India should seek to raise the level of its foreign policy ambitions, the country’s top diplomat suggested in an address Friday.
Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar told a forum in New Delhi that given India’s larger and intense footprint under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was time for the country to consider a more proactive foreign policy approach.
“It is therefore time to ask ourselves whether India should raise the level of our ambitions,” Jaishankar said at the launch of a new book on Modi’s foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation, an Indian think tank.
“Are we content to react to events, or should we be shaping them more, on occasion even driving them? Should we be aim to be a balancing power, or a leading one?” he added.
Jaishankar suggested that India should aim for a more proactive foreign policy based on a clear sense of its priorities, an integrated view of regions, and a more vigorous effort directed at confidently pursuing multiple relationships simultaneously and making a global impact. This was in contrast, to a more reactive approach which sought a lower profile and adopted a more siloed approach, often associated with the country’s tradition of non-alignment.
“As we proceed, perhaps it is time to reassess our ability to drive and lead on global issues, and be active and nimble, rather than neutral or risk averse,” he said.
A more proactive foreign policy, Jaishankar suggested, was already underway under the Modi government led by the BJP, with several significant changes introduced relative to the previous Congress-led one under Manmohan Singh (See: “A New ‘Proactive Indian Foreign Policy under Modi?“). These included a more active neighborhood first policy, advances in India’s relationships with major powers including the United States and greater attention to previously neglected countries in the Indian Ocean, Central Asia and the Pacific Islands.
He also noted several “innovations” in the way the Modi government was using the tools of statecraft to further this proactive foreign policy – including narratives, lexicon and imagery, soft power, the Indian diaspora, and a more explicit link between foreign policy and national development.
“So let me ask you: does this look like diplomacy as usual?” Jaishankar said.
Jaishankar’s address came after a discussion of the book Modi’s World written by his close friend C. Raja Mohan – arguably India’s most internationally recognized foreign policy commentator. The discussion featured Shashi Tharoor, a prominent foreign policy analyst and member of parliament, Ashok Malik, a senior Indian journalist, and Shyam Saran, a respected former Indian foreign secretary.