With China, Modi Overdid
Athithi Devo Bhava

With China, Modi Overdid Athithi Devo Bhava

PM's diplomatic exchanges have often remained photo ops

By early summer when it was clear that Narendra Modi would be India's next prime minister, there were three principal -and one trivial -questions regarding his foreign policy. The inconsequential query was TV-driven: which country would Modi visit first? But the first significant question stemmed from an assessment of his track record as chief minister when he sought foreign investment and attempted to replicate business success stories abroad.

The ambitious GIFT city project, a short distance away from Ahmedabad, indicated that Modi's foreign policy would be economically driven. The second question that repeatedly arose was regarding ties with the US. To what extent would denial of visa to him cloud Indo-US ties? Finally, the biggest question was regarding his neighbourhood policy, especially regarding Pakistan.

True to his nature of carrying a grudge for snubs received, Modi put Americans almost at the end of his reply list for congratulatory messages. After the message has been sent, Modi now embarks on a visit to the US, probably his most significant one since assuming office. The outcome of the visit would be known once he is back, but if it follows the trend set by the visit of Chinese President Xi Jingping, then Modi would have capped a series of misadventures.

Tibet is Part of China - Narendra Modi Cartoon
Tibet is Part of China - Narendra Modi

Modi surprised the international community by inviting leaders of Saarc countries for his oath taking to counter the perception that he was not a rabid Hindu fundamentalist, but was keen on pursuing peace with Pakistan. People wondered if there had been a change in Modi's heart and he too had begun nurturing the dream of a Nobel Peace Prize like AB Vajpayee. But as events unfolded, the government's Pakistan policy showed lack of consistency and discordance between the PM and his foreign minister.

Despite indications that Japan would be his first destination, Modi visited Bhutan and followed it up with a visit to Nepal two months later. The intention of this was apt -to forge closer ties with countries that feel neglected for New Delhi not giving them due attention. Fortuitously, because of his penchant for issuing advisories, Modi was at his restrained best in Kathmandu and also steered clear of attempting to forge Hindu linkages. Yet, if the intention of these two visits was to bolster the two nations as diplomatic bulwark from within the region to China, where was this confidence during Xi's visit?

Hypothetically, if Pakistan violated the LoC while talks with its leaders were underway in Delhi, chances are high that irrespective of outcome, Modi would have stayed away from a scheduled bilateral meet. The anticipated $100-billion investment from China, which probably led Modi to be softer than what he would have otherwise been, did not materialise and the visit did not yield anything that made the world sit up and take notice.

Like economic reforms, Modi has no big-ticket achievements to show on the foreign policy front. The expected nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan fell through and despite assertions to the contrary, Modi's diplomatic exchanges have often remained photo opportunities.Despite stating the importance of resolving the border issue with China, the lasting image is that he overdid the athithi devo bhava.

In contrast to Modi's scorching pace of diplomatic moves, Manmohan Singh began gingerly in 2004. Singh was often charged of his personal laidback style impacting foreign policy initiatives. Similarly, Modi remains true to his basic characteristic: essentially a man in a hurry.There is no denying that his government is bereft of adequate talent and is hamstrung by a leader whose understanding of the world often re mains caught in a time warp.

With China, Modi Overdid Athithi Devo Bhava
Modi remains true to his basic characteristic - A Man in Hurry

This may appear a serious charge but the world view of the Sangh Parivar is the core of Modi's genetic structure. This has sadly not evolved significantly in the post-Cold War world. During the Vajpayee government, the foreign policy was steered by Brajesh Mishra and he did not have very cordial ties with RSS. In recent years, think tanks like Vivekananda International Foundation and India Policy Foundation attempted to fill the void.But they began taking themselves seriously only from 2012 when realisation dawned that the Sangh Parivar could take a shot at governance.

The reason why the world sat up to welcome Modi with wide arms was because of his huge mandate. He needs to use this with restraint otherwise Modi will be soon dismissed globally as inconsistent and caught in trivialities. Election rhetoric has to be replaced with profundity. Inch to Miles, 3Ts, or HIT formula are good headline points but not lasting on the international area. SMS language and diplomacy do not go together.

Nilanjan MukhopadhyayNilanjan Mukhopadhyay author With China, Modi Overdid Athithi Devo Bhava