Narendra Modi started his first term with a foreign policy extravaganza. He invited the heads of government from SAARC countries for his swearing in ceremony. And he held it on Vijay Chowk instead of the Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Then in another dramatic gesture on Christmas Day of 2015 he literally ‘dropped in’ into Pakistan for a cup of tea with the Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. It was a completely unscheduled visit.

He even invited the camel into the tent when he hosted President Xi Jingping of China in Ahmedabad where the two of them sat on swing — even as Xi, giving advance warning of his lack of manners, sent in 1,500 troops into Indian territory. India didn’t respond with even verbal aggression.

And, of course, Pakistan copying its masters in Beijing, facilitated a terrorist attack on the Pathankot air base in January 2016. India again didn’t retaliate.

In 2018, China and India had military skirmishes, as also in 2020. This was for the first time in 60 years. As a result, relations are very poor now. They aren’t going to improve anytime soon.

In February 2019, Pakistani terrorists attacked an Indian convoy in Kashmir and this time India bombed them back at Balakote. Again relations are at rock bottom.

During the first seven years Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and Afghanistan also spurned India. By 2021 Indian foreign policy was being seen as a complete failure. It was an extraordinary experience for India in its neighbourhood.

Worried, India started responding. Its diplomacy is paying off. Today, all of them are back to having friendly or better relations. Even Maldives, which had turned positively anti-India over the last one year, is now asking India for a large loan!

Thus, a lot of the damage that was done in the first seven or eight years of the Modi government has gradually been repaired. Only China and Pakistan continue as before. They are like that only.

The good news is that both their economies are in deep trouble and their ability to continue with aggressive policies is hugely diminished. The US has declared China as an enemy to be countered strongly and has dropped Pakistan from its foreign policy menu.

India and the US

India, in contrast, is doing splendidly well. The US is looking to improve relations with India as never before.

This is the big story of the last decade. It began in 2001 and has continued steadily. The Modi government’s biggest foreign policy achievement has been the acceleration and deepening of the government to government relations with the US. The non-governmental aspects have always been there.

The government-to-government relations are founded on two major pillars: security and technology. The US needs India to contain China and India needs the US for its technology. And both need each other’s markets. So despite many disagreements, such as over the war in Ukraine, give and take has been going on in real earnest since 2018.

It’s generally expected that relations will only improve further over time as India starts buying more military equipment and other strategic things from the US. The surest sign of this is the enhanced cooperation in intelligence matters. Thus, while Indo-US relations are not quite an alliance they constitute a very strong, durable and significant partnership

Rest of the world

Both to the West and the East, the last decade has seen big changes, some very dramatic. Some of these are continuations, as with East Asia and Russia.

But one is a standout success, namely, with the Islamic countries of West Asia. This is a very important achievement of the Modi government. It’s not given the acknowledgement it deserves. But over the next two decades, despite India’s friendship with Israel, West Asia and India are going to emerge as a formidable bloc in international relations.

The only disappointment is Europe whose domestic politics is leading to confusion in foreign policy. Barring France, which is a key military supplier, relations with the rest of Europe are largely at the formal level.

An important reason for this is the European habit of lecturing the rest of the world on how it should conduct itself. Even the US is not exempt.

Net-net, except with China — and because of it — the Modi government’s foreign policy has been quite successful. So depending how much weight is given to relations with China, on a scale of 1 to 10, Indian foreign policy probably deserves a low of 4 and high of 8.