New Delhi: Foreign Policy: Like the economy and the Kashmir situation, foreign policy is a dark area for the Narendra Modi government. But India’s uncertain geopolitical situation is less the outcome of policy blunders by Prime Minister Modi than the sudden and dramatic changes in the external environment largely caused by the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States. If Trump is impeached, a possibility that grows more certain by the day, it will inevitably leave America more vulnerable in the hands of his successor, the current Vice-President, Mike Pence, should Trump resign like Richard Nixon before. India rarely prepares for contingencies like this just as it was unprepared for the Trump presidency, believing all along that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in for the top executive post.

Whether Trump goes or stays, the United States will decline at a more rapid pace than it did under his predecessor, Barack Obama. The blow that Trump has dealt to globalization with his America First policy will not make America stronger for the simple reason that Trump’s acceptability with Americans is rapidly eroding. He has lost credibility as President and the overriding desire of a majority of Americans would sooner or later be to see him evicted from the White House.

But in wait of that denouement, the remaining Great Powers will scarcely pause and commiserate, least of all China, which has been biding its time for just such an opportunity to go ahead with its programme of world domination. If the Chinese leadership is convinced that Trump will lay waste US power in the sole term he is likely to get, it will broaden the scope of Chinese global hegemony. In this, its partner will be Vladimir Putin’s Russia. India could even see the belt and road initiative transform into something bigger to accommodate China’s unbridled global ambitions.

What should India do? In comparison to the unpredictability and confusion of the Trump presidency, Modi had an easy run with the set patterns of his predecessor, Obama. Modi was new to power, he had won a stunning mandate, and his own OBC background and early poverty struck a sympathetic chord with America’s first black President. Obama is a man of grace and deep learning. He took Modi’s angularities in his stride. (Calling Obama by his first name was in poor taste.) However, Trump is another matter. He is a boor. He is almost as egoistic as Modi. As this writer has previously written, the two might end up clashing at a summit meeting, which will be perilous for India. A Modi-Trump summit is best avoided at this juncture. America needs to be dealt with quiet circumspection currently. There are yet other compelling reasons for India to generally lie low and consolidate its gains.

While Modi was the star among Western democracies earlier, he has been upstaged by Emmanuel Macron of France. To succeed, Macron has to virtually upend French understanding of the past going all the way back to the French Revolution, which is where France’s present-day problems are located. Whether he can effect such a degree of historical revisionism is anyone’s guess. But the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, will be especially keen that he succeeds, because that could positively impact on her own re-election chances despite the short lag. In any case, beyond personalities, France and Germany will determinedly work together to save the European Union from the bullying tendencies of Trump’s America. They would need external out-of-territory allies as well for this project. France and Germany have implacable differences with Russia over Ukraine, the Crimea, and with its role in Syria. There are also mounting suspicions of Russian subversion of Western democracies through election hacking. On the other hand, China is a comparatively distant power that would also appear less menacing to co-opt as a counter to Trump’s overweening America. This is not to say France and Germany definitely will partner with China to counter the US, but the possibility exists. Trump has profoundly disrupted the global equilibrium and balance. New alliances and partnerships among the Great Powers cannot be overruled.

Any further growth of China’s power can only be deeply disturbing to India. Nevertheless, this is not the time to make rash moves. By staying away from the belt and road initiative, India has formalized a schism with China. The Indian boycott was inevitable because of the troublesome strategic ramifications of the initiative. But India would only do worse harm to its interests by introducing artificial strains in its relations with the other Great Powers. For example, there are media reports that India has “warned” Russia of abandoning a MoU on the Kudankulam 5 and 6 reactor units if it won’t lean on China to drop its objections to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. If this report is indeed true, this writer would be worried. International diplomacy is not conducted on a make-or-break basis unless there is grave provocation, and Russia can scarcely be blamed for Chinese adamancy. Diplomacy is about rationality. This is irrational.

After Trump’s ascent, the world is a very uncertain place. India needs all the friends it can gain. Narendra Modi will not gather the international traction he received in his first three years of office. The focus has shifted to Western Europe. India has to return to quiet, everyday perseverance, conserve and build on its strengths, and deepen alliances with friendly states like Japan, which has finally stepped out of its shell to safeguard its interests vis-a-vis China. There is a time for high jinks and there are phases that demand quietness and consolidation. The Indian economy is less than puissant. Jobs are disappearing and the IT sector faces headwinds having failed to keep pace with revolutions in cloud computing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and so forth. FDI is scarcely coming into India’s preferred sector of manufacturing while disappearing into capital intensive services that offer insufficient employment. Suddenly, India’s fundamentals look weak. This requires a grave, sober and sensible approach to foreign policy and geopolitics, qualities generally observed to be deficient with this government.

Rating on foreign policy and geopolitics: 4 out of 10.

Read “Rating the PM - 1” and “2” here and here.

To be continued....