Modi’s emerging Look West Policy

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Jyotika Teckchandani
With Trump elected to be US President, it is more likely that the Gulf countries would lean more towards India in cementing the relationship, which in turn would help India in further isolating Pakistan
The Indian foreign policy is increasingly characterised by what has come to be known as “the Modi doctrine”. The doctrine, while operating within the broad framework of Indian foreign policy, injects a new sense of vigour, commitment, pragmatism, flexibility and action- oriented policies to achieve its twin purpose of national security and economic development.
Prime Minister Modi has succeeded, unlike the previous Governments, by undertaking a large number of visit to other nations, in projecting India as a great power ready to share the global responsibility as well as to inject a great deal of confidence among the global investors for return of their investment to India.
The logistical agreement with the US under the frame of India-US civil nuclear agreement is intended to achieve these set of objectives.
Though Modi’s global strategy of forging strategic relationship with the US and tweaking the neighbourhood policy with focus on Pakistan has received much attention, its emerging Look West Policy directed towards West Asian neighbours has not been much noticed and discussed in public sphere.
Though West Asia, particularly the Gulf, has remained strategically important for India from the point of view of energy security, trade, investment, remittances, etc, there are three aspects of Modi’s “Look West Policy or Link West Policy” which is clearly visible: (a) Diaspora as Strategic tool; (b) institutionalising the security, Defence and anti-terror measures; (c) shaping the bilateral relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Modi made the Diaspora a centerpiece of his foreign policy and, during his foreign visits, addressed mammoth meetings of the community to project India’s priorities and needs.
Diaspora is increasingly becoming a significant part of India’s foreign policy in order to attract remittances and investments, lobbying for India, promoting Indian culture abroad and for building a good image of India. The importance attached to Diaspora policy can be seen from merger of Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs with the Ministry of External Affairs.
Today, West Asia, particularly the Gulf, accounts for the largest source of remittance for India. According to the Pew Research Center, India is the number one recipient country with $69 billion coming in 2012 with more than $35 billion coming from the Gulf countries which includes the UAE ($15 billion), Saudi Arabia ($8 billion), Kuwait ($3 billion), Oman ($2.6 billion), Qatar ($2.2 billion), and Bahrain ($760 million).
Flows from the United Kingdom and Canada, by contrast, ranked below the UAE, the United States, and Saudi Arabia.
Estimates range from six to seven million Indian citizens working in the West Asia, providing substantial injections into the Indian economy, and helping their families and communities throughout their hard work abroad.
Moreover, unlike the previous Governments, the Modi Government has been very active in providing relief and airlifting the Indian workers trapped in the conflict-ridden zones of Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen and in other parts of West Asia.
Second, even though high-level cooperation in the field of security, Defence and counter-terrorism has become visible of late, particularly in the context of 9/11, between India and Gulf countries, it is the Modi Government which is working hard to institutionalise the relationship with a number of Gulf countries. The two featured in Indian Air Force’s visit to Saudi Arabia and the agreement with the UAE in 2015 to establish a dialogue between the two National Security Advisers and the respective National Security Councils and other security cooperation mechanisms.
Besides, the two countries have also agreed to conduct joint Defence exercises and enter into joint ventures for the manufacture of Defence equipment. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have demonstrated sensitivity by extraditing terror-linked accused to India. Moreover as part of counter-terrorist discourses, the Indian Government is also actively involved in isolating Pakistan in the region.
Thus, unlike past, the region remained silent on India’s surgical strikes against terrorists in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in September. Even the OIC Ministerial Meet in Istanbul in October 2016 did not mention any resolution on Kashmir.
In fact, the Government’s decision to demonitise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes has serious implications in curbing the hawala money, which is mostly coming from the Gulf countries and part of which goes in funding terror activities.
Third, Modi’s visit to the UAE in August 2015 and Saudi Arabia and Iran in 2016 boosted India’s bilateral relations in the region – a momentum that begun to develop in 2014. India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Bahrain, Oman, and the UAE in 2014. Delhi also hosted the India-Arab Cooperation Forum in November 2014, promoting existing India-Arab engagements and annual ministerial exchanges.
In continuity with this policy, Modi’s visit to the UAE in 2016 planned to reach a target of $75 billion to support infrastructure investment in India with the help of the UAE-India Infrastructure Investment Fund.
Modi, during his visit to Riyadh, eyed more investments from Saudi Arabia into India from its Sovereign Wealth, which currently stands at $53.57 billion. According to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, Saudi Arabia holds the world’s fourth largest sovereign wealth fund with the present holding standing at $632.3 billion. India intends to tap into this huge fund by inviting investments from the Kingdom.
Similarly, Modi’s visit to Iran resulted in giving priority to complete the construction of Chabahar port with an extension of credit lines of $500 million for the port and of Rs 3,000 crore for importing steel rails and implementation of the port and financing to the tune of $1.6 billion, for the Chabahar-Zahedan railway line – a line that is also part of the trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan on a transit and trade corridor.
Besides, India imported 461,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from Iran in July 2016 – a 110 per cent increase over the same period in 2015 and an increase of 21 per cent over June imports – though Saudi Arabia remained the largest exporter of crude oil to India.
What is important in the above bilateral engagement in the region is that India successfully maintained a diplomatic relation between Saudi-Iranian political rivalry and even Iran-Israel political conflict.
It is credit to the Modi Government that India enjoys good relations with all of them and has built considerable stakes in these countries.
With Trump elected to be the US President, it is more likely that the Gulf countries would lean more towards India in cementing the relationship, which in turn would help India in further isolating Pakistan.

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