India’s outreach to nations near and far in the Modi-led NDA’s second term has begun. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Maldives Saturday, followed by a trip to Sri Lanka. He aims to take matters forward with other visits too. In terms of foreign relations, these are not excellent times for India. China with its growing economic might is luckier in terms of resources to woo small nations in its neighbourhood. There are limits to what India can offer neighbours both in terms of economic support and military muscle. This reality must be acknowledged vis-a-vis our future engagements as well.

China has big plans for the region and beyond in spreading its influence. Sri Lanka, which had problems with India in relation to the LTTE, distanced itself from New Delhi and edged closer to China in recent decades. Myanmar has always been closer to China, be it under military dictatorship or under the democratic rule that followed. India’s closest ally, Bangladesh, remains as a trusted friend, and this could continue as long as Sheikh Hasina remains at the helm there. Still, China came from behind and is extending economic and infra support to it. Nepal, which was very close to India until the palace coup and exit of King Birendra, is now keen on strengthening its lines with China. Even Afghanistan, another close Indian ally, can now be counted on for association only to a limited extent since China keeps a keen eye on it as well.

Pakistan, as is well-known, is a hard nut to crack and Kashmir is only an excuse for it to target India in multiple ways – with strong Chinese support of course. PM Modi’s visit to the Maldives at the very start of his second innings shows the importance his government attaches to regional ties. There, too, Pakistan is working from behind fundamentalist forces to wean it away from India but the recent elections and other political developments there poured cold water on such Pakistani and Chinese hopes.

Closer association with the US is the acceptable way forward for India and this should help even in building regional ties. The first Modi government could not take matters forward in significant ways though India’s ties with the US and the West showed some improvement. Diplomacy is no easy job. Modi did make an effort and succeeded to an extent. His second term should see better times for India in terms of diplomacy.

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