Book review – Modi and the Reinvention of Indian Foreign Policy

by Ian Hall | Bristol University Press | 2019 £9.50

The book’s scope covers Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s first term in office, from 2014 to 2019. It lays out Modi’s agenda for reinventing Indian foreign policy on Hindu nationalist principles. This translated into, for example, increased muscularity with Pakistan. His doctrine, if there was one, was an apparent shift towards realism, coupled with a focus on efficient and effective implementation. But Hall makes the case that rather than behave as a pragmatist or realist, Modi acts as a self-consciously transformational leader with a clear ideological agenda.

Foreign policy is delivered less in terms of building India’s power and influence than was aimed at. This was due to a lack of process and consultation and lack of focus on implementation. Moreover, Modi’s reinvention of foreign policy was undermined, Hall argues, by the upsurge in communal violence under Modi’s watch.

The impact on foreign relations was less important to Modi, however, than the appearance of making a positive impact on India’s foreign relations. While there is little concrete evidence that Indian voters choose their representatives based on foreign policy, the principal target of foreign policy messaging was domestic, not international; the author argues that Modi was convinced that personalising India diplomacy would prove electorally advantageous with his majoritarian right-wing base of supporters. He aimed to create the impression that if he as India’s representative was lauded and listened to by world leaders, then India itself must stand tall. Summits and bear hugs for world leaders were aimed at portraying himself as a statesman, elevated above the normal political fray. Polling shows that on the domestic front, Modi succeeded in making the majority of citizens perceive an improvement in India’s image abroad.

Imaduddin Ahmed

Published in Liberator Issue 415 – December 2022

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