India: trends and forecast for 2016
The term of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have provided India's foreign policy with additional sovereignty and agency. Indian politics experience gradual change, therefore this trend became more apparent in 2015. Carrying out a multi-vector policy and maintaining friendly relations with Western countries and BRICS member-states, Modi’s India continued the course of the previous government. Nevertheless, a fundamentally different ideological base suggests that this strategy is to continue.
Unlike the Indian National Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party’s orientation is based on a perspective of the historical identity of India. While most of the previous Indian leaders were secularist Indian nationalists, the current prime minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party have a different political ideology based on traditional Hindu religious identity (Hindutva).
The main ideological foundation of Modi’s Indian foreign policy places an emphasis on protection of traditional values, and opposition to western globalism. While it appears flexible and passive, it is actually stern when need be. India continues strategic cooperation with Russia and China, aimed at the construction of a multipolar world, while attempting to maintain relations with the West.
Competing with China
Another trend in 2015 was the fact that many analysts have said that China and India are currently in a Cold War. This primarily depends on Chinese political and economic interests in a traditional Indian zone of influence; Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, struggle for influence over the Maldives, unsolved territorial conflicts in the north Kashmir, northeastern Arunachal Pradesh state, and increasing Chinese influence over Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Competing with China, India has expressed its readiness to rely on Japanese support, which is certain to return to the world scene as an active player. Several strategic agreements were signed during the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to New Delhi. The agreements included cooperation on military technology, construction of India's first high-speed railway, and nuclear power.
Nevertheless, this year’s results of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China indicate that the rumors on the Cold War between India and China are exaggerated. The visit demonstrated Chinese interest to invest in India. The two countries signed an agreement of $22 billion. Important areas of cooperation include development of renewable energy, iron and steel, and E-commerce.
Strengthening cooperation with Russia
There is no friction in India’s relations with Russia and strengthening economic and trade cooperation is a decisive priority for the political leadership of both nations. India and Russia have a long-standing historical relationship and the rapprochement of the nations will contribute to the reinforcement of Russian and Indian geopolitics. Access to India and the Indian Ocean was vital to the Russians during the 19th and 20th centuries. During this time period, traditionally referred to as “The Great Game”, the Russian and British Empires competed over control and influence over much of Central Asia. The Russian-Indian meridian geopolitical alliance derails the Atlanticist Anaconda strategy on the Eurasian Heartland. As a result, Russia may be able to gain access to the southern part of the Eurasian Rimland and a strategic area of the Indian Ocean.
India, in its turn, is focused on acquiring Russian technology, natural resources, and most importantly energy. During the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in December 2015 to Russia, the country agreed on joint infrastructure projects of $1 billion. India has continued to buy Russian weapons, strengthening Russia’s position as India’s main weapon supplier.
The fundamental basis of defense cooperation with Russia was the transfer of Russian defense technology to India. Discussed were the prospects of joint development of multipurpose fighter and transport aircraft. Furthermore, an agreement for the production of Ka-226 helicopters in India was signed. The cooperation with Russia in this area will provide India with the opportunity to create its own military-industrial complex. Thus increasing India’s independence and encouraging economic growth.
In the context of regional policy in South Asia, India is trying to maintain its dominant position in its traditional area of influence: Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and expand it to Mauritius, the Maldives and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, as well as to strengthen their position in ASEAN on the background of competition with China.
Modi became the first Prime Minister since 1981 who visited the Seychelles. During his visit to the Seychelles and Mauritius in March 2015, he called for the development of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, which includes the countries of Saudi Arabia, East Africa, Malaysia and Indonesia, India, Australia and Iran.
This year, India decided to invest $318 million in Sri Lanka, in addition to $1.6 billion bargained in direct investments. Both countries decided to intensify defense cooperation in the Indian Ocean.
In 2015, India continued trying to increase its influence in Afghanistan, raising direct investment in the country and assisting in a number of infrastructure projects. The most notable was the creation of a parliamentary center in Kabul, in December 2015, which Modi visited himself.
