by Ashok Sajjanhar ( Sunday Guardian Live )

It is a little less than ten years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over as the head of the NDA ruled government in New Delhi in May 2014. At the time, it was presumed that foreign policy would be his weakest suite in governance since he had no or little experience of dealing with foreign countries, reported Sunday Guardian Live.

Ten years later, however, foreign policy has emerged as one of PM Modi’s biggest strengths. This is particularly commendable since India and the world have experienced challenges of a nature that the global community has not witnessed over several decades. Some of these include the Covid-19 pandemic, which was a black swan event occurring after a gap of 100 years. Before the world could come to grips with the pandemic, it was struck in quick succession with two totally unanticipated conflicts viz., the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas confrontation. Some other unsettling developments during this period included the increasingly aggressive behaviour of China in the East China Sea against Japan and Taiwan; in the South China Sea against several ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries, and against India and Bhutan on the undecided and disputed land boundary.

Notwithstanding these and several other challenges on the domestic and international fronts, PM Modi, ably assisted by his former External Affairs Minister (EAM) Sushma Swaraj and current EAM Dr S Jaishankar, and by virtue of his bold, visionary and firm leadership, raised the image and profile of India as a partner of choice, a voice of reason and a consensus builder in the world.

One of the first initiatives launched by PM Modi was the Neighbourhood First Policy when he invited Heads of State/Government of all SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Countries) and Mauritius, to his swearing in ceremony on 26 May 2014. He invited leaders of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), Kyrgyzstan and Mauritius for his second oath taking ceremony on 31 May 2019.

Success of the Neighbourhood First Policy is evident from the fact that India’s ties with its neighbours (barring Pakistan, China and more recently Maldives) are much stronger and deeper today than they were in 2014. PM Modi’s first visit to Nepal in August 2014 was the first bilateral travel by an Indian PM to Nepal in 17 years. Since his first visit in 2014, PM Modi has travelled four more times to Nepal viz. in November 2014 for the SAARC Summit; twice in 2018, one on a bilateral visit and once for the BIMSTEC Summit; and the 4th in 2022 on a visit to Lumbini at the invitation of the Nepalese PM. The meeting of the Joint Economic Commission between the two countries in September 2014 took place after a hiatus of 23 years. All these visits as well as interactions with Nepalese leaders on their visits to India have significantly enhanced understanding and cooperation between the two countries.

Similarly, the unanimous ratification of the long-pending Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh (Indira-Mujib Accord) since 1975, sent a strong message that India is keen to strengthen its bilateral ties with Bangladesh, its important eastern neighbour. India-Bangladesh ties today are in their golden phase and have emerged as a model for warm and friendly neighbourly relations, not only among South Asian countries but around the world.


With Sri Lanka also, the first visit by PM Modi in March, 2015 was the first bilateral visit by an Indian PM after a long gap of 32 years. The decisive and emphatic political and economic support by India to Sri Lanka in its hour of existential crisis and need in 2022 by providing it support amounting to US$4.50 billion in cash and kind, significantly enhanced confidence in bilateral partnership and took it to new heights.

Relations between India and Bhutan have always been close, warm and special. The historical, enduring bilateral friendship is rooted in mutual warmth and goodwill, reinforced by frequent high-level exchanges. There is a high level of trust between the leadership and people of the two countries. The recent visits of the Bhutanese PM to India from 14-18 March 2024 and by PM Modi to Bhutan on 22-23 March further cemented the already robust bilateral ties. Bhutan PM’s first visit to India after winning the elections in 2024 was particularly significant against the backdrop of Bhutan’s economic challenges and its complex relationship with China.

Decline in ties with Pakistan, China and Maldives is not on account of any failure or missteps by India but due to actions taken by these countries for domestic, political or strategic reasons. India has responded firmly to terrorist attacks from Pakistan as well as incursions into Indian territory by China. The Muizzu-led Maldivian government came recently to power on the back of an “India Out” campaign but India’s mature and statesmanlike response is contributing to bringing the relations on an even keel. The compulsions of geography and India’s steadfast support to the people of Maldives should soon make Muizzu realize the futility and counter-productive results of his animosity towards India.

