New Delhi: One step forward and three steps back should describe the Narendra Modi government’s foreign policy especially with the Major Powers, the United States, Russia and China. Consistency and predictability are desirable qualities in geopolitics and any deviation must accord with a larger game-plan and strategy. The Modi regime, however, approaches external affairs without long-term planning and purpose. The result is a hodgepodge which has dark consequences for relations with global powers.

Take the obvious example of the decline in India-China relations. Viewed strategically, the decline is inevitable. As India grows, and its market acquires new depth and added purchasing power, it is bound to come into conflict with expansionist China. China is totally aware of the situation and seeks to take advantage of the decline. It has complete knowledge of India’s pressure points: Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir, terrorism, and such like. Is India similarly educated about Chinese vulnerabilities? More to the point, will it take advantage of them? Highly unlikely.

Consider the Doklam mess. India deployed troops in a region unambiguously outside its territory. The territory is disputed between China and Bhutan. Bhutan did not ask India for help. So on what basis did India deploy troops? A perceived threat to the Chicken’s Neck is no justification. When China tactically withdrew from Doklam to prevent the washout of a world summit on OBOR, the Modi regime proclaimed victory. When realization dawned that the world was unlikely to back India in its border dispute with China, and when China further applied pressure on Indian vulnerabilities, the capitulation began. Poor Dalai Lama was almost declared persona non grata. And Modi was on the first flight to Beijing to genuflect to Xi Jinping. Does this move the dragon? Not a bit. China has tightened the noose around India. There are ways of fighting back without provoking a war. But who’s to tell this most intellectually deficient government in years of the finer points of strategy and leverage?

Relations with Russia have also taken on great unevenness to a point where Russia engages with India transactionally. Part of the problem is historical. As Russia has slid as a Great Power, India has grown as an emerging one. Russia’s economy has no future without reforms. Under another prime minister, India’s growth story could be revived. After the Soviet collapse and after the 1991 Manmohan Singh reforms, Russia came to have expectations from India as an economic power. The old camaraderie was replaced with Russia’s urgency to build dollar reserves.

In keeping with the times, however, India drifted closer to the United States. This trend became even more pronounced with the highly personalized diplomacy and one-man acts of Narendra Modi. Absent a US-Russia reset, Russia grew suspicious of India’s closeness to America, while ground conditions in Afghanistan and the geopolitical need for China brought Russia itself in proximity with Pakistan. Russian weapons were also available to Pakistan which added to India’s insecurities. Not having foreseen any of this, the panicky regime did a turnabout on Russia, reminding Vladimir Putin of old India-Russia ties. In substance, it has changed nothing. Russia will not give up Pakistan for India. Seeing Indian sensitivities, it may not sell critical military hardware directly to Pakistan. But there are other means of defence trade. With a crisis on hand, Narendra Modi has genuflected to Putin as well, meeting him in unstructured and unproductive summits. Absent strategic direction, the mess in relations with Russia is inevitable.

With the United States, the story is no different. Accompanied by sound and fury, India announced tit-for-tat tariffs against US products one fine day last week. Officials put a brave face on it and took an unusually tough line against the United States. Within hours, the narrative shifted. Genuflection was back. It transpires that India will buy one thousand airplanes from the United States and oil besides. The tariffs are being played down. There was never any question of bringing the United States to its knees. India has submitted meanwhile. All the toughness of the Modi regime has amounted to zero.

If this capitulation were limited to the United States, there could conceivably be scope for correction. But if appeasement is foreign policy, what’s left? The Major Powers have seen through India. Following their cue, second and third powers also see opportunities to try the headlock on this country. Even tiny Maldives has snubbed it.

That’s a fifty-six inch foreign policy for you.

Editor’s Note: Amit Shah has been economical with the truth accusing Mehbooba Mufti of bias against Jammu and Ladakh regions. The former J and K chief minister was manifestly even-handed in administering the state while charges of bias and communalism should actually apply to BJP ministers of her government. Mehbooba Mufti took great risks with her base in Kashmir to keep the state united while the BJP national president is indulging in plain divisiveness. On the other hand, this was only to be expected with the RSS cracking the whip.