LIMIT-LESS: PM Modi Applauds His First Year in Office
PM in Shanghai: Larger than Life
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has completed his high voltage visit to China, and at the time of writing this is in Mongolia. And as he reminded the Indian community in Shanghai, working in Mongolia while they were resting on the Sunday.
The speech was PM Modi’s celebration of the one year since he and the Bharatiya Janata party won the Lok Sabha elections. It was all about himself, and the change that he had brought to India that was going through a dark period when the elections were held. He reminded the crowd of how they had waited for the election results, how the wait was longer for them because of the time difference, how they had waited for India to wake up, and how happy they were about the change. Tell me is this true or not, the Prime Minister said after every assertion, and is if on cue the crowd shouted yes.
There might be some levels of continuity in the foreign policy path that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might have tweaked and twisted in his ten years in power, there is no doubt that PM Modi is bringing his own style to the table. One, is the larger than life projection of him as he travels the world, having visited 14 countries in the one year. The Madison Garden kind of events, the showmanship, the grand gestures are all part of the propaganda that is carefully released to the media to build the image of a confident, assertive leader whose popularity is unquestionable. At Xi’an, the grandeur of the Terracotta Warriors Museum was seen as a natural to showcase PM Modi as he posed at length for the cameras with a series of photographs with him in a solo performance being released for use by the media that is usually made dependent on government sourced photographs, and hence cannot catch the Prime Minister in an unguarded moment. This has been determined and has now become the norm.
PM Modi , often referring to himself at the Shanghai speech in the third person, dwelled at length about how he as an ordinary chai wala had made it to the top; how those who criticised him were proven wrong; how he worked harder than any ordinary mortal; and how he was pledged to change the face of India. A great deal of what he has been saying for a year now, with little change to the rhetoric but not much noticeable as yet on the ground.
The visit to China is still being assessed and the weeks ahead might give a better idea of what really has been achieved strategically. Chinese government owned media flagged the issue of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir by releasing a map of India on the day of PM Modi’s arrival, keeping both these states out of India. This was not allowed to sour the waters, and the visit was loud in atmospherics. On the crucial issue of boundary both sides agreed on the importance of talks, and the rest now remains to be seen. Twenty four agreements amounting to $22 billion dollars is not as big an achievement as is being made out. In bilateral relations strategic issues count, and there is not sufficient information on this.
PM Modi made the grand gesture at his oath taking ceremony last year when he invited all the heads of Saarc nations. Since then the follow up has been weak at best, with Nepal now simmering with anger over India’s big brotherly attitude most visible in the wake of the earthquake; Bangladesh is uneasy; and relations with Pakistan are positively hostile despite the occasional phone call to commiserate or congratulate as the case might be between the two leaders.
In West Asia, relations with Israel have deepened with the brutal attack on Gaza going virtually unnoticed here. PM Modi in fact signalled his growing relationship with Tel Aviv in New York last year when he met Netanyahu despite the violence, and without bothering to balance it as other leaders have in the past, by meeting the Palestinian leadership as well on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The turbulence in West Asia seems to have been passed by in Indian foreign policy thinking, with no signs that except for the terror factor (and that too just about) the changes within that region and the impact on the world has even been discussed at the highest levels of policy making in India. The Palestinians are now virtually a dead cause, with the Indian foreign office barely remembering the struggle and India’s longstanding commitment to working actively for a just solution and homeland for the hapless people.
The two centre pieces as it were of PM Modi’s visit to France, and the high level visits to and from the United States are lying there with a big question mark. The Prime Minister cut the 126 jet fighters deal awarded to the French company Dassault, to 26 Rafale fighters without an explanation as to how this would pan out. There has been information since to suggest that insofar as the Indian government is concerned this is now the new deal, 36 and not 126. But there have been no answers to the very relevant questions on what basis this decision was taken; what will be the actual costs now including the cost of long term maintenance and spare parts; whether there will be a public private partnership, or a private-private partnership for the manufacture of more aircraft etc etc.
The second centrepiece was the nuclear deal with the US, that the governments described as the nucleus of the bilateral relationship taken forward by the recent high level visits. But again there have been no details as yet to demonstrate how it is done; and how the controversial question of compensation has been resolved. The silence and the reluctance of officials to answer questions on this here seems to suggest that New Delhi has given in on the issue, with compensation shifting from the supplier to the operator, and there to the amount being discussed falling dismally short of even the minimalist compensation that can be acceptable in case of a nuclear disaster.
Instead the issue of democratic rights is becoming thorny, with the US intervening decisively at high levels to remind India about religious tolerance and the recent attack on international non government organisations like Greenpeace and Ford Foundation as a violation of rights and freedoms. This is a developing issue, and will have an impact on economic cooperation if the fissures deepen.
The first year on foreign policy, no doubt the least controversial of Prime Minister Modi’s first year benchmarks, has bared some disturbing trends. The second year of continuing travel no doubt, will start placing more jigsaw puzzles in place.