Sreeram Chaulia’s Modi Doctrine

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 11.01.17

Realpolitik determines the contours of the Modi Doctrine embodied in contact and
commercial diplomacy. This is the central idea of Sreeram Chaulia’s book, “Modi Doctrine:
The Foreign Policy of India’s Prime Minister,” published by Bloomsbury in 2016. Chaulia is
an academician specialising in both international security and international political
economy. This opinion piece intends to discuss Chaulia’s certain ideas expressed in the
book.

Narendra Modi sworn in as the fourteenth Prime Minister (PM) of India on May 26, 2014.
Contrary to the general understanding of a doctrine — a stated foreign-policy principle of a
government or the head of the government to express preferences of the government —
Chaulia claims that Modi carried along his political career certain principles which can now
be couched in the term doctrine. On page 28, Chaulia writes: “The earliest signs of what
can now be labelled as the Modi Doctrine ... derive from the travels, impressions, learnings
and work experiences from the period of his youth and middle age.” Here, Chaulia is
making three points. First, the childhood of Modi is not somehow worth mentioning as a
contributory factor. Second, the Modi doctrine is a one-man outlook. Three, like the US
President, Modi is independent of the parliament.

Chaulia claims that Modi practices a kind of aggressive bi-faceted — contact and
commercial — diplomacy owing to two reasons. First, Modi did social work for Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP), promoting Hindu nationalism. For instance, on page 30, Chaulia writes: “Touring,
travelling and contacting as many interlocutors as possible through a kinetic diplomacy are
visceral to the Modi Doctrine. One need not look beyond Modi’s RSS background to
understand why so much weightage is accorded to contact diplomacy [something like “retail
politics” (page 32), to develop “personal rapport” (page 34), which is the most visible
manifestation of the Modi Doctrine].” Second, Modi intends to temper the damage done to
his name when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat (2001-2014). For instance, on page
46, Chaulia writes: “For a Modi who was eager to ‘wash off’ the negative image circulated
worldwide by the horrific anti-Muslim riots of 2002, which he termed as a ‘blot during my
tenure’, all-out commercial diplomacy was a redemptive move. The stigma of being blamed
for inaction or complicity in the religious violence and the related setback of visa denials
from the USA and some European nations had to be answered with a comprehensive
economic developmental agenda as well as outreach to those nations still open to courting
him.” Interestingly, as mentioned on pages 42 and 177, Chaulia thinks that the shared
virtue between the Modi doctrine and the rest of the world (excluding Pakistan) is realpolitik:
economic needs supersedes moral scruples.

Realpolitik is the mainstay of the Modi doctrine. For instance, on page 222, Chaulia writes:
“The Modi Doctrine has artfully shelved the ‘either-or’ dilemma of India partnering with Israel
and Arab countries. It has managed to de-hyphenate the two, while maximizing gains from
each, a feat enabled by the fact that Sunni Arab states[constituting the Gulf Cooperation
Council, especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, with whom India’s equations
transcend the welfare of its vast diaspora, remittances and oil supplies] and Israel have
controversially, but surely aligned closer with each other owing to common animosity
towards Shia Iran. In 2015, it came to the light that India had become one of five
international venues for secret back-channel talks between Saudi and Israeli officials to
‘discuss the threat posed by Iran’.”

Chaulia thinks that in the heart of realpolitik lies the longing for Foreign Direct Investment
(FDI)to help India manufacture and export goods, as China did after Asian Tigers in the
1990s. On page 41, Chaulia writes: “Modi’s economic agenda of overcoming India’s
unemployment crisis [is] through the China-styled FDI-premised heavy industrialization and
developing the manufacturing sector via his flagship ‘Make in India’ campaign [instead of
“current services-driven growth trajectory...based on the mass deployment of labour and
capital” (page 87)].” Here, the emphasis of the doctrine is on the lower uneducated and
unskilled labour class which can find their limited utility in the services sector, compared to
the reforms introduced by the then Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1999-2004) of BJP and
which were focused on the educated and skilled youth of the middle class. In this way, the
Modi doctrine has tried to neutralize the Communist or Marxist criticism that spoke
vociferously for the economic uplift of millions of down-trodden Indians. Secondly, this point
is a realization that the consequences of making India a market for selling imported goods
swept away much financial gains earned through Vajpayee’s India Shining. The trickle down
from the middle to the lower class could not take place appositely. This time, Modi
complements Vajpayee.

Modi also wants the Indian diaspora to learn from the Chinese diaspora who made FDI act
as a primer for an investor-exporter model in China. On page 73, Chaulia writes: “The Modi
Doctrine on the diaspora aims inter alia at maximizing FDI from the Indian diaspora to motor
India’s economic growth... As he told over eighteen thousand desis in Singapore in
November 2015, ‘FDI is not only Foreign Direct Investment but also First Develop India’.”
Here, Chaulia does not tell what Modi has done in India to meet FDI’s pre-requisites:
physical infrastructure development, corporate law making and anti-red tape measures.

Chaulia claims that the Modi Doctrine plays a balanced diplomacy to secure India’s
economic interests. For instance, on pages 168 and 169, Chaulia writes: “[T]he urgency of
containing China through the ‘pivot’ and other means is obvious in the American strategy...
But instead of bandwagoning with the USA to counterbalance against China, the Modi
Doctrine has adroitly kept China interested in India’s growth through commercial
diplomacy.” Similarly, on page 232, Chaulia writes: “Apart from the USA, the Modi Doctrine
has devoted due attention to a number of European nations and Canada as part of a
multipurpose diplomacy to further India’s economic interests. It has fashioned a ‘Link West’
agenda to complement the ‘Act East’ policy and presented India as a balanced player that
is strategically attentive in all geographic directions.” Here, Chaulia has projected a bigger
role of India, predicting the success of which is quite premature.

The book is an encomium and has used all available jargon of international relations to
construct the Modi doctrine. Plainly, there is no Modi doctrine: it is just the Gujarat model of
politics and economy that Modi is trying to impose on the whole of India.

Back to columns in 2017