No other Indian prime minister has travelled abroad as frequently as Narendra Modi has since mid-2014. But an appraisal of the staggering number of overseas trips at the fag end of Modi’s term reveals how little they achieved – to put it mildly.
Bluntly speaking, there isn’t a single foreign policy victory Modi can rightfully claim credit for. He cuts a very sorry figure as a roving ambassador of a country as great as India.
The biggest irony of Modi’s external engagements is that he tried the hardest to snuggle up to the country, which shunned him for 10 long years – America – due to the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat under his watch.
He pulled out all stops to woo Barrack Obama and Donald Trump. He placed huge defense orders to fill US coffers and signed questionable military pacts, which undermine India’s strategic autonomy.
Modi bent over backward dying to be in America’s good books. But Trump turned down his invitation to grace Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2019 as chief guest, obviously breaking Modi’s heart.
Yet Modi has no option but to bear the humiliation with the equanimity he displayed when the United States clamped a decade long visa ban, which was lifted only when he became the PM.
After Modi’s ascent, India’s stocks in the neighborhood has crashed, SAARC is as good as dead, an undeclared India-Pakistan war is on even as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives are forging ties with ChinaS.N.M. Abdi
Obama and Trump
Obama was polite but Trump evidently takes Modi all too lightly. According to American accounts, Modi’s desire to bond with Trump over dinner in Camp David was rebuffed; Trump mimicked Modi’s accent in internal White House discussions – and jokingly offered to set Modi up on a date when he was told that the Indian PM was visiting America without his wife.
The other irony is that Modi went out of his way to cultivate Bangladesh – the very Muslim neighbor he demonized almost as much as Pakistan during the 2014 poll campaign. In protest, Sheikh Hasina boycotted Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. But he took bold steps to woo her so that he could pit Bangladesh against Pakistan.
After Modi’s ascent, India’s stocks in the neighborhood has crashed, SAARC is as good as dead, an undeclared India-Pakistan war is on even as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives are forging ties with China. New Delhi is trying to reset relations with Beijing and Moscow that are strained because of India’s obsessive yet unrequited fondness for America.
A repentant Modi embarked on a rectification drive after Trump bluntly told him to deploy Indian troops in Afghanistan. America’s wish sent shivers up New Delhi’s spine. Realizing how dangerously demanding Trump-led US can be, India is courting anti-US powers like Russia and China which have since 2014 become increasingly close to Pakistan, making New Delhi’s task extremely difficult.
Unfortunately for Modi, Trump has just sounded Imran Khan to help out in Afghanistan – virtually underlining Pakistan’s critical and unparalleled role in Afghanistan. India backs the Afghan government whose writ doesn’t run outside Kabul.
A befuddled New Delhi is now resigned to talking to the Taliban at Russia-sponsored peace talks after calling them Pakistan-backed terrorists for years!
India’s external relations are now in dire straits mainly because of Modi’s over-confidence, inexperience and misplaced sense of his own importance. He has cunningly caged Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to settle old scores and sidelined career diplomats of the Ministry of External Affairs. Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has overrun ministry headquarters.
Securitization of foreign policy
Another scandalous development is the securitization of foreign policy with the National Security Advisor taking decisions instead of the Foreign Secretary. Ajit Doval handles relations with United States, China and Pakistan more than Vijay Gokhale.
Post of FS is redundant, although previous incumbent, Jaishankar Subrahmanyam, was a Modi lackey who sang such paens to the big boss that seasoned diplomats cringed.
Some extra-constitutional forces too have become very influential. Overseas BJP leaders play the lead role during Modi’s visits to countries with a substantive Hindu diaspora putting the diplomatic mission in the shade as in London.
The grip of right-wing think-tanks like Vivekananda International Foundation and India Foundation on foreign policy has also tightened, leaving the traditional foreign policy instruments in tatters due to Modi’s sense of self-importance
S. N. M. Abdi is an Indian writer and columnist. He was Deputy Editor of Outlook and has covered South Asia for foreign dailies, magazines and portