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Economic diplomacy an option for India's Modi

With Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi's promise of building an investor-friendly environment, one of his likely priorities for foreign policy could be economic diplomacy.

NEW DELHI: Narendra Modi takes office next week as the Prime Minister of India.

Economic growth and job creation were the key to winning an overwhelming mandate from voters.

Foreign policy issues, though, found less prominence in his campaign.

But with Modi's promise of building an investor-friendly environment, one of his likely priorities for foreign policy could be economic diplomacy.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is back in power in India after a decade, propelled to victory on a development plank that formed the bedrock of its election campaign.

With a business-friendly government under Narendra Modi, adopting a development-oriented foreign policy could be the way forward.

"The whole world is one family. The 21st century is Asia's century,” said Modi.

“(Therefore) it is the duty of the each and every country that we must have a pro-active policy for the eastern part of the world because this is the fact of life. So the future is with the countries (which) are in the eastern part of the world. But this doesn't mean that I have to deny the West."

Given Modi's success at turning the western province of Gujarat into a financial powerhouse, he will possibly choose an external affairs minister who can fast-track India's economic diplomacy without compromising the other elements of India's foreign relations.

Up for the task at hand could either be Arun Jaitley, formerly minister of commerce and industry when the BJP was last in power, or Sushma Swaraj, who was the leader of opposition during the Congress party's regime.

Modi's stellar turn as Gujarat's chief minister will also likely see him continue to deliver on his "no red tape; only red carpet" model for both domestic and foreign investors.

However, some critics are questioning his usually unyielding stance on foreign issues.

"Our worry with Mr Modi has been that many of the things that Mr Modi has said about international affairs have not been particularly responsible,” said Shashi Tharoor, a Congress party leader.

“Certainly, he has created unnecessary alarms in Bangladesh about some of his remarks there. There have been adverse comments made in Pakistan about some of his remarks there.

“I think if somebody is aspiring to be the prime minister of a country, they should have a sense of responsibility when they speak about India's position in the world and relations with other countries."

However, experts are quick to allay these concerns.

They think a regime change won't necessarily mean a drastic shift in India's relationship with other countries.

"I think the rhetoric that has happened during the polling has been normal poll rhetoric,” said Nilova Roy Chaudhary, a foreign affairs expert.

“I do not foresee any major changes or any shifts in foreign policy and that's something that's been a national consensus."

Despite all the optimism, the Modi-led government's approach to countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and the United States will be closely watched in the coming months.  

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