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It is time for the government to improve relations with our neighbours to the next level.

The BJP election manifesto mentioned building an investor-friendly climate as a top priority and a full page of its manifesto was devoted to foreign policy. To jump-start the economy, interaction with the outside world is of utmost importance. Though there are disputes, the congratulatory notes and invitations from various countries, throw light on their desire for cordial relations with a prosperous India.


Indo-US relations – leave the past and look forward

The foundation for the strategic partnership of India and US was laid by Prime Minister Vajpayee in 1998. Preventing China from domination and tackling the security threat of Islamic terrorism, strengthened the relationship of the world’s two large democracies. The trend was fortified by Dr. Manomhan Singh signing the US-India Nuclear Deal and the ten-year defence pact. But, in recent years, this concrete relationship has been under threat by trade disputes and the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade. There was also the issue of Modi being denied a US visa in 2005.

Despite these reverses, US President Obama telephoned Narendra Modi, congratulated him for BJP’s historic success and invited him to visit Washington to further strengthen the bilateral ties between the two countries. This shows the desire of US in expanding and deepening the co-operation between the two countries. Modi must leave the past, look forward and work with the US.


Pakistan – testy relationship

India-Pakistan trade and business have been the victim of political rivalry since 1947. Vajpayee sought to ease the tensions through summits and bus diplomacy but failed. Building India-Pakistan relationship will not only benefit in economic terms, but will also help tackle the unresolved Kashmir problem. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was the first to congratulate Modi. He also invited him to visit Pakistan to improve relations between the two countries. Managing the testy relations with Pakistan will be another challenge for the new government. It’s a good beginning to invite Sharif and other SAARC country chiefs to the swearing in ceremony.


Sri Lanka – so close yet so far…

The more than 2500 years old relationship between India and Sri Lanka has been built on the legacy of intellectual, cultural, religious and linguistic interactions. Since March 2000, when the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement came into force, India and Sri Lanka have been enjoying a robust trade and investment relationship. The proximity of the territorial waters of both the countries in Palk Straits and the Gulf of Mannar generates major incidents of straying of fishermen, which is a black dot to the long years of good relations. The new government must try to resolve the issues of fishermen through diplomatic channels.

The decades - long civil war that recently ended has devastated Sri Lanka and left several people homeless. This bitter war has, for long, stranded trade and even peaceful relations with the neighbour. During UPA II, when Sri Lanka hosted the Commonwealth meet, Tamil Nadu had forced Dr. Singh from attending the conference. Such conferences offer opportunity for talks among leaders to come to a consensus on difficult global issues. The new government should foster further trade and assist in their reconstruction efforts. It must first take Tamil Nadu along; the state has been bitterly critical of the Rajapakse government’s denial of justice to Sri Lankan Tamils and charges him of genocide.

China – redefine relationships

India has been at odds with the globe’s second biggest economy, China, since the war in 1962. Despite several disputes, it has been emerging as an important trade partner and has shown interest to invest in India. Modi, as the chief minister of Gujarat, had visited China to attract investments. Thus, as a PM, he would be keen to improve economic relations between China and India and correct the huge trade imbalance. The upcoming BRICS summit in Brazil would be one of his first overseas visits, where he would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, may serve as a forum for redefining relationships.


Other countries

Russia has been a traditional partner of India since the signing of ‘Declaration on the India-Russia Strategic Partnership’ in October 2000. Ties have enhanced cooperation in almost all areas of the bilateral relationship. Japan would be the focus area of the Modi government to propel India economically forward. Japanese investments and technological support had helped CM Modi to transform Gujarat, which would be repeated by PM Modi at the national level.

    The new government must also try to enhance and strengthen the relationship with Latin America and African countries to increase trade and investments.

The author is IFS (Retd.), former Head of Diplomatic Mission, Sao Paulo & Iceland


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