Bihar elections debacle will test PM Modi’s foreign policy 

PM Modi at one of the 30 election rallies he addressed in Bihar
PM Modi at one of the 30 election rallies he addressed in Bihar

The debate within the country on the wider implications of the election results on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal image and his ability to pursue his political and economic agenda has also been of interest to our major external partners seeking economic opportunities in a rising India and working with us on regional and global challenges.

Just as the Bihar elections have been followed with interest in India-related foreign circles, Modi’s ascension to power too had received attention abroad.

The apprehensions raised domestically about a Modi victory by all those opposed to him and the BJP, often viscerally, affected views outside, especially as those attacking him belonged to sections of our society in contact with foreign diplomats, interest groups, academicians, journalists and so on.

Modi’s impressive electoral victory and state interests of foreign countries, however, made them engage the new Indian leader without reservations, even as domestic opponents continued to politically assault him.

For them, after years of weak coalition governments, the country had now a single-party majority government in Delhi, which raised hopes of a decisive leadership and revival of the stalled economic reforms agenda.

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Modi’s dynamism on the foreign policy front reinforced his image externally as an energetic, self-confident, ambitious, reform-minded leader with innovative ideas for India’s development, even as domestic critics carped at his frequent foreign travels and the personal publicity they garnered for him.

The rapturous welcome he received from the Indian diaspora during his visits abroad attested to Modi’s personal popularity and that of his ideas, which raised his profile as a leader even more, causing still more anguish to his opponents at home. The electoral battering of the BJP in the Delhi state elections did not have much external impact, barring raising some speculation about whether the BJP could be worsted in the election in Bihar and the implications of that in terms of governance at the Centre and the implementation of the government’s promise to ease of doing business in India and introduce other policy and procedural reforms. For our external partners, India’s economic opening is of critical interest, not the electoral ups and downs in state level elections that do not threaten the survival of the Union government.

For them, the question, therefore, was whether a setback to the BJP in Bihar might mean a derailment of the government’s economic agenda, a slowing down of reforms, more populist policies, a loss of political will, more focus on domestic political management and diminished external ambitions.

They are aware that the government does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha and, therefore, cannot pass the legislation it wants, as in the case of the Land Acquisition Bill and the GST.

In that context, the outcome of the Bihar elections in view of their impact on the prospects of the BJP obtaining in due course a majority in the Upper House, would have been of interest to foreign governments and investors.

The electoral bludgeoning of the BJP in Bihar will no doubt be a subject of analysis by foreign diplomats in Delhi for the benefit of their respective foreign offices, not to mention the foreign media, especially in our neighborhood.

Those neighboring countries apprehensive of a strong Indian government at the Centre, especially a BJP government, would welcome the BJP’s defeat in Bihar as this might, in their view, turn the government’s attention inwards, cause some loss of confidence and give these countries greater room to challenge India’s interests. For others, it would not be very material in terms of bilateral ties.

Barack Obama lost majority in both houses of the US Congress and in many ways his domestic agenda ran aground because of lobbies and legislative opposition, but that has not affected the momentum of India-US bilateral ties.

François Hollande of France has seen his domestic popularity fall precipitously without affecting our bilateral relations in any domain.

Nawaz Sharif has been considerably weakened domestically without any material impact of that on the substance of US policy towards Pakistan.

Whether David Cameron was prime minister in a coalition government earlier and now rules on his own has not changed India- UK equations.

Many such examples can be given.

Relations: All this implies that whatever course correction Modi and the BJP may undertake domestically because of Bihar, our external relations are on a different track. The economic expectations of our foreign partners can be met substantially by the government through policy measures and administrative action.

Clean India, Clean Ganga, Digital India, Skills India, Start-Up India, Make in India, Smart Cities — the various Modi campaigns can be progressed irrespective of the shrillness of the Opposition.

Perhaps faster progress in implementing the developmental agenda would be more productive politically for later state-level elections.

The BJP’s poor performance in Bihar, one hopes, will not make elements of our society even more reckless in opposing Modi.

Their hyped-up campaign against rising intolerance and suppression of dissent, the return of awards by literary figures, historians, scientists, etc, the vastly disproportionate reaction to a couple of reprehensible criminal incidents of a local nature, seems to be a concerted effort to denigrate him by distorting reality and, in the process, undermining national interest by giving foreign lobbies a specific agenda, a handle to beat India with.


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