The Big Story: Global tightrope

As the four-year mark of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure nears, it has become clear that for all the promise that his government’s approach to foreign policy showed in its first few months, its initiatives have mostly gone awry. Neighbourhood First to engage with the South Asian region lies in tatters, Act East to focus on the extended Asia-Pacific region seems to have been about as ineffective as Look East, the policy initiated in 1991 to strengthen ties with South East Asia. Grand foreign policy gambles like attempting to get permanent membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group have led to nought. The biggest challenges – handling Pakistan and China – are as confused as ever. Modi’s vigorous diplomatic efforts have failed to cohere and circumstances going into the final year are only going to bring more challenges.

US President Donald Trump’s decision this week to pull out of the painstakingly negotiated deal to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons could provoke a rash of activity in West Asia, with Israeli forces already claiming that it has been attacked by Iranian rockets in Syria for the first time ever. Though the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia are rather proud of Trump’s pullout, Europe is watching angrily as its special ally dismantles the hard work of the last decade. Meanwhile, Russia and China see the decision as an opportunity for them to increase their influence in the region.

The difficulty for India lies in its close relationships with all these actors. Modi’s tenure has seen a growing partnership with the US, to the extent that Americans are even more comfortable talking about India as a counterweight to China, and New Delhi has also stepped up its ties with Israel – from which it now buys arms – and Saudi Arabia, which along with Iraq supplanted Iran as one of India’s top sellers of oil.

But India is still heavily dependent on Iranian oil and will need Europe to remain in the deal so that New Delhi can continue to actually pay Tehran without falling afoul of US sanctions that will be back in place in the next few months. Moreover, India is currently attempting some sort of reset in Chinese ties after the standoff in Doklam. It will also be wary of US sanctions against Russia – passed by the US Congress and reluctantly signed by Trump – and how it might affect New Delhi’s dependence on Russian weaponry. In addition to all of this, there is always the consideration of how any of these countries is engaging with Pakistan, and how that complicates India’s dealings.

All of this places India in a difficult place over the next year. As the current Iranian envoy to New Delhi put it, India must “move on a tightrope and keep balance” as it has done in the past. But a tightrope is hard to walk on in an election year, especially when Modi’s woeful economic record might be hit even harder as oil prices spike because of the West Asian crisis.

Coherence in foreign policy might be too much to expect from Modi in his final year. But one can only hope his administration manages to insulate this area of policymaking from the messy politics that comes with an election campaign. Ignoring the foreign situation, or worse, chest-thumping and whipping up nationalistic sentiments as a part of an election campaign could be deeply dangerous for India.


  1. “Though participatory social audits are designed to expose problems and deter corruption, in an exploratory study... we find that social audits are playing a significant role in redressing individual worker grievances, though social audits are not viewed by development practitioners as appropriate grievance redressal platforms or effective deterrents to corruption,” write Suchi Pande and Rakesh R Dubbudu in the Hindu.
  2. In many ways, the upstarts may well be the crutches on which Walmart, other e-commerce platforms and large offline retailers across categories look to acquire customers and build their brand in India. The pace of acquisitions is about to take off,” writes Sandeep Murthy in BloombergQuint.
  3. “Electoral outcomes may not depend on these hard-won specificities of Karnataka. But one thing is clear: Little can be understood of this region – not its histories, nor its modern governmental practices – using the Gangetic-belt template. It will suffice if those engaged in their ‘Discovery of Karnataka’ would have, by May 15, learned the most important lesson from the ‘Chalo Karnataka’ campaign: That there are other ways of being Indian,” writes Janaki Nair in the Indian Express.
  4. Immediately after taking over as Army Chief in 1949, Cariappa, wrote a letter to all officers where he bluntly stated ‘Politics in the Army is a poison. Keep off it.’ PM Modi can do no better than listen to that warning given by the military hero he so proudly invoked in that election rally,” writes Sushant Singh in the Indian Express.
  5. Before the ink could dry on the Indians vs. the Aliens petitions, we stand here with the bulk of our e-commerce owned by foreigners. The battle is now between three giants – Amazon, Walmart, and Alibaba. This is the score so far: USA 2, China 1. And India? Well, India is the stadia where the grand game will be played out – with our consumers cheering from the stands,” writes Haresh Chawla in Founding Fuel.


Don’t miss

Sanjay Nagral writes on how more than 95% of organ transplants in India are currently performed in the private sector where costs range from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 25 lakh.

“In some parts of India such donations are increasingly saving lives. Donated organs are being transported across cities and even states by using “green corridors” that ensure that traffic is stopped to save vital minutes so that the organ is transplanted in time. Organs are being transplanted across gender, caste and religious identities. Given the divisive times we are going through in this country, shouldn’t we be celebrating such acts of solidarity and kinship?

There is however a spoiler in this inspiring tale. Organ transplants in India are prohibitively expensive. There are very few public hospitals performing transplants. More than 95% of organ transplants especially of organs like livers and hearts are currently performed in the private sector where costs range from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 25 lakh. Even relatively less complex kidney transplants cost between Rs eight lakh and Rs 10 lakh. The costs of tests on the deceased donor and transport – which can run into lakhs if they are airlifted – are often transferred to the recipient. Though there are allocation criteria for organs in all states, structural inequity allows organs donated as a public good going to those who can afford them rather than those who need them the most. But, on the other hand, we appeal to all ordinary citizens to be altruistic & donate organs after death.”