Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Europe last week to galvanise India’s ties with key European powers as well as to keep the momentum of his past visit to Europe going. In what has now become his signature style, he touched upon key aspects of Indian foreign policy interests pertaining to each of the four nations — Germany, Russia, Spain and France. Despite Europe’s inward-looking foreign policy orientation at the moment, several aspects of Mr. Modi’s visit stand out which will help India over the long term.
Trade, ties and terrorism
The focus of the visit was clearly on boosting trade and economic ties with Europe. Mr. Modi’s unabashed selling of India as an investment destination is the most striking aspect of his outreach to the West. One of the most important roles that leaders of major economies are expected to play in today’s day and age is that of a salesman. And Mr. Modi is a salesman par excellence. Pledging a stable and transparent tax regime, he has been busy wooing global investors, arguing that development is “not a mere political agenda” but an “article of faith” for his government. In Germany, he addressed the Indo-German Business Forum while in Spain, he exhorted CEOs of leading Spanish companies to participate in initiatives like ‘Make in India’. To the Russian defence industry he sold the government’s new policy of allowing Indian companies to manufacture defence equipment with foreign players.
The other issue which took centre stage during Mr. Modi’s tour was terrorism. Europe has been hit by a spate of terror attacks over the last two years, and the attacks in Britain have further underscored the enormity of the challenge facing the continent. In Russia, he urged the global community to block funding, weapons and communication modes of terrorists and to rise above the ‘good terrorism/bad terrorism’ binary.
Against the backdrop of growing concerns in India about Moscow’s growing gravitation towards Pakistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted that India is facing a serious problem due to the threat of terrorism and that the situation is not an “imaginary thing”. Terrorism was also a common theme in Mr. Modi’s discussions with the German, Spanish and French leaderships. Unlike in the past when Europe used to look at India’s terror problem primarily through the lens of Kashmir, there is now a greater understanding of the changing nature of the terror threat and how certain states abet the process of radicalisation. This has provided Mr. Modi with an opportunity to develop greater synergies with Europe in tackling this problem.
This is also a time when Europe is concerned about its own future under the onslaught of Britain’s impending exit from the European Union and America’s flirtation with retrenchment under President Donald Trump. German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave vent to these concerns when she suggested that “the times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over”.
Partners for the future
European powers now want to hunker down and are looking for new partners. China is well-positioned to take advantage of this shift, given its economic heft. But European liberal values sit uneasily with Chinese authoritarian capitalism. India as a democratic rising power needs to position itself accordingly, and Mr. Modi was doing just that in Europe: presenting a subtle counter-narrative to China’s rise.
Towards this end, India under Mr. Modi wants to present itself as a defender of the global order: an order that has benefited India but is now under threat from Mr. Trump’s isolationist tendencies and China’s growing assertiveness. Describing the Paris agreement as “a collective asset of the world”, Mr. Modi assured the world during a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, “The protection of the environment and the mother planet is an article of faith.” He wants to project India as a responsible global power interested in preserving the extant order.
Mr. Modi’s outreach, sustained over the last three years, has injected much-needed pragmatism in a relationship which was adrift for quite some time. Now the proverbial ball is in Europe’s court.
Harsh V. Pant is distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, and professor at King’s College London