Modi’s Foreign Policy Catastrophe, India’s marginalisation in South Asia

Narendra Modi

“Diplomacy is the velvet glove that cloaks the fist of power.”

― Robin Hobb

Like its economy India’s foreign policy is going through a catastrophic phase. The country finds itself engaged in skirmishes and cartographic battle on its entire northern front. The spectacle that Modi created in the arena of foreign policy; his masculine nationalism and making partner in the US Israel axis, giving preference to trade over strategic relation, are all showing their limitations. The  truth is today India is surrounded by China from all sides and she finds herself without any reliable friend to bank upon. Its hitherto peaceful and secured borders have become disputed and once the pivot of South Asia it is increasingly being relegated to the corner.Modi’s style of personalised diplomacy instead of giving benefit has made Indian diplomacy hobble.

It is increasingly apparent that the ambitious plan which Modi had envisaged for himself of playing a  role in the world arena is over. India under him had adopted a policy of “bullying the weak while bulking at the strong”. He had stopped giving importance to  the  neighbour’s and moved towards the US and Israeli axis. The world is increasingly becoming oblivious to an India whose economy is on the downward spiral and where social tensions are growing.

Modi changed the realm of diplomacy by making strategic interest subservient to business interest. Foreign policy became means to further the interest of capitalists known for their close proximity to the Prime Minister. Today,  the interest of some crony capitalists has become the national interest! When the prime minister himself has donned the hat of being the sales representative, then talk of strategic policy initiatives and national interest becomes a chimera.

India today is forced to battle not only Covid 19 but also disputes  with all its neighbours. For the first time since independence,  clashes occurring between Nepalese police and Indian citizens have been reported. The border dispute between the two countries has hit an impasse, with the Nepalese parliament ratifying the Constitutional amendment on showing  Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura as its territory. The new map that Nepal has ratified extends its territorial claims over approximately 400 sq km. A virtual cartographic war is going on between both the countries. This is the first time when Nepal has been so overt in its dispute with India.  Nepal, for the past few years, was seen to be drifting towards China and India that had a dominant role to play was  relegated from its position of eminence. With the coming of the current Oli government the Chinese influence increased substantially and today Nepal can be called anything but friendly towards New Delhi.

The dispute with Nepal on the Kalapani was not over when news came of Chinese incursion into Ladakh capturing, as per the media reports, almost 60 kilometres of Indian territory in the Galwan valley. On 15th of June, news came of a bloody clash between the Indian and Chinese troops in which 20 soldiers including the Commanding Officer of Indian Army were killed by the Chinese troops. That too when the high level military commanders from both sides had declared to “peacefully resolve the situation in the border areas in accordance with various bilateral agreements.” The Chinese incursion neither stopped nor has normalcy returned to that part, but the Chinese, as reported by the BBC, have built new structures near the site of clash, overlooking the Galwan River.

Apart from Nepal a sense of anti India feeling is discernible in the other traditional friend of ally Bhutan. After Doklam an anti India voice is growing within the kingdom and several journalists and political commentators in the country have raised concern about the excessive dependence on India. When India was embroiled with China and Nepal; Bhutan stopped releasing water for irrigation channelled in Assam affecting thousands of farmers in 25 villages.

India’s relations with Pakistan needs no further discussion, under Modi it has gone from bad to worse. Sri Lanka has also almost gone over to China, so is the case with Myanmar where China has been a dominant player since time of military rule. In January this year Chinese President Xi paid a state visit to the country and  several pacts were signed between the two countries. Like Gwadar port in Pakistan, China is also aiming to have a similar set up in Kyaukpyu, a port situated in the Rakhine state in western Mayanmar. In 2018, China had signed a deal with Mayanmar to develop the port. Chinese state-owned firms have reached agreements with Myanmar to construct a $7.3 billion deep-water port and $2.7 billion industrial area in a special economic zone at Kyaukpyu.

Junior partner of US

Under Modi India has forsaken all pretensions of non alignment and pursuit of independent foreign policy. Its foreign policy has increasingly been aligned with that of US and Israel. Modi kowtowing to the US imperialist dictum has virtually turned India into a strategic junior partner of US imperialism. As seen by its handling of, Iran and Venezuela situation. Following the US dictum India severed all its relations with both the countries. Irrespective, of the fact that both the countries had extremely healthy relationships with India, and were willing to export their petrol to the country at favourable terms. Today, like its neighbours, New Delhi has lost Iran and Venezuela again to China as well as to Pakistan in case of Iran.

Similarly in the Asia Pacific region, India’s interest is aligned with US interests, in the US China trade war, India threw its lot with US in the latters strategic objective of containment of China. The Quad initiative in which Modi has personally taken interest is being described as an alliance created for containment of China and an attempt to encircle it. The Indian proactive stance in the revival of Quad is being seen by many, China experts, as a reason for Chinese incursion in Ladakh. Beijing’s way of warning India and other potential candidates from South East Asia particularly Vietnam and Philippines of not harbouring any such ambition against it.

