Alternative Scenarios - Positive Scenario for Modi’s India “Acts East”
The domestic record of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is mixed. According to Pew, 87 percent of Indians have a favorable opinion of their prime minister, a level of support any elected leader would celebrate. After economic growth bottomed out at 4.5 percent under the previous government, India now boasts the world’s fastest-growing major economy, expanding at an annual rate of around 7.5 percent. Yet Modi’s government has moved only slowly on the economic reforms urgently required to transform India’s development path. Communal tensions have grown as Hindu nationalists within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have questioned the equal rights of India’s Muslims. Modi’s party was decisively defeated in recent elections in Bihar—a north Indian state with a population equal to that of the Philippines—, denying the BJP and its allies a majority in the upper house of parliament.
Despite this uneven record at home, Modi’s government has shone in foreign policy—including in East Asia, where India is determined to assert its expanding interests. As Modi declared at his first ASEAN-India summit in November 2014, “A new era of economic development, industrialization and trade has begun in India. Externally, India’s ‘Look East Policy’ has become ‘Act East Policy.’” He repeated this formulation at his first East Asia Summit the following week, updating the “Look East” formulation originally articulated by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1991 by promising a new degree of Indian engagement to the east of the subcontinent.1
Modi’s campaign to make India a first-tier Asian power not only involves deepening relations with East and Southeast Asia; it includes cementing closer ties with the United States. Although he was once subject to a US visa ban on account of communal violence that occurred on his watch as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi’s foreign policy has emphasized deepening India’s economic and military partnership with the United States, after a period of drift in bilateral ties under the previous, Congress-led administration. Modi and his close advisors understand that cooperation with the world’s sole superpower can catalyze India’s quest to modernize both its armed forces and its economy—and that no external power can do more to advance its internal transformation than the United States, given explicit (and bipartisan) US support for India’s rise.