There has been no shortage of buzz about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s activist foreign policy since he took office in May 2014. He has visited a number of countries in India’s immediate neighborhood, expanding India’s “Look East” policy by looking north to Central Asia. He has boosted ties in Europe, traveling to France, Germany and Russia; and the Middle East, hosting Gulf leaders in New Delhi; in addition to visits for bilateral meetings and multilateral summits from Australia and Japan to Brazil and the United States. All in all, he has brought renewed vigor to India’s foreign policy concerns and pursuits.
Elections in India, however, do not turn on foreign policy issues. Indeed questions of foreign policy are mostly the preserve of the Indian elite. With the exception of particularly fraught circumstances, such as a major bilateral crisis with Pakistan or China, the vast majority of the country’s population pays little or no heed to foreign policy issues. For all of Modi’s activity abroad, what has he accomplished at home so far?
Informed and dispassionate observers in New Delhi suggest a mixed assessment. He has, without a doubt, tackled a number of important questions of public policy, but he has also failed to address others—most of all when it comes to parts of the economy and the reform of India’s byzantine government bureaucracy. That isn’t entirely his fault, given the scale of both challenges and the fact that Modi inherited an unfortunate economic legacy from former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s previous government. In Singh’s second term in office, the ruling coalition of center-left parties known as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Congress Party, became mired in a series of high-profile scandals, engaged in widespread fiscal mismanagement and was caught in the grip of fiscal policy paralysis.