Moreover, Modi has shown a willingness to normalize relations with Pakistan. The leaders of Pakistan and India held a historic meeting within the framework of the SCO and BRICS summits in Russia. At the same time, India has become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in which Russia and China play the main roles. However, this meeting did not lead to significant results.
At the turn of the year, Modi made an unexpected visit to Pakistan, after visiting Moscow and Kabul. The normalization of relations with Pakistan and India's interest in the peaceful process in Afghanistan are connected to important implementation of key energy projects like the oil and gas pipelines through the country from Iran and Russia, to India.
In December 2015, Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary, at the Al Jazeera TV channel said that he hoped to create a Great India. According to him, one of the major geopolitical problems of his party is to create Akhand Bharat, or “undivided India”, which would include India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. According to the ruling party, their aim is to carry out the creation of a strategic space in South Asia. Discussions on South Asian integration can become a new trend in 2016.
Attention to Diaspora
Modi became the first prime minister to place a large emphasis of focus on the Indian diaspora. This focus is influenced by his viewpoint of India as a center of the Hindu world within the Hindutva ideology. Furthermore, popularity of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh structures in Western countries is another contributing factor. This importance of the Indian interests lobbying in the West is underestimated. The present Indian leadership deliberately utilizes the diaspora community to influence political and economic developments in their adopted nations. Moreover, the Indian leadership hopes that the diaspora can become a source of investment in the Indian economy.
Political problems at home
At the same time, Modi has faced a number of issues in domestic politics. The issues are primarily focused on the austerity measures, and the strengthening of Hindu radicalism, which causes other religious groups to react, especially Muslims, and Sikhs.
The main task in economics is the adoption of a uniform tax code for all Indian states, promoted by the opposition in the Indian parliament. Dissatisfaction of trade unions and public servants is caused by the plans of restructuring and improving the efficiency of state-owned enterprises by reducing the share of public participation and the role of private investors.
In 2015, the BJP lost the elections in the capital region of Delhi and Bihar state mostly due to neoliberal trends in its economic policies and the over-exploitation of prime minister Narendra Modi’s image. In both cases, the BJP lost to the regional political forces of the left or center-left wings. In the capital, the victory was achieved by Aam Aadmi Party, and Common Man's Party created in 2011 by India Against Corruption campaign activists. India Against Corruption in its structure, work methods and slogans was similar to the Arab Spring protest movements.
Some forecasts for India in 2016 include: the continuation of 2015 trends in 2016. India will remain multi-vector, while extending the course to build a multipolar world. Indian interest in Western technology and investment. Open conflict with the West is not expected. However, India’s strengthening position, promotion of a multipolar agenda and the increasing importance of Russian-Indian relations will possibly result in intensified efforts by the West for regime change in India.
Intensification of Russian-Indian relations
As Indian-Russian interactions intensify, Russia can help India not only to re-equip the army and navy, but also to create their own effective military-industrial complex. Moreover, only Russia with its energy resources and technologies in the nuclear energy field can help to stop the growing Indian energy-hungry.
By combining the growing industry and huge population of India with Russian technology, science, and resources, as well as with Russian military power, Putin and Modi can make this union an effective opponent of Western influence in the region and in the world.
In addition, we should expect the expansion of Indian and Russian cooperation in security and fighting against Islamic terrorism. ISIS regards India as one of its possible objectives in the coming year. India is a country with one of the largest Muslim communities in the world and can be targeted by terrorists. This threat extends to Russia as well.
Relations with China
Despite geopolitical competition with China, both countries share a common vision of the world’s future, and therefore they will make common strategic decisions affecting the future of the global system in general. Both India and China want to develop mutually beneficial economic cooperation. This trend will continue in 2016. Relations with China will remain stable, but competitive. In order to continue the fight for influence in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bhutan, India will attempt to strengthen its position in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Because of competition with China, India will continue its policy of rapprochement with Japan.
Fight for Indian Ocean
India will continue to attempt to establish itself as a leading maritime power in the Indian Ocean. This is aimed at both collaboration with Russia and Japan in defense technology, as well as the interaction with regional nations.
