pakistan was marked by a confrontationist posture which led to talks being called off twice. This was accompanied by increased tensions on the border with exchange of fire and shelling. Then came the sudden announcement of talks in Bangkok in December last year followed by Sushma Swaraj's visit to Pakistan and the announcement of a comprehensive bilateral dialogue. This was followed by an unannounced visit by Modi to Lahore for some personal diplomacy on the occasion of the wedding of Nawaz Sharif's granddaughter. The irony of the visit was not lost on the Hindutva circles who had made "go to Pakistan" a trademark abuse directed at anyone who spoke out against their communal agenda.
The conflicting postures on Pakistan cannot be understood without factoring in the role of the United States. For the Obama administration, ensuring some normalcy in India-Pakistan relations is a priority given the complicated situation in Afghanistan and its reliance on Pakistan to tackle the situation. For Modi who has invested all his resources into becoming a good partner of the United States, this concern of the Americans cannot be ignored. Hence, the curious spectacle of a constant flip-flop in the relations with Pakistan.
The worst example of Indian arrogance and big brotherly attitude has been displayed in relations with Nepal. The way the Modi government has behaved regarding the promulgation of a new Constitution is appalling. It has encouraged the Madhesi agitation and connived in the blockade imposed on Nepal's land routes. This has embittered relations with a country which has strong historical and cultural bonds with India. Here again, the RSS worldview which sees Nepal as the lost Hindu Rashtra colours the perception of the BJP government.
As a major developing country, India has a stake in establishing multi-polarity in international relations. India is part of the BRICS Forum and recently became a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. However, the pro-US orientation in foreign policy acts as a deterrent to India putting its full weight behind international forums that are not dominated by the United States. Moreover, the BJP government's role in the Paris Climate Change Summit and the Nairobi Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation indicate a retreat from the positions that India has hitherto taken on climate change and international trade related matters. This retreat can be attributed directly to increasing cooperation with the United States and acquiescence with its concerns.
The BJP government cannot be trusted to defend national sovereignty based on an independent foreign policy. The pro-imperialist foreign policy of the BJP government should be opposed. The struggle for an independent foreign policy is part of the domestic struggle against the Modi government's neo-liberal economic policies and the communal agenda.
(Prakash Karat is Member, Polit Bureau, Communist Party of India (M). He can be mailed on email@example.com)