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Quid Pro Quo: An instrument of strategic realignment in Indian Foreign Policy of the Modi era

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The phrase of Quid pro Quo though used extensively in economic literature as ‘an agreement between two or more parties in which there is a reciprocal exchange of goods or services’, but here it is used to reflect some of the recent principles and policy positions which were taken by the Government of India, which has led to a strategic realignment of the Indian foreign policy in context to global issues.

Whether it is the Russia-Ukraine conflict, buying of discounted Russian oil despite western sanctions, engagement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, or the closer defense relations with countries of the South China Sea, all of them are signs of realignment in New Delhi’s strategic consideration in context to global affairs. This departure from long-standing self-imposed idealism and underrated response to a more pragmatic and proactive response is noteworthy. Many Indian scholars who have welcomed this approach of policymakers publish a lot of literature in this regard. This internal realization of quid pro quo as the basis of a successful foreign policy is the foundation of a New India, a leader of the 21st-century global order.  

Along with this interest and issue-based strategic alignment of India with both west and the eastern powers, the realization of the importance of aggressive strategic communications both within the country and abroad to counter fake news & propaganda by our adversaries is the only way forward to meet the objectives our strategic autonomy in this highly polarized geopolitics. One can surely observe that India learned this hard way, after realizing that its ethnoreligious and regionist faultlines are easily exploitable. Whether it is Jihad in Kashmir or the CAA & Farm protests, each of these issues has highlighted how focused and targeted communication can lead to civil unrest and anarchy.

Both Pakistan and China have used the information domain as a ‘grey zone of warfare’ to augment their strategic objectives in countering a stronger India. In the case of Pakistan, this responsibility is undertaken by an Army-controlled institution, which is Inter-Services Public Relations, i.e, ISPR but in the case of China, this is more compartmentalized. They have different policies and institutions that carry out information warfare in different domains like foreign affairs, media, defense, etc.

Their tried and tested ‘wolf worrier diplomacy’ may be attributed to such aggressive and assertive diplomacy which has emboldened the power of China. But in recent times, this approach has yielded suboptimal and disastrous results on the global stage. The Chinese flagship global and multilateral initiatives like the OBOR are not only facing bottlenecks due to financial misappropriation of the Chinese banks and financial institutions but also a very severe opposition in the aligning and partner countries due to their ambiguous nature.

This core issue of mistrust in Chinese initiatives and deeds has been primarily due to its nefarious intention and not its tarnished image as a gross violator of Human Rights, especially in the case of Uyghur Muslims. Its growing ambitions in Indo-Pacific and sovereign claims on disputed territories like the area along the Line of Actual Control in Laddakh, Senkaku Islands of Japan, or the entire region of south china sea has seen a small but gradual push back from the respective countries where the escalation have been propelled by the Chinese Aggression.

Such unprovoked aggression with bandwagons of propaganda by the wolf worriers in the information space has led to a turnaround in the sentiments and goodwill of China. The countries have gradually realized this debt-trap enslavement of smaller and island nations is part of their strategy popularly dubbed the ‘Chinese Marshall Plan’. This doctrine of buying influence through developmental debts has resulted in critical attributions like ‘Modern-day Economic Imperialism of Communist China’ and whatnot. Many such strongly worded but true slurs have been barraged over china after the fallout of Covid-19 where its meek and conspicuous response lead to a continuum of catastrophe that ravaged the world. 

However, the counter-response of many countries against such a bullish approach may be a smidgen in the art of diplomacy but recently, the US took the lead to call out the bluff of Chinese threats and warmongering, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went ahead with her visit to the Republic of China aka Taiwan. Despite a fierce campaign in media and military drills in Fujian Province (which is very close to Taiwanese Island), the visit happened and China was left red-faced.

A similar pushback was given by Indians too, not like one in Galwan but in Sri Lanka. There was a spat between Indian and Chinese diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka over the docking of the Yuan Wang 5 ship at Hambantota Port. Yuan Wang 5 is one of China’s latest generation space-tracking ships, used to monitor satellite, rocket, and intercontinental ballistic missile launches. India registered its diplomatic protest with Sri Lanka over its docking, but after much back and forth Lankans approved and Qi Zhenhong wrote a piece for Sri Lankan Guardian on the 26th of August titled “From One-China Principle to ‘Yuan Wang 5’: Let’s Join Hands and Resolutely Safeguard Our Sovereignty, Independence and Territorial Integrity”.

Without naming India directly, a lot of attributions were made to which a strong and befitting response was made by the mission’s Twitter handle, one such tweet stated, “Opaqueness and debt-driven agendas are now a major challenge, especially for smaller nations. Recent developments are a caution. Sri Lanka needs support, not unwanted pressure or unnecessary controversies to serve another country’s agenda.”

In Geopolitics war of words between nations is very common but here the important underpinning is the tone and tenner in which the rebuttal is given. This unusual shift from a dolloping response to a more cogitative and aggressive one has now become a new normal in the Modi Era of Indian diplomacy. Since 2014, the proactive approach towards the burgeoning issue of geopolitics has become a hallmark of the realignment in Indian Foreign policy that has made world powers accept India as a major player in almost all issues of global eminence.

This realignment of policies shaped around its practical viability for serving Indian interests, always and everywhere, with no compromise on sovereign and strategic matters, is a testament to India’s growing self-confidence in its own choices and capabilities.

Since Dr. Jaishankar took charge as India’s Foreign Minister, he has invigorated this resolve. His defense of India’s Oil purchases from Russia during the joint press conference of the 2+2 ministerial dialogue in Washington DC is nothing short of setting the tone which resonates with India’s First Doctrine. His honest way of outrightly speaking unvarnished truth about India’s position on various issues has undergirded the trustworthiness of Indian commitments and policies.

The fundamental difference between China’s wolf worrier approach and India’s assertive diplomacy is clarity, ingenuity, honesty, and reliability. It is due to these inherent and characteristic differences, India’s Strategic Realignment with various bilateral and multilateral groupings based on the quid pro quo principle has been successful where its strategic autonomy to charter its course has remained the same.

Though challenges exist especially in the information space which leaves a gateway of ‘grey zone warfare’ but a persistent realization and adequate policy revision may give the desired objectives of a New India.

Writer’s Bio:
Hrithik Singh (also known by the pen name Gaurav Rajmohan Narayan Singh), an acclaimed Debater, a Writer, a Poet and a Blogger. He is the Vice-President of a student led NGO Embryonic Foundation, Lucknow. As a debater, he has taken part and been meritorious in many Formal Summits, Youth Parliaments and Model United Nations, including the prestigious National Youth Parliament, organized by the Government of India. Along with this, he even participated in various events like Yuva-Sammelan of Vivekananda Youth Forum (organized by Ramkrishna Mission, Indore, 2018) and Vishwa Hindi Sammelan (Bhopal, 2015) organized in the field of Social Service and Hindi Literature. He still continues to devote himself to his concept of nation-building and has been frequently writing on the issues of international relations and economics. Currently, he has finished his undergraduate degree in Economics and an Advance Diploma in Functional Hindi and Journalism from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.

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