Obvious Contents of Modi’s Foreign Policy: The Obama Visit

Abdul Rahman February 28, 2015

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with The US President Barack Obama
Image Credit: Wikipedia



In international politics governments are expected to represent the aspirations of citizens of the state. There are various ways one can define such ‘aspirations’ given its abstract nature. Governments are however, never abstract. They are made of people with concrete form and intent. Hence, international politics is a peculiar sphere where the ‘concrete’ represents the ‘abstract’. The most popular realist term is “national interest” which is nothing but an attempt to legitimize whatever the governments at a given point of time do in international politics. It’s a peculiar and more abstract way of defining the ‘abstract’. How can one decide what is in ‘national interest’ when there is no surety of what ‘nation’ is? Hence, it is easy to say then that most of the governments are privileged and justified in doing whatever they wish to do irrespective of the effects of their deeds on the citizens and their aspirations. In short the term ‘national interest’ is one of the most effective ways to evade the responsibilities to their citizens invented by the ruling classes to legitimize their self serving acts. Obama’s recent visit to India and all the hullabaloo created by the Media is yet another example of the ease with which the ruling classes can fool the people. Let’s see the worth of this ‘allegation’.

The euphoric welcome to the ‘changes’ brought by the nine month old Modi government in Indian foreign policy and its institutions, is a sign of desperation of the Indian ruling class. The new middle class with its never-ending desires is the targeted audience or the ‘nation’ whose ‘interest’ the governments since 1991 are trying to serve and therefore anything which seems to be hampering such interests needs to be removed. The removal is not an easy task which is why even after two long decades of liberalization no government has been able to do the same. The ‘realization’ of such has led to the conclusion that it could only be done by a ‘strong’ government. Hence, the thumping victory of the ‘deliverer’ Modi led BJP should be seen as a reflection of the aspiration (both in the domestic sphere and in the global arena) of the new middle class. Little does this ‘new middle class’ know that in reality their aspirations are nothing but an excuse for the ruling classes in India to justify their policy preferences. There is a great synthesis between the international finance capital and the Indian capital today which requires the traditional norms of a state’s behavior in international politics to be discarded vehemently. The strong Modi led government is both willing to, and capable of fulfilling this agenda, all in the “national interest”.

For the euphoric ‘new middle class’ India has already arrived at the world stage and it is time to assert its position shedding all hesitations (read principles). During his election campaigns and immediately after assuming the office Modi had given the hint of exploiting such aspirations and expectations of the ‘middle class’. The hobnobbing with the US is the first step in the directions of making India look more receiving at the world stage. It is to establish India’s ‘openness’ to the world and the world capital overcoming the post-colonial legacies of ‘protectionism’ and ‘closeness’.

The term “national interest” however was never intended to mean just the interest of the ruling classes. In order to be fair to the realists of 20th century we must acknowledge the fact that E H Carr, H Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz assumed the governments to perceive the “national interest” as something which serves the interest of majority of citizens if not all. This somewhat utilitarian expectation has rarely stood the test of time in the last six decades since the term has been popular. However, it has been consistently been used by the governments. For the Modi government however, it seems serving the ruling classes in the current situation requires ‘re-looking’ all set norms. Hence, for it, there has never been a consensus on institutions such as Planning Commission and principles such as ‘secularism and socialism’. In a similar fashion the policy of non-alignment needs to be debated too. The ‘debate’ here is a euphemism for abandonment.

What has happened in last few decades which have brought such low respect to the well established institutions and principles of Indian foreign policy is an issue worth examining. However, we do not have time or space here for such an elaborate examination. Suffice would be to say that Indian public discourse is going through an era of massive up and downs because of the cumulative failures of past and increasing aspirations of the new middle class as mentioned above. For the euphoric ‘new middle class’ India has already arrived at the world stage and it is time to assert its position shedding all hesitations (read principles). During his election campaigns and immediately after assuming the office Modi had given the hint of exploiting such aspirations and expectations of the ‘middle class’. The hobnobbing with the US is the first step in the directions of making India look more receiving at the world stage. It is to establish India’s ‘openness’ to the world and the world capital overcoming the post-colonial legacies of ‘protectionism’ and ‘closeness’.

The readiness to receive foreign capital however, is a clever move too. The domestic capital sees wide ranging opportunities in such foreign policy of openness. The ‘Make in India’ is not a red carpet to the world capital alone. The objective is also to facilitate greater opportunities to Indian capital outside India. Modi’s foreign policy is a triumph of crony capitalism. The interest of Indian capital is the “national interest”. UPA, if not before, started this substitution of ‘national interest’ with the interest of the Indian capital and now BJP is ready to take it to a new height. The popularity of Modi will be perfectly suited to accomplish such an aim. However, Modi government’s foreign policy faces a new challenge in Indian history because till very recently the Indian capital was all apprehensive to foreign capital and hence stood for quite opposite as it is today. This newness of domestic constituency which matters in the era of neo-liberalism makes Modi’s dispensation immune to the traditional realists notions of the ‘national interest’. It is a ‘Chomsky moment’ for Indian foreign policy analysts. In other words, it’s Americanization of the Indian Foreign policy.

