Modi’s Indian Ocean Tour Marks A Refreshingly Robust Approach To Foreign Policy

Winding up his Indian Ocean tour, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a slew of pacts to boost ties between India and Sri Lanka. Modi’s bilateral visit to the island nation — the first by an Indian PM in 28 years — comes within a month of Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s visit to New Delhi. The back to back trips exemplify a new synergy between the two sides after Sirisena swept to power in January elections, defeating long-time strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa. This has now yielded four agreements on customs, visa, youth development and building a Tagore memorial in Sri Lanka.

But more than the promise of developing Trincomalee as a petroleum hub and extending a new $318 million line of credit for Lankan railways, it’s Modi’s pitch that’s interesting. Emphasising issues of diversity and his own government’s attempts at promoting cooperative federalism, Modi urged the Lankan leadership to operationalise the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution and devolve powers to provinces. Simultaneously, he assured the Lankan business community that New Delhi was ready to address trade imbalances and that India’s vast market was available for mutual economic benefits.

All of this suggests a shift in India’s neighbourhood strategy. For far too long Indian foreign policy has been defined by defensiveness, conscious more of dangers than of opportunities abroad. Refreshingly, the Modi government appears to favour a more robust approach that includes projecting India as a force for stability and development. It’s precisely for this reason that Modi’s trip to Sri Lanka — and Mauritius and Seychelles earlier — is more than just an exercise to counter China’s growing influence in the region. A conscious Indian Ocean policy finally appears to be New Delhi’s priority. Instead of shying away from geopolitical realities, India should leverage its economic and soft power in the Indian Ocean Rim to further its strategic objectives.
(Editorial-Times of India)

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