Millennium Post

From green horn to giant slayer

Prime Minister Modi’s honeymoon with the public continues even as he completes 100 days in office. There are mixed reports about his performance as the opposition is looking for loopholes while his supporters are jubilant. But if one has to sum up his 100 days in office it could be described as ‘so far so good’ as he has not committed any big blunder. He has kept some promises and some remain.

His supporters point out that after all the mandate is for five years and 100 days are nothing to talk about. While there could be criticisms in other areas, Modi’s foreign policy has gained the highest momentum. He proved those who considered him as a green horn in foreign policy by being pragmatic and innovative.

Modi’s foreign policy initiatives could be traced back to his days as Gujarat chief minister and he has not forgotten those countries, which befriended him when the West shunned him. The two basic things of his foreign policy are to strengthen India’s position in the neighbourhood and more engagement in multilateral diplomacy to focus on India. He also sought to dispel both the ‘big brother image’ in the neighborhood and the belief that India promises but does not deliver.

The first signal came when he stunned everyone by inviting the SAARC heads of state for his swearing-in ceremony. This was the first indication of his  ‘neighbourhood’ first initiative, which was well received in the region and elsewhere. He deputed his Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to Bangladesh and Nepal to take it further. Although not much movement has taken place in the Teesta water sharing and immigration issues with Bangladesh, it certainly was a good beginning. With Sri Lanka he is moving cautiously because of the opposition from Tamil Nadu. In any case, things may firm up before he meets the SAARC leaders later this year in Kathmandu.

The second signal was the message that India can’t be bullied. One guest who stood apart at the swearing-in ceremony was the Pakistan Prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the brief meeting with him resulted in agreeing to resume foreign secretary level talks.  But irritants like the constant firing on the LoC and the Pakistani envoy’s meeting with Hurriyat leaders, ignoring Indian protests, made the Modi government call off the talks in the last minute. Of late, the government and the military officials have been issuing a barrage of threats against Pakistan’s LOC violations. On a trip to Kashmir, Modi’s close aide and the new BJP President Amit Shah stated that India would give Pakistan a ‘befitting reply’ if all cross-border firing did not cease. Now with Sharif himself fighting for his survival, the future seems bleak.

Third is India will stand by all-weather friends. Modi chose Bhutan, for his first foreign trip while it was expected the he might go to Japan. This was to send a signal to the neighbourhood that his priority is for good relations with neighbours and that Bhutan has remained an all-weather friend. Not only Modi but also the previous governments too had good relations with Bhutan.

The fourth is maintaining the age-old relationship with the Hindu kingdom Nepal. His bilateral visit to Nepal, a visit by an Indian Prime Minister after 17 years, was significant although he could not clinch the two issues – extradition treaty and hydropower projects. His speech in the Nepal parliament was important too.

The fifth is that Modi believes in summit-level meetings. He has already held three such meetings with Bhutan, Nepal and Japan.

PM made his first international foray when he visited Brazil for the BRICS summit and rubbed shoulders with the heads of Russia, China, South Africa and Brazil for a get-to-know effort. This month’s UN General Assembly meet will give more bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the General Assembly. He has already met about 20 global leaders in his first 100 days.

The sixth is Modi’s balancing act with the three big powers - China, Japan and United States. He has made three trips to China as Gujarat chief minister and has developed good relations with the new Chinese leadership. Chinese Foreign minister was the first to visit New Delhi after Modi took over. The Chinese President Xi Jinping is to visit India this month.

With Japan too he has developed good relations as the chief minister and he has cemented it further now. Modi is trying to balance the China-Japan dynamics. Japan has promised to invest 35 billion dollars in the next five years and also help with the bullet train technology. Modi came in for criticism on his stand on the Gaza crisis and his method of dealing with Pakistan. India’s veto of the trade facilitation agreement at the WTO after failing to receive assurances that India could expand its food-subsidy programme also was criticised.

September is an important month for Modi’s diplomacy as he is also visiting the UN and dash off to Washington for his first bilateral meeting with the US president Obama. It is crucial in view of the sliding Indo-US relations and has grabbed all attention, especially against the background of the US having declined him a visa following the 2002 Gujarat riots and the recent Devayani Khobragade diplomatic row. IPA

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