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'We See Who Is Close To Us': PM On 'Neighbourhood First', 'Act East' Policies

Prime Minister Modi spoke to NDTV in an exclusive interview.

New Delhi:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the basis of India’s foreign policy are his government’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ initiatives. Speaking to NDTV, he said these allow the country to “see who is close to us and, therefore, we have established a place in the world”.

“In this world, there is no task which does not have challenges. The basis of our foreign policy has been ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’. Earlier the basis was about maintaining distances. Now we can see who is close to us… we can see there is competition in the neighbourhood too. Our effort is to move forward with everyone,” the Prime Minister said.

India’s muscular foreign policy has been praised by BJP leaders and the government’s supporters, just as frequently as it has been criticised by the opposition and its critics.

Part of that foreign policy, the ‘Neighbourhood First’ initiative guides the government’s approach towards managing ties with countries in closest proximity – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – and aims at enhanced physical, digital and people-to-people links to augment trade and commerce.

The government’s handling of neighbourhood crises, like the economic collapse in Sri Lanka and the military-diplomatic row in the Maldives, are examples of that policy.

In each case, despite geo-political concerns, the government ensured export of essential commodities, winning praise from the global community in the case of Sri Lanka and a settling of tension with the Maldives following a diplomatic row earlier this year.

In January, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar underlined the importance of the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy but said it did not mean ties with neighbours are transactional.

“Sri Lanka is an example of the neighbourhood policy… the world talked about Sri Lanka but India helped…” Mr Jaishankar told NDTV in an exclusive interview.

He also referred to improved ties in the Gulf, which he called India’s “extended neighbourhood” and said, ties with many nations there had improved over the past 10 years.

Meanwhile, the ‘Act East’ policy details the Modi government’s focus on the eastern and north-eastern regions of the country, which are underdeveloped relative to other parts.

While campaigning in the north-east for the ongoing 2024 Lok Sabha election, Mr Modi frequently attacked the Congress efforts in this space, referring to its ‘loot East’ policy.

The significance of the ‘Act East’ policy has been underlined over the past years of the Modi government, including in May 2022, when Mr Jaishankar said they would have an enormous reinforcing impact for the country beyond the confines of South Asia.

Addressing an event in Assam, he pointed out that land connectivity via Myanmar and sea links through Bangladesh would open up new routes to both Vietnam and the Philippines.

“Once this becomes viable on a commercial scale, it will create an East-West lateral with sweeping consequences for the continent,” the minister explained.

In October 2021 Mr Jaishankar said the success of the Modi government’s “Act East” policy had been reflected in the way the country had been drawn deeper into the Indo-Pacific, strengthening its overall position in the militarily significant region.