Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rightly made diplomacy towards the neighbours the foremost priority for the new government. He sat down with the leaders of all neighbouring states, including the prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, who came to Delhi, accepting an unusual invitation to join the new PM’s swearing-in ceremony at the end of May. Modi chose Bhutan for his first visit abroad and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj opted for Bangladesh. The subcontinent was on Modi’s mind, again, when he called on space scientists, after the successful launch of the PSLV in Sriharikota on Monday, to build a South Asian satellite that can be shared with the neighbours.
But India’s world, of course, is not limited to South Asia. India is one of the world’s top 10 economies and what it does increasingly matters to the international community. The foreign ministers of China and Oman and senior officials from the US and Russia were among the first to show up last month. Top business leaders from around the world have also been seeing the PM to get a sense of the new government’s policy direction. The French foreign minister Laurent Fabius is in town this week; so is US Senator John McCain, a senior Republican leader and former presidential candidate. Many ministers from Europe and Asia are looking at early opportunities to visit India.
This international interest is rooted in the expectation that Modi will put India back in business. If high growth rates in the middle of the last decade and imaginative foreign policy moves by the UPA government in its first term generated extraordinary enthusiasm about India’s rise, the sentiment reversed quickly in the second. Modi’s strong political mandate and his initial signals of administrative purposefulness have been cheered by businesses and governments around the world.
In his address to Parliament last month, President Pranab Mukherjee promised that his government would operationalise the nuclear energy cooperation agreements, strengthen India’s defences, and develop a vibrant domestic defence industrial base. This has raised hopes among Delhi’s international partners that much of the pending nuclear and defence business initiated by the former government can be quickly wrapped up under Modi. But it is the nature of the finance bill that the NDA government presents next week that will set the tone for India’s external engagement over the next five years. Modi can’t miss the moment to signal unambiguous commitment to economic growth at home and collaboration with the rest of the world on a mutually beneficial basis
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