India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is the example of how a strong leader can cause tangible change in both his country and neighbourhood.
Two years ago, we wrote that “India has been positioning itself to be in the Premier Asian Political League, for quite some time; however, it incurs the risk of not achieving its goal if it refuses to step up the game...” (here) but the new government stepped up the game, and India is closer to reaching to the top.
In 2013, there was a stand-off between India and China (dubbed the Daulat Beg Oldi Incident), where China defiantly invaded the Indian airspace and placed troops in Indian territory.
In 2014, after a mandate was bestowed upon a right-wing government, China seems to have quit the power politics and come to terms with the fact that India is a force to be reckoned with.
This country is modernising itself. This country is becoming a military power. India is forming a base of Asian alliances (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore) that together may challenge China; it is trying to reach a compromise with Pakistan; it is preparing the visit of its PM to Israel for the first time in history; and it is getting closer to the United States of America.
There's the general perception that India doesn't want to serve as a US instrument against American challengers; but what if India realised that an association with the Americas can actually serve its own interests? As Maged Farag, an Egyptian historian, said "there are no such things as eternal enmity (...). There are only eternal interests"
According to Nitin Gokhale, when President Obama visited India – earlier this year – the red flags were raised in Beijing; and suddenly the Red Dragon was now willing to discuss the “resolution of its 4,057 km contested border with India” and start solving a 60-year old conflict.
Under PM Modi, it should be inferred that India now has the fortitude to use "China's public confession of fear" to its advantage.
China fears that the United States may draw India to its sphere of influence and, thus, push the Red Dragon to support Pakistan even more – a move that is highly inconvenient for the moment, given China's own challenges regarding domestic Islamic Terrorism. However, it is to India's advantage to turn to the US (and other Western countries) if it is to achieve the military edge it needs to reach regional goals.
As important as the relationship with China may be (after all, the Red Dragon has been India's number one trade partner for quite a while), India can no longer ignore the Dragon's aggression in the South China sea and it can no longer ignore the appeal made by ASEAN nations:
"'India is a big country and it's an influential country' [Singapore Defence Minister, Ng Eng Hen - ed.]. India's larger presence in the region could give Southeast Asian nations a cushion against China as that country seeks to make territorial claims to the majority of the South China Sea." (source)
PM Modi's government can't allow China to usurp territory rich in methane hydrate either, which would contribute to China's rapid ascension to energy independence and subsequently to even more power – hence, delaying this rise serves the interests of all interested parties in the region, and beyond.
The Chinese leadership is not oblivious to this and, for this reason, it decided to try a different approach, to discourage India from supporting those countries with which China maintains territorial disputes.
In his first year in office, PM Modi has already achieved quite a lot (if we come to think of the size and the many challenges of the country he runs); for instance:
- Clean India Mission (Swachh Bharat Abhiyan)
- “Foreign equity in rail infrastructure allowed, without limit
- Fast-tracking of defence purchases: 36 Rafale fighters being bought, orders for several long-pending purchases placed
- $130 billion proposed spending on railways over five years on schemes including high-speed trains
- Impasse in mining sector ended with passage of new bill for regulation and development
- Successful conclusion of auctions for telecom spectrum for mobile telephony and broadband
- Launch of Make-in-India, Digital India and Skill India initiatives with focus on defence and electronics, primarily to create jobs
- Commencement of divestment programme in public sector companies
- Disbanding of various ministerial groups for faster decision-making” (source)
- Signature of a historic agreement with Bangladesh to swap more than 150 enclaves of land, to simplify their border (an issue that had been pending since independence)
[Sidebar: Politicians like Narendra Modi, and Barack Obama for instance, are setting the political bar high: they showed that many of the feasible promises made during the campaign trail can be fulfilled during the first years in office; thus, putting pressure on future candidates regarding the often unrealistic promises they make to garner votes].
Before ending this piece, one capital issue should be emphasized: India should re-direct its focus to its methane hydrate reserves, given its rampant demand for energy. It is not a secret what Energy Independence can do for countries; hence, only the sky would be the limit if India (along with the reforms it is undertaking) would invest more on the development of its energy reserves; that way it would be able to re-shape its foreign policy without having to worry about hurting the susceptibilities of countries that represent a challenge both to its philosophy of life, and national security. Albeit, this won't be an easy thing to do, inasmuch as certain groups that (sponsored by countries that have no interest whatsoever in seeing India independent in terms of energy) would do anything to undermine PM Modi's work. Yet nothing is impossible with a bit of political yoga.
In sum, India is on its way up, but to get to the finish line it will need a couple of things: economic and social stability (which entails further reforms), military power (which entails building partnerships with the US and Europe, and deepening ties with Israel), energy independence and a daring foreign policy (i.e. stop running away from its hegemonic fate).