This month in an exclusive interview The Diplomatic Society Global Editor Srimal Fernando engages Dr. Sreeram Chaulia, a Professor and Dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University in India and the author of the book Modi Doctrine: The Foreign Policy of India’s Prime Minister. The Eminent foreign affairs expert, Dr Sreeram Chaulia, shared insights from his new book about the foreign policy initiatives and the diaspora diplomacy under the leadership of Indian Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi.
Srimal Fernando (SF): Dr. Sreeram Chaulia tells us about yourself?
Sreeram Chaulia (SC): I am a Professor and Dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University, in Sonipat, India. Trained as a political scientist with a PhD from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, I am an opinion columnist for Indian newspapers - The Economic Times and The Asian Age- on world affairs and a commentator on international current issues on radio and television.
I have authored three singly written books and one edited volume. I’m basically an eclectic foreign affairs buff and operate in both the sub-fields of International Relations (IR)— International Security and International Political Economy— and do not confine myself to the study and scholarship of any single region. Lately, though, I have focused more attention to foreign relations and geopolitics in Asia.
I’ve also worked as a civilian peacekeeper in the war zones of Sri Lanka and the Philippines and have been a guest of the governments of Mexico and Iran for the G-20 and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summits.
SF: How did your background or life influence you to publish Modi Doctrine: The Foreign Policy of India’s Prime Minister?
SC: As an IR scholar who closely follows trends in foreign policies of various major, middle and small powers, it struck me a long time ago that our field does not give enough explanatory power for individual political leaders in explaining paradigmatic shifts in the international behaviour of a state. We social scientists are forever mired in structures and systems and do not give due weight to personalities and their biographical impact.
So, when I began noticing the dramatic transformation in Indian foreign policy from the moment Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in May 2014, I started gathering data and observations to write a book on how one man is changing India’s role in the world in a more proactive and strategic direction. The book flowed with ease in a matter of one-and-half months of intensive writing in early 2016 (I churned out around 80,000 words in a record span of time) because I had made a mental map of what I wanted to say, chapter wise, long before putting finger on keyboard.
SC: This book analyses the wellsprings of Prime Minister Modi’s high-profile and high-octane conduct of foreign relations and explains the impact he has had in world affairs through a unique mix of personal charisma, drive, and strategic astuteness. It critically evaluates the success of his foreign policy towards different countries and regions of the world since assuming India’s highest office in 2014, as well as the mark he has made in advancing India’s interests in specific thematic issue domains of strategy, geopolitics and geo-economics.
The central argument of the book is that Mr. Modi is globalising and revolutionising India’s foreign policy like no other Prime Minister since Jawaharlal Nehru. The narrative shows that Mr. Modi is the right man at the right time to raise India’s international stature to a great power, and that he has grasped this mantle as the centrepiece of a new ‘doctrine’ in foreign policy.
SF: Based on your experience in India, does your book seems to reflect on Indian Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy as guided by the continuous drive to reform and transform India. Is that so?
SC: Yes indeed. For students, teachers and practitioners of diplomacy, my book claims that there is a place for individual personalities in bringing about major shifts in foreign policy and situates Mr. Modi within the concept of “transformative leaders” who execute fundamental change, as opposed to routine “transactional leaders” (Joseph Nye).
Mr. Modi has a sense of history and he passionately believes that India’s time to step up as a global leader is now. He has instituted several governance reforms in domestic policy spheres which are well known. My book fills a gap by showing how he is also positively instituting a governance and attitude shift in India’s foreign policy.
SF: In your book, you explore Prime Minister Modi as a “transformative leader” who has reconstructed India’s foreign policy through “fundamental changes with inspirational content”. Can you elaborate a bit more on this?
SC: The fundamental changes include raising the bar of ambition for India to become a “leading power” in world affairs and a “net provider” of security and prosperity; making bolder geopolitical alignments with key partners like the USA, Israel and Japan; displaying what I call ‘strategic surprise’ and ‘strategic resolve’ in tackling hard security threats; expanding India’s ambit of interest beyond South Asia and the Asia-Pacific through relentless foreign outreach; and harnessing economic diplomacy and diaspora diplomacy to the maximum, unlike all previous Indian Prime Ministers.
Photograph: (left to right) Professor C. Raj Kumar, Mr Shakti Sinha, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) Jitendra Singh Ms Indrani Bagchi Dr. Sreeram Chaulia and Professor Harsh V Pant
SF: May we have your views on the Global Non-Residential Indians (NRI) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO)? In addition, why do you think Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be a unifying force for the NRIs and the PIOs across the world?
SC: Mr. Modi has integrated all categories like NRI and PIO into a single category called Overseas Citizen of India (OCI). They number nearly 30 million, with big concentrations in the Gulf countries, the USA and the UK. Mr. Modi is a rock star among the diaspora. I have explained why he is so unmatched in popularity among overseas Indians in the book. He connects emotionally with them, prioritises resolution of their problems, organises them to form a potent lobby in their country of domicile and makes them feel that India is a transformed place to which they can come back and give back with pride. He is a global Indian and hence is able to galvanise the diaspora as a force multiplier for India’s foreign policy.
SF: I am curious about your thoughts on five Ts: tradition, talent, tourism, trade and technology. How do you evaluate this in your book?
SC: Mr. Modi is a master at coining these Business School-sounding concepts like ‘five Ts’, ‘three Cs’ and ‘three Ds’. He talks like a CEO or captain of ‘Team India’ rather than a traditional politician. The essence of all these coinages is to project the image of an India that has a lot of strengths and capabilities to give to the world. Each of these formulations is meant to instill in the minds of ordinary Indians and foreign audiences the impression of an India that has changed under his leadership and which is a modern nation with a glorious ancient civilisation. He has broken many myths through public diplomacy slogans and they really click in popular imagination. I call him India’s best ever brand manager.
SF: You have mentioned that Prime Minister Modi’s economic diplomacy as business-friendly on a multinational scale. What are the most promising areas the Modi government is trying to fast-track on a multinational scale that you consider worth mentioning?
SC: Mr. Modi is a salesman par excellence of India’s economic dynamism and promise. Wherever he travels and whoever he meets around the world, he emphasises that they can come to India, create value and local jobs while making profits. In my book, I show how he has presented a face of India that was hitherto unimaginable internationally, i.e. a self-confident country that does not fear multinational corporations and investors as neo-imperialists but as partners who can reap rewards in India but also build India’s capacities in manufacturing and services.
Mr. Modi is by no stretch of imagination a ‘neoliberal’ who defers to market forces on all matters. He is closer to a Deng Xiaoping rather than a Ronald Reagan. Under Mr. Modi, the state is there to woo foreign investors and set up the regulatory framework within which they can operate in India. But the state will not block, obstruct and harass foreign businesses as was the case before. That is why Mr. Modi has succeeded in attracting record amounts of inward FDI into India since 2014. The world, be it public or private sectors, trusts him to improve what used to be an impossible country for doing business.
SF: Dr Sreeram Chaulia is there anything you’d like to say that we did not address and which you think is important?
SC: Yes. India is not yet a great power, but is moving in that direction under Mr. Modi’s leadership. My book shows how he is increasing India’s hard and soft power attributes through a well-planned long-term strategy. But I have also said in the book that a single individual like him cannot sustain India’s foreign policy ascent on his own. I believe the people of India, especially the youth, should train themselves as versatile international affairs thinkers and professionals to take forward the momentum that Mr. Modi has generated. That way, his revolutionary foreign policy will be institutionalised and can continue taking India into the league of great powers in the decades to come.