New Delhi: As the regime enters the last year of its first term, Narendra Modi’s foreign policy is looking increasingly incomprehensible. Modi has had two meetings without agendas with two dictators who run two of the three Major Powers. Not known for modesty, Modi has described his meeting with Vladimir Putin as exceptionally successful. As for the other meeting, prior, with the Chinese dictator-for-life, Xi Jinping, Modi was not so gushing. But the Indian side released a list of successes, including “strategic guidance” to the rival armies, which the Chinese did not acknowledge. Strategic guidance is one of those meaningless Pentagon phrases.

It is reasonable to surmise that Narendra Modi’s two virtually back-to-back meetings with two world strongmen yielded little of significance for India. On the other hand, it could have led to condescension on the part of geopolitical establishments of Russia and China which have long been in the game. They may have privately recorded confirmation that Narendra Modi is a clueless head of government of an emerging accidental power. If a bus driver negotiating a treacherous gorge has negligible skills and nil geographic understanding, you wouldn’t need much imagination to figure what is most likely to happen.

Reset is a much abused word in geopolitics. It has come to mean exactly nothing. The United States and Russia were supposed to have embarked on a reset some years ago. It has been so successful that the United States has killed Russian troops in Syria and a president is being investigated for the impeachable offense of colluding with Russia to manipulate his election victory.

Reset is also the word that the Indian foreign office likes to use in relation to China after the Modi-Xi meeting. Have things changed on the ground? Not a bit. China is more determined than ever to seize Arunachal Pradesh and it will continue to back Pakistan as it bleeds the country in Jammu and Kashmir. The trouble with Narendra Modi is that he has no idea how to deal with China (he never had) and is seizing on every hare-brained scheme put forward by the foreign policy establishment. Unless a country thinks for itself and acts, it is sunk.

Narendra Modi’s meeting with Vladimir Putin is also inconsiderable on delivery except for some titbits planted by the establishment in the press. One relates to the employment of “Indo-Pacific” on the Russian side in the course of the Modi-Putin meeting. The Russians have said nothing. The other pertains to a protocol nicety of Putin seeing off Modi to his airplane. Out of deference to a visiting prime minister, Putin may make concessions to India, but it cannot be of a substantive nature because India is a confused power. If it is more Russian weapons that India desires, Putin would be happy to oblige because it means more money. India had Russian arms before and will hopefully have them in the future. But how does that alter India’s precarious geopolitical situation? The world is going topsy-turvy. And all we have here is someone running around like a headless chicken.

India’s classical problem is that it does not know what it wants. During the height of the Cold War, there was some clarity that India did not care to be part of any bloc. This was the essence of Non-Alignment. For the purpose it was built, it succeeded. The Cold War is over but a new Cold War has started. It has been accompanied by an unrelenting focus on geo-economics. Geo-economics drives geopolitics because the Nuclear Age has made total war too dreadful to be prosecuted. If there is to be no Armageddon, there cannot be a third world war.

The United States and China have long realized this coupling. The United States is determined to protect its economy from further globalization and is calling back every cent it believes the world owes it. Its principal target is China whose concessions to the United States will be squeezed out from countries importing its goods in immeasurably large quantities. Even Russia has entered the game by cutting back on military spending to invest in society and in the consumer economy. Russia needs Manmohan Singh.

Any government with a modicum of intelligence would know where the world is headed: except, that is, for the Narendra Modi regime. Encouraging atavistic nationalism, it misses the central point. India has no future unless it strengthens its economy and ruthlessly leverages its market. China is India’s only strategic competitor. It has to face China down with nuclear power. Once military nuclear parity is established, China will not take direct chances.

To get to that situation, however, India has to think for itself. An odd throwaway remark about “Indo-Pacific” made in Russia (if at all) will not frighten China. Indeed, India can do nothing in the Asia-Pacific, the appropriate term for Indo-Pacific. A country that cannot manage its own frontiers has no business intervening in distant ones. India’s salvation lies in self-strategizing. This regime has a poor record in the department.

Editor’s Note: In electoral terms, a mandate means a supermajority. The Bharatiya Janata Party did not even get a simple majority in Karnataka. So what’s this canard of “mandate” being spread by Amit Shah and fanned by the captive press? As the single largest party, the BJP was asked by the Supreme Court to prove its majority. Failing with horse-trading, a tidy side business apparently for a party that claims the moral high ground on account of demonetization, it gave up. Having a majority between them, the Congress and the JD(S) will have to prove that on the floor of the House. So what’s Shah’s grouse? That the BJP’s underhand methods failed? It is time the party accepts defeat gracefully and plays the role, for a change, of a constructive opposition.