Tuesday, 24 May, 2022
HomeOpinionWhy foreign policy could be the top election issue in 2019

Why foreign policy could be the top election issue in 2019

Text Size:

Modi has been selling national pride, and his voters buy it. 

It’s bizarre but true. Narendra Modi’s supporters, people who say they will vote for the BJP in 2019, are unable to answer the simple question: what has Modi achieved?

Jobs? Bringing back black money stashed abroad? Demonetisation? GST? Putting loan defaulters in jail? Building Ram Mandir? Ensuring communal harmony? Getting the economy on track? Keeping fuel prices in check? Strengthening the Indian Rupee? Reducing violence against women? Doubling farm incomes? Cleaning up the Ganga? Broadband internet to villages? Making India free of open defecation?

Nope, not a single thing. Until recently, they used to say Modi has eliminated high-level corruption. After the Rafale controversy that claim has, in the language of the BJP’s communication wizards, been ‘neutralised’.


Also read: India’s foreign relations are in tatters and the Modi government has only itself to blame


There is no alternative, the Modi supporter says. But what has Modi achieved? There must be at least one thing to name?

Pushed very hard, the answer comes: Modi has raised India’s stature before the world – desh ka samman badhaya hai.

And that is how foreign policy is all set to be the biggest issue in what seems, so far, to be an issue-less election season.

Foreign policy failures

Has the Modi government actually increased India’s stature before the world? The truth is that there has been no significant change in India’s foreign policy profile. If anything, the Indian foreign policy appears to be weaker and more confused today than it was under Manmohan Singh.

Even before Narendra Modi took oath as the Prime Minister, he made it clear how deeply interested he was in foreign policy. He invited heads of South Asian states to his swearing-in ceremony. Yet, relations with most South Asian neighbours are deteriorating today. One exception is Bangladesh, but the BJP’s rhetoric against Bangladeshi migrants threatens that relationship too.

China’s encirclement of India has only increased despite – or because of – the Modi government’s “muscular” stance towards China. Beijing came down hard on New Delhi with incursions in Doklam and Prime Minister Modi was forced to shrink his 56-inch chest and “reset” ties with Beijing.


Also read: As India heads into election season, tracking the selective silence of Narendra Modi


Prime Minister Modi seemed to put all his eggs in the American basket when his “friend Barack” was around at the White House. Donald Trump is another animal, and the Modi government doesn’t know how to deal with him. Not that anybody knows, but the India-US relationship has slowed down on the treadmill, leaving India neither here nor there.

The Modi government’s policy on Pakistan has see-sawed even more than the previous governments. Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Na has characterised how New Delhi has looked at Islamabad. There is no strategy, and if there is one it has failed to achieve anything.

Hugplomacy wins

Given the completely lacklustre foreign policy report card, why do Modi supporters say he has increased India’s pride before the world?

The answer lies in the Narendra Modi image factory. When Modi meets foreign leaders, he often controls what images are given out to the world. They go out through his Twitter handle, through his personal website and personal app, as well as through official government channels. The photo shoots are planned in advance. Modi likes hanging out outdoors with world leaders – in gardens and monuments, corridors and runways, beaches and tourist resorts. They produce good images. Informal summitry, he calls them.

Party president Amit Shah often says the BJP seeks to make India a superpower – a “Vishwa Guru”, the guru of the world. When he says it, people are perhaps reminded of these Modi images that they constantly get to see on social media.

In these images, Modi’s always looking like he’s the boss, he’s in control of the meeting, he’s showing the path to his counterpart from another country. Modi hugs world leaders like he’s conquering them, and thus India is conquering the world.

Obama greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

He grabs their hands like an acquisition, and Modi is the acquirer. Modi’s hand gestures in these still images invariably suggest the world is seeking directions from India. Modi shows the path, they follow.

Even when he went to China to “reset” ties with Xi in Wuhan, Modi seemed to be telling Xi something about his own country’s tourist resort! Or, at least that’s what this image from NarendraModi.in suggests.

Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping at Wuhan

Real images aren’t that great, so photoshopped ones are produced to feed the WhatsApp beast.

The fake picture of Obama watching Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi has claimed yoga for India with the International Yoga Day. He has gone and spoken in chaste Hindi across most world capitals. In his first four years, Modi spent 165 days on foreign soil – 11 per cent of his time. This should have gone against him. A country that’s asking where are the jobs and why are fuel prices going up should be unhappy about how much time its Prime Minister spends abroad. But the Modi propaganda machine has given it a twist: he goes abroad to increase India’s pride.

On almost every trip, Modi made it a point to address the Indian diaspora. “People still remember Madison Square Garden,” says a Modi-supporting friend in Allahabad. This was a stadium-full of Indians Modi addressed in September 2014.

Modi takes Japan’s Shinzo Abe for aarti on the Ganga in Varanasi, and he sits with Xi Jinping on a jhula in Gujarat. He dashes off to the airport to welcome important world leaders and insisted on calling Barack Obama a friend instead of Mr President. Modi doesn’t like to call leaders of small countries for the Republic Day Parade. This year, he had ASEAN leaders, all 10 of them together!


Also read: Modi not quite sure how he should deal with Donald Trump: Ex-foreign secretary Shyam Saran


This election year he’s been trying hard to convince Donald Trump to come. Just before the general elections, Modi wants to conquer the Trump administration with some choreographed photography but Trump is a tricky one.

He’s so far been unwilling to give Modi good photo shoots, such as the one Modi wanted in Camp David, the US President’s official retreat. You never know that in the unlikely event of Trump visiting India, it could actually backfire on Modi.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

3 COMMENTS

  1. Who started the concept of demonization,off, doubling farmers income, safe drinking water, sanitation, environment friendly atmosphere, digitalization,women empowerment,food diplomacy, science diplomacy, housing for all,ujwella,gas connection to bpl,clean energy,bima fir bpl-social security, quality education,effort for doubling farmers income-its endless startups-responsible only one and only one it’s Modi

  2. Foreign policy is seldom a defining issue in our general election. [ Mrs Gandhi won in early 1971, when the Bangladesh crisis was about to erupt, not after the magnificent victory in December. ] Considering its recent trajectory, that is probably a good thing. Taken as a composite, national security will be difficult to sell as an achievement. An even more difficult product to market will be the economy. If history is a guide, Indians do not hand out second terms at the federal level as a matter of course. Promises made for 2022 will be tested on the touchstone of achievements upto 2019. Achhe CMs ki kami mehsoos hogi.

Comments are closed.

Most Popular

×