One of the most significant successes of PM Modi’s foreign policy is the deepening and broadening of India’s ties with West Asia/Middle East. Earlier these countries used to look at India through the religious prism of Islam promoted by Pakistan. This is no longer the case today. India has emerged as a significant political, economic and strategic partner of these countries. This is evident from the fact that several of these countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Palestine have decorated PM Modi with their highest national awards.

UAE had invited the then EAM Sushma Swaraj to address the foreign ministers of OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) in 2019, over-riding the objections of Pakistan. More recently in January 2024, Minister for Women and Child Development and Minority Affairs Smriti Irani attended the third Haj and Umrah Conference in Madina. This would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Moreover, no West Asian country took a stand against abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A by India. On the contrary, in the first significant foreign direct investment in J&K, UAE committed to invest a total of Rs 500 crore, including Rs 250 crore for a mega-mall, and more to help set up IT towers in Jammu and Srinagar. Success of India’s foreign policy in the region can be judged from the fact that India was able to get its eight retired Navy personnel who had been awarded death sentences for espionage, pardoned by the Emir of Qatar and set free to return to India in February 2024.

India’s Act East Policy has been remarkably successful in expanding and diversifying relations in economic, political, strategic, connectivity and cultural spheres with ASEAN countries as well as Japan, Australia, Republic of Korea, Pacific Island Nations and others.

The preceding ten years have witnessed a remarkable growth and strengthening of trust and confidence between India and the United States. PM Modi has dealt with three US Presidents, viz., Obama, Trump and Biden and relations have continued to soar in the tenures of all three Presidents. This has emerged as the most consequential, global relationship for India in political, strategic, economic, commercial, technology spheres. The two countries engage on 60 dialogue platforms including critical and emergent technologies, renewable energy, connectivity, education, health, agriculture, green hydrogen, defence, semiconductor chips and more. PM Modi was accorded the singular honoor of being invited for a state visit by President Biden in June 2023 and also to address the Joint Session of the US Congress for the second time (the first time he addressed the US Congress was during Obama’s term in 2016).

PM Modi has also been an active participant in the revival of the Quad in November 2017 and its upgradation to summit level over the last three years.

Some minor wrinkles like the alleged Indian plot against Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, unwarranted and uncalled for comments by the US State Department against Delhi CM Kejriwal’s arrest, freezing of Congress accounts, India’s CAA law have appeared in recent weeks but they do not have the potential to derail the rapidly expanding bilateral partnership. It would however be to the advantage of both countries if such unnecessary pinpricks were avoided.

India has firmly displayed its strategic autonomy by not only not criticizing Russia for its attack on Ukraine, notwithstanding the huge pressure from the West but also continued to import large quantities of oil and gas at concessional rates to provide affordable and reliable supply of energy to its people.

Possibly the successful conduct, both logistically and substantively, of its G20 Presidency can be considered to be the pinnacle of PM Modi’s achievements over the last decade in the realm of foreign policy. No one had anticipated that India would succeed in crafting a consensus Leaders’ Declaration, given the widely divergent positions on the conflict in Ukraine, of the West on one side and Russia and China on the other. But India was able to achieve the unthinkable on the first day itself. Much of this success can be attributed to the leadership of PM Modi and the personal ties of respect and mutual benefit that he has been able to foster with most world leaders. The world came together to ensure a successful G20 Presidency for India. India emerged as a Voice of the Global South and a Vishwamitra (Friend of the World) by virtue of the remarkable success of its G20 Presidency.

India’s leadership in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of its health, economic and social impact has won it plaudits and respect from the world. That it was able to initiate far-reaching economic reforms and rapid digitization of its economy even during the pandemic has earned it kudos from the global community. In addition to its huge successes in dealing with the pandemic on its domestic front, India emerged as one of the few countries to share about 300 million vaccines with more than 100 countries, most of them on gratis basis. The world has realised that India’s development and growth is good not only for its own people but the whole world, particularly the developing countries.

PM Modi and his foreign policy team led by EAM Dr S. Jaishankar have acquitted themselves most creditably to deal with the wide-ranging challenges that have arisen over the last 10 years.

Today the world is in transition. The turmoil and turbulence presents challenges as well as opportunities to India to enhance its standing and emerge as a more consequential and effective global player in the years to come. Its conduct over the last 10 years gives both hope and confidence that India will emerge stronger, more influential and authoritative player on the global scene.

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar is Executive Council Member, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses; and former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia

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