In 2016, India will face China, as well as Saudi Arabia in an attempt to fortify its influence in the Indian Ocean. The Saudi Arabian influence includes an Islamic factor, as the majority of the population of the Maldives are Sunni Muslims.
Despite competition with China for influence over the Afghan government, both great powers are interested in resolving the inter-Afghan conflict. Therefore, along with China, India will insist on negotiations with moderate Taliban and support the destruction of ISIS units and radical Taliban. In Afghanistan, Indian interests will face US, and Gulf countries interests, which are not interested in peace for various reasons. The normalization of relations in Afghanistan raises the question of the final withdrawal of NATO troops from this key central Asian country and contributes to the implementation of key energy projects, which will tie China with Iran, India with Iran, and India with Russia. The US will try to maintain its influence in Afghanistan, and the Gulf countries, in order to maintain Indian dependence on its oil and gas supplies.
Support for Islamic radicals in Afghanistan by the US and the Gulf states is to increase, so this will have an impact directly on Indian and Pakistani security. In 2016 there is a high probability of new terrorist attacks in Pakistan and the resumption of Islamic terrorist activity in India.
The possibility of serious Indo-Pakistani conflict is unlikely. Both nations continue gradual convergence. A positive factor is the reduction of Pakistan’s dependence on the United States, and a large part of the country’s elite will support multi-polarity, as a result of the United States’ inability to offer positive development to the Islamic world. However, in view of the long-standing religious conflicts, and Chinese-Indian competition, efforts towards the creation of integration associations in South Asia will not happen. Nevertheless, this project will prompt discussions among Indian elites in view of its interests.
Threat of color revolution
In the domestic sphere Modi continues to conduct policy reform and attempts to keep radical Hindus from undermining the internal peace with the largest Muslim community in the world outside of Indonesia.
Modi’s future visits to Western countries and the Middle East will be accompanied by supportive mass demonstrations of the Indian diaspora. At the same time, the West will attempt to mobilize his opponents, both within the nation and the diaspora.
In 2016, it is very likely that the West will experiment with the possibility to organize a color revolution against Modi in India. It will use primarily the Dalits (oppressed) whose low social status together with the great quantity makes them an important resource of mass protests.
The second disruptive force could be Indian Muslims, often fearful of BJP Hindu radical violence. It is possible that terrorist attacks will be organized in order to incite religious strife within the country by terrorist organizations associated with Pakistan. Thus Modi’s opponents kill two birds with one stone: they will try to spoil relations with Pakistan, and cause strife among the religious communities in the country.
The third subversive power will consist of Western influenced networks, including tested during the anti-corruption riots of 2011 and 2012, NGOS and Protestant sects.
Economic problems, corruption, unresolved social problems will be used to organize protests in the capital, the legislature is controlled by pro-Western networks adherents having experience in organizing the protests of the color revolution type.
At the same time, the Western media and the opposition Indian media will increase the demonization of Modi, painting him as a dictator and a leader of Hindu extremists who violate religious freedom and restrain non-Hindus rights.
The West will also use internal Indian contradictions to stimulate separatist tendencies in the Punjab where the Sikhs live, as well as the interior of the main part of the country's northeastern states of Tripura, Assam, West Bengal (Gurkhas), Nagaland.
The strengthening of Hindu radicalism while the BJP authorities rule, has alarmed not only Muslims but also the Sikhs. Although in terms of the Hindutva ideology, Sikhism is an autochthonous Indian tradition, unlike Christians or Muslims, the Sikhs are not regarded as a foreign element. Nevertheless, the radical Hindus see them as strangers. It is likely that external forces will attempt to start a conflict in 2016.
Conflicts at the borders
In north-eastern India, the intensification of conflicts with separatists from Bodo and Nagais are very likely. In view of the political crisis in Nepal, which involves India and China, and the political crisis and the strengthening of the Islamists in Bangladesh, the region in the coming year could be a new focus of conflict. A predominantly Muslim country, one of the poorest in the world, can become a base for various Islamist movements, attacking India. ISIS has already made a series of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh in 2015. It is likely that India will be forced to intervene in the internal political conflicts in Nepal and Bangladesh.