In order to prove this let us examine the visit of American President, Barak Obama to to India in detail. Obama is a lame duck president. He is also the president who cannot take any significant foreign policy decision as there is hardly any chance of such policy getting the approval of the Congress. Democrats are in minority in the House of the Representatives and even in Senate their majority is quite thin. So, was it a decorative visit? Not exactly, Obama’s visit is symbolically important for the Indian capitalist classes. It was important to project Indian closeness to the US. It was important to give a signal to the world that India is ready to come out of its long era of neutrality and it’s confident enough to embrace international capital without any hesitation. The Obama visit came quickly after Modi’s visit to the US in October last year. It was designed in a way that the world would notice. Apart from this the Obama visit had some small matters to dispose off such as the Nuclear Deal.

What will common Indians get? Cheap power? Great technology? Greater mobility between both the countries? It is day dreaming if nothing else to expect anything of that kind from the Obama visit or Modi’s government’s foreign policy. Given the status of the world economy and the condition of American economy itself it is not possible to facilitate easy migration leave about other economic benefits. The benefits of the corporates, the giants who have lost a great deal due to the economic crisis and protectionist policies so far are the priority of the governments.

Why nuclear deal was not such a big achievement and merely a small move in the ‘right’ direction? It is because most of the formalities related to the deal were completed during the last UPA regime in 2006. If we remember the stubborn UPA move even to risk its government in 2008 and recall the proceedings of the time we will notice that there was hardly anything significant left to do. However, the signing of the agreement which gave the US suppliers immunity in India, through relaxing the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act of 2010 in short the Nuclear Liability Act, was a significant move. It incentivised the nuclear business for the American firms in India. This relaxation, would not necessarily achieve much as there are so many legal and practical issues involved. No American firm is going to invest without the proper disposal of the court cases related to the different aspects of the deal. Yet, this deal got so much Media attention. The real ‘achievement’ of the Obama visit is in military sector. The deal signed or hoped to be singed would give $8 billion business to American military firms. The deals are signs of the willingness of the Indian government to be a party of US’ schemes in Asia against China, what is named fancily as “Pivot to the East” policy. Apart from the benefits for the Americans the Obama visit held promises for the Indian capital in the form of greater willingness of Americans to make India a party to the Asia Pacific Economic Forum. Adani’s contract in Australia is one small example of how the relationship between India and the US is significant to the Indian bourgeoisie.

Attempts to warm up the relations with the US are exercises in the direction of creating Brand India. Since his coming to power Modi is travelling all over the world in order to repay the debt incurred during his election. He is elected due to the massive overt and covert support provided by Indian corporate houses. The only way to pay back is to help some of these corporates to earn profit within the country and wherever else possible. The conventional principals of Indian foreign policy would not have become hurdles in such an enterprise hence they are sidelined or to be continued as a part of decoration of the official documents with no practical values as in last two decades.

What will common Indians get? Cheap power? Great technology? Greater mobility between both the countries? It is day dreaming if nothing else to expect anything of that kind from the Obama visit or Modi’s government’s foreign policy. Given the status of the world economy and the condition of American economy itself it is not possible to facilitate easy migration leave about other economic benefits. The benefits of the corporates, the giants who have lost a great deal due to the economic crisis and protectionist policies so far are the priority of the governments. The hurried rush of Obama to finish the visit to India and go to Saudi Arabia proves the fact that American foreign policy has never been for common Americans. It has always been for a selected group of American capital’s interest. The rush for greater integration with the global capital within 9 months of the new government shows that Indians have learnt their lessons from the US.

The added benefit of Obama’s visit to India was its usefulness in Modi’s attempts to distract the common man’s attention from the concerns emboldening of Hindutva forces in last 9 months. The euphoria around Obama lasted for a month at least blanketing all the outrage and criticism of Modi government’s failures to control the rise of the cultural right. The planning of Obama visit during Republic Day was an attempt to reinforce the image of Modi as a leader taken ‘seriously’ by the world. It was an effort to placate the critiques from the liberal sections of the society and religious zealots projecting the ‘stature’ of the leadership. However, Obama’s statement on 27th January about the need of religious tolerance was a public relation disaster. Once in the US Obama repeated what he said in India making the discomfort of the world capital to any unrest at this juncture. The appointment of the new foreign secretary in a humiliating the existing one was a sign of the desperation of the government. It was more a move targeted at domestic audience. It was to give Modi supporters a sign of all the toughness he talked during his election campaigns.

What would RSS do with it? Well right now it is not worried about India’s foreign policy much. Their primary target is India’s domestic and social milieu. They would like to have as many distractions as possible from what they are doing. Media attention is not required and RSS wants to do its work in silence. Some of the RSS organs such as Swadeshi Jagran Manch are worried about India becoming a target of foreign capital etc, but their traditional backers, local business, is not in a position to influence the Modi government’s decisions at present.

Obama’s visit to India is a consolidation of the process of pragmatism in Indian foreign policy. It is not a new thing. Ever since the neo-liberal reforms started, the principles such as Non-Alignment and third world solidarity started becoming irrelevant. The domination of Indian Capital in both domestic and international policy making is something we all have to live with as the hopes created by neo-liberal reforms among the new middle classes and among the youth have not faded yet. The exploitation of these dreams has a saturation point. But we do not know where and when.

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