Modi’s performance on a global stage signals a pragmatic internationalism.
Taking advantage of the unique international stage offered by the BRICS summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has begun to put his own stamp on India’s foreign policy. The PM has matched his imaginative first diplomatic steps towards the subcontinent by outlining a practical approach to global issues and India’s important bilateral ties with Russia and China at the BRICS summit. Despite being the new kid on the diplomatic block, Modi has articulated India’s concerns and interests without falling into the familiar ideological traps that Delhi used to set for itself. At the BRICS forum, Modi avoided the sterile North-South rhetoric that used to colour India’s past approach to multilateral issues. He appears to have struck a new balance between the imperative of reforming the current international system for more effective global governance and the need to protect India’s national interests in a complex world.
Contrary to the hopes of some, and fears of others, that the BRICS is about confronting the West, Modi underlined his conviction that the forum “can add fresh perspectives and mechanisms to existing international institutions”. The BRICS Development Bank, the arrangements for which were finalised at the summit, must be viewed from this angle: not as a counter to the World Bank but a complementary institution that will provide additional funding and new options for the economic development of emerging nations. India worked with other members of the forum to ensure that the bank’s decision-making structures are equitable and do not fall under the domination of the strongest power among them, China. Welcoming the expansion of the “horizontal influence” of the BRICS, Modi asked the members to seek greater “vertical cooperation” by strengthening bonds at the “sub-national” level among the members.
On a range of controversial global issues, including climate change, green growth, global trade and cyber security, Modi took forward-leaning positions that are in tune with India’s interests. He also underlined India’s case for “zero-tolerance” against international terrorism, including the state-sponsored variety. While refusing to tail Russia and China on various international issues, Modi reaffirmed the new government’s desire for a deeper strategic partnership with Moscow in his bilateral talks with President Vladimir Putin and outlined a purposeful approach to developing relations with China in his conversation with President Xi Jinping on the margins of the BRICS forum. While calling for expansive economic cooperation with China, he insisted on the urgency of resolving the boundary dispute that had been put on the back burner in recent years. Taken together, for now, Modi’s debut on the world stage would appear to put India squarely on the path of pragmatic internationalism.
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