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Modi’s India: A View from Washington

(This article is adapted from remarks by Teresita Schaffer to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Oslo, September 20, 2014.)

Photo from flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/narendramodiofficial/14811184928/

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington gives us an opportunity to look at the reasons the U.S. considers its relations with India strategic, and to reflect on how India-U.S. ties fit into India’s – and Modi’s – vision of India’s role in the world. The two visions still fit together a bit awkwardly, but this is a critical opportunity to continue the quest for better ways to work together. Read more

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India, Pakistan and the United States

Modi greets Nawaz Sharif, https://www.flickr.com/photos/narendramodiofficial/14301631702/in/photolist-nww5h7-nMMAQW

By inviting the leaders of the other South Asian countries to attend his inauguration, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a message of continuity and change. The continuity lies in India’s strategic commitment to maintaining primacy in the region. Every government of independent India has shared this determination; so did India’s imperial rulers. The change is primarily one of tone, but tone has a way of becoming substance. It adds up to a moment of opportunity for India, which the United States can encourage.

Read the rest of Teresita Schaffer’s essay, released by Brookings Institution as part of a collection on the challenges facing India’s Prime Minister Modi as he heads for the United States.

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Starting Strong: Modi’s First Month

Modi swearing-in, https://www.flickr.com/photos/presidentrajapaksa/14278130922/

June 19, 2014: The first thirty days after Narendra Modi’s swearing-in as Indian prime minister set a breathtaking pace. The new government – and Modi personally –dominated the news and the action agenda. The strong centralization and detailed emphasis on economic revitalization were expected; the burst of high profile foreign policy initiatives was not. A month is a short time for drawing sweeping conclusions, but so far, Modi has been remarkably successful in creating excitement about his initiatives, and an air of inevitability about his determination to follow through. His challenge will be to maintain focus and discipline in his exuberant party, and to deal with soaring expectations.

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India: Huge Election Shakeup

Photo from Al Jazeera English, http://www.flickr.com/photos/aljazeeraenglish/3479447773/sizes/m/in/photolist

May 16, 2014:  The “Modi wave” in the just-completed Indian elections was bigger than almost all the projections. Based on final results in almost all constituencies, Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will have 282 seats, enough to form a single-party government if it chooses. The National Democratic Alliance, the BJP and its pre-election allies, will control 336 seats. This result dwarfs any winning majority in the past thirty years. The U.S. is optimistic about the outlook. Now more than ever, India-U.S. relations need high level attention.

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Delhi Snapshot: Tale of Two Elections

photo from flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/bensutherland/3535769512/sizes/m/in/photolist

February 10, 2014:  Delhi is completely absorbed by two elections – December’s surprise win at the state level by the upstart Aam Aadmi Party, and the national polls due in April. Congress is down; the BJP is up; the Aam Aadmi (“Common Man”) Party is a potential national wild card. Most observers expect a BJP-led coalition headed by Narendra Modi to form the next government, but some forecasts anticipate a coalition of regional parties, probably with Congress support but not participation. What this means for policy is not altogether clear. A Modi government would surely emphasize economic growth and an assertive foreign policy, but the specifics would depend in part on the scale of their victory. A “third force” coalition would in all likelihood be quite inward-looking.

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India: Modi’s International Profile

Photo from Al Jazeera English, http://www.flickr.com/photos/aljazeeraenglish/3479447773/sizes/m/in/photolist

December 9, 2013: In the tremendous buzz that has attended Narendra Modi’s emergence as the BJP’s candidate for prime minister in India’s 2014 elections, foreign policy has been almost entirely absent. Modi’s rare foreign policy statements suggest that his approach will center on economics, India’s cultural heritage, and a tough regional policy. It’s too early to tell what this is likely to mean in practice.

For the United States, a Modi victory would bring pluses and minuses in terms of his policies. But regardless of the outcome of the national election, the U.S. cannot afford to continue restricting its contacts with a politician of Modi’s importance to a relatively low level.

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Afghanistan: The Negotiating Minefield

Photo from flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/34956641@N03/10287359243/in/photolist

October 24, 2013: Secretary of State John Kerry’s surprise visit to Kabul wound up, 24 hours later, with two smiling figures facing the cameras and declaring success. After last June’s abortive talks with the Taliban, U.S. predictions of gloom at the prospect of missing an October 31 deadline, and months of tough talk from Afghan President Karzai, this was an unexpected finale.

But it’s not a finale, at least not yet. This latest twist in the tangled story of U.S.-Afghan relations illustrates at least three of the key explosives buried in the negotiating minefield. The path to success, if there is one, will involve focusing creatively, on the substantive differences, and not being trapped by traditional negotiating processes.

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Five books on South Asia – 2013

Photo from flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jm3/4683685/sizes/m/in/photolist

Teresita Schaffer reviews five books about South Asia:

  • Muslim Zion, by Faisal Devji, traces the ideas behind Pakistan’s national Islamic identity and situates them in the history of political thought.
  • From the Ruins of Empire, by Pankaj Misra, recounts the careers of Asian intellectuals Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, and Rabindranath Tagore.
  • Aspiration and Ambivalence, by Vanda Felbab-Brown, describes the challenge of governance in Afghanistan.
  • Samudra Manthan, by C. Raja Mohan, analyzes the strategic rivalry in the Indian Ocean between India and China.
  • Transforming India, by Sumantra Bose, sketches the role of local and regional identities in India’s conflicts and governance.

Click here to read the review.

This is a preprint of an article submitted for consideration in Survival: Global Politics and Strategy ©The International Institute for Strategic Studies. Available online at: http://www.iiss.org/publications/survival/.

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Manmohan Singh and Obama Play “Small Ball”

Photo from flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/csisponi/4882127963/sizes/m/in/photolist

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s White House visit September 27 was workmanlike and cordial, but the sense of barely meeting low expectations was hard to miss. The two governments put out a long list of accomplishments. They announced a few new items, notably new defense framework statement and a preliminary contract between Westinghouse and the Indian nuclear authorities regarding construction of a nuclear power plant in Gujarat. The discussions were wide-ranging. But those who were looking for a dynamic re-launch of the relationship were destined to be disappointed. In American baseball language, they were playing “small ball” – a game of small moves and modest, hopefully steady, rewards.

Read the full article, published in The Hindu October 7, 2013.

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India’s Sagging Economy – Strategic Consequences

Photo from flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/8458252@N05/3425108634/in/photolist

September 20, 2013: Two decades of rapid economic growth and surging international trade gave India the economic and strategic heft to go with its world-wide vision and voice. The current slump threatens to bring back the lowest economic numbers in twenty years. This sagging performance will burden both India’s domestic politics and its global strategic goals. Manmohan Singh’s visit to Washington will provide some short term relief, but all India’s contenders for political power need to be thinking about how to get India’s economy humming again.

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