Under Modi, India has signed several commercial and defence related agreements with US, it became party to the COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) signed in 2018 and LEMOA or Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement signed in 2016.

LEMOA allows the two countries to use each others’ military facilities as required on credit, while COMCASA enables inter-operability between the two militaries by providing for sharing of secure communications and real-time intelligence through use of advanced US hardware and encryption software.

Both these agreements effectively binds India to become wholly dependent on US military hardware. Despite both these agreements being lauded by the ‘official’ strategic analysts and an equally ‘official’ mainstream media, due to these accords the country lost its strategic autonomy and is now dependent on US dictacts.

What did India get in return? Nothing, U.S. has also restricted the H1B visa grant for Indians to 15 percent only. As the lockdown will end, this move is likely to affect all the industries, specifically the IT industry. During Covid 19 Trump virtually publicly threatened India of ‘retribution’ if hydroxychloroquine was not exported to it. Modi had no option but to cave to this demand and Trump’s ‘request’ was acceded. As Trump finds himself embroiled in domestic affairs, economic recession and Middle East politics, India does not figure in the high priority list of the US.

How much importance does the US give to Indian interest became evident during the Ladakh dispute, when neither the US president nor any of India’s new found friends and allies, including Israel and the Quad countries, issued statements favouring India on the  military standoff. Ladakh was not even mentioned  in the joint statement issued after the heavily razzmatazzed virtual summit between Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on June 4.

US foreign policy is based on its own strategic and business interest. The military industrial complex that exerts significant influence on shaping of the US foreign policy, currently India is not of much use. As the international capitalism braces for the post-Covid world, in their worldview China holds much more importance, due to its economic relations and size. The US capital has invested heavily in China and it would not want to jeopardize its interest.

The dream that Modi was selling to his right wing constituency, about US and other Western companies leaving China and would set up their base in India. Anyone who has even the basic understanding of how manufacturing companies work and how international capital functions, would have known the truth. But the Modi media and the social media army made it into a big spectacle. But reality is far stranger than fiction. There has been neither any Exodus of companies from China nor are they are queing at the shores of India. Like his all other declarations this one also turned out to be jumla (a fib).

Foreign Policy as electoral tactics

Since ascending to power, Modi has changed the way how diplomacy was conducted. In place of policy he introduced personality. Diplomacy, which was conducted behind closed doors was  converted into a media event. Something which was to be showcased. Handshakes and bearhugs became his hallmark.

To cover up his domestic failures the media and Modi himself took refuge in foreign policy. Foreign affairs was used to secure votes and fire the imagination of his core rabid right wing supporters who since long had yearned for a masculine world leader India, by showcasing them his ‘personal’ relationship and engagement with the superpowers’ leaders, such as US President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and others.

Despite failure on every front in domestic affairs, Modi successfully amplified his popularity with his foreign policy. He successfully concealed his internal policy failures from voters by impressing in international relations and strategy nothing is free, and so are the so-called friendships. Behind every hug and vigorous handshake lies the power of commerce. So, when Modi shook hands with Putin it was not out of Modi’s aura that Putin displayed his friendship towards him, but behind this facade was the  US$43 billion for the S-400 missile defense system,that Russia was eager to sell to india. With French it was the $30 billion for the Rafale deal, same was with Israel and all other powers.

In satisfying his supporters and securing his seat, Modi went on committing one mistake after another. He acceded to all the US demands while securing nothing from it. To showcase his image of world statesman he travelled the world costing an exorbitant amount to the exchequer, while most of them proved to be nothing more than a public relation exercise.

Wherever, he went he made commitments of gargantuan proportion, that later proved to be detrimental for Indian foreign relations. Mongolia, is a case study of how Modi’s words in reality had no substance. During his trip to Ulaanbaatar in May 2015, Modi announced a credit line of $1 billion and talked about expanding support to the country as well as trade. After some months due to a visit by the Dalai Lama to the country, China enforced an economic blockade against it. In desperation Mongolia turned to India. But instead of flexing his muscle Modi fumbled. No help was provided, as a result of which Mongolia had to apologise to China and committed that it will not allow Dalai Lama to visit the country again.

In face of a strong adversary Modi always buckles but when it comes to the weak,the masculine and territorial nationalism comes out. As we saw in case of Nepal’s economic blockade which effectively sent it to the Chinese orbit. After Pulwama he had publicly announced to take PoK, but after the airstrike whose efficacy is still debatable, he forgot it. Pulwama, Pakistan or even the entire foreign policy is used for winning elections and furthering his personality cult.

But as it is said all events come to a close. The limitation of this roadshow diplomacy has also come to its end. But like his domestic policy even in foreign policy, Modi has taken India to a place where she is marginalised and left with almost no ally. In the backdrop of spectacle, eventing and visiting a lack of coherent, dynamic vision the country’s foreign policy has completely lost its vision, direction and orientation, whose impact would be felt for a long time to come.


Author is an activist amd writer based in Delhi. He is part of the editorial team of

Email: [email protected]



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