In the recent weeks a few developments relevant to both foreign policy as well as the internal scene of India, would have the effect of retuning the country’s strategic approach and domestic responses. In the area of international relations the reported inability of President Donald Trump to accept Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invite to be the chief guest at the annual Republic Day Parade at Delhi in 2019, Pak Prime Minister's visit to Beijing to reinforce the CPEC - inauguration of a China- Pakistan bus service through POK coinciding with it, China’s reiteration of its stand against the UN move to declare Maulana Masood Azhar, Chief of Jaishe Mohammad (JeM) as an international terrorist, decision of the recent India- Japan summit to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries by starting a Two plus Two dialogue and the success with which India has been able to steer through the S-400 deal with Russia and the issue of oil purchase from Iran in the backdrop of the much-publicised US sanctions, are all very significant happenings.
And on the domestic front the provocative attacks on the persona of Prime Minister Modi by Congress President Rahul Gandhi in the run up to the General Election next year, increasing communal polarisation of the electorate, intensification of terrorist violence in the Kashmir valley with the Pak army relying more on the radicals of Jaishe Mohammad to target our security forces there, continuation of Maoist violence in the soft belly of India and the internal crisis overtaking CBI-the premier national agency against corruption, are amongst the major developments that are creating an environ of political tension and public unease in the country. In all of this some of the credible gains of governance in the Modi regime - acknowledgement of India as a world power by the international community and the marked improvement in the sphere of 'ease of doing business' in India- have not received adequate attention.
That there is a near total convergence between India and the US on issues of global security is a marked feature of India's successful foreign policy under the Modi regime and this is the result in a large measure of the personal compatibility between Narendra Modi and Donald Trump and the quiet work done by our NSA and the foreign policy establishment following the election of the new US President. Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted to ‘honour’ President Trump by inviting him to the Republic Day celebrations as the chief guest - like what he had done for the latter's predecessor. If the visit is not coming through for the stated reason of the President’s schedule of prior engagements, there should be no wild speculations. It might just be the case that the protocols of a prolonged visit did not sit well with the pattern of short to & fro foreign journeys made by Donald Trump so far. What is important is that President Trump continues to value Indo-US strategic partnership and was inclined to consider waiver for India on the issues of S400 deal with Russia and oil purchases from Iran. Trump has consistently denounced Pakistan for providing safe havens to Islamic terrorists. He would not therefore have been deterred by the fact of 2019 being an election year in India or by any consideration of a possible Pak sensitivity over his exclusive visit to India.
Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan who had in his campaign explicitly supported China in the context of CPEC and spoken against the US has made an extensive visit to Beijing to activate the joint projects and also seek financial aid for Pakistan. He has already received assurance of funds from Saudi Arabia. The Pak army- conscious of President Trump's criticism of CPEC and his disapproval of Pakistan's role in cross border terrorism- is still hopeful of remaining on the right side of the US in Afghanistan and has apparently put the civilian Prime Minister in front to handle relations with China. It is a challenge for India not to let Pak army dupe the Americans by pretending to mediate in the task of inducting Taliban in the 'democratic mainstream' of Afghanistan. Pakistan is seeking to have a sway in that country which would only add to our problems in Kashmir. US policy makers need to be apprised of the long range threat that the democratic world faces from Islamic extremism and briefed on how the forces behind 9/11 and 26/11 were the same regardless of their labels -with a common umbilical cord linking them to Pakistan.
Prime Minister Modi’s personal friendship with the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has pushed the Japan- India strategic relationship to a new pitch with the recent bilateral summit deciding to establish a Two plus Two dialogue between the two countries. The US-Japan-India partnership now embracing Australia is steadily working for QUAD -a geopolitical framework that aimed at securing the Indo-Pacific region as also the Indian Ocean against any maritime threat and safeguarding the freedom of trade and commerce on the high seas. This strategic move of the Modi rule would help to curb any marine misadventure of China even as India prepared to deal with a possible mischief of China and Pakistan on our borders. These two neighbours of India now have a military alliance- that obviously aimed at putting pressure on us- and in a quid pro quo China is backing Pakistan on the issue of Masood Azhar in lieu of the collaboration of Pakistan in the Belt & Road Initiative of the former.
The domestic front in India is in the meanwhile getting politically charged and communally tense because of the concerted campaign of the opposition to project Modi rule as an intolerant, anti-minority and despotic regime. The narrative of the opposition is that Prime Minister Modi had not delivered on promises and that the government was too much under the thumbs of the RSS. The entire approach of the Congress is to bank on the Muslim minority in a situation where it found the majority community deeply fragmented because of the caste-based mobilisation of the so called regional parties. The classical ‘Mandal – Kamandal’ interplay may come into operation if the Ram Mandir issue takes centre stage pulling those outside of the hard core caste loyalists of parties like SP, BSP and RJD in the Hindi belt towards the BJP.
The internal security situation may get aggravated as the General Election draws close. Developments in Kashmir, appearance of Khalistani trouble makers in Punjab and a spurt in Naxalite violence because of factors both internal and external may strain domestic stability while communal tensions provoked by vested interests could put added burden on the law & order machinery. In the final analysis however, the Indian masses would in a national election vote for a leadership that successfully safeguarded national security and provided a stable government. Corruption is certainly not rampant any more and government servants dealing with the public are responsive and delivering in time. Last but not the least, experience of the fragile United Front governments of the past will not be easily forgotten by the discriminating Indian electorate. The visceral dislike of Narendra Modi amongst the leaders of the opposition is not shared by the people at large.The urban centres are of course more cognisant of the hard work being put in by Prime Minister Modi but it is in the rural North India - where the caste based parties were quite entrenched -that the contest would play out decisively.
(The writer is the former director of Intelligence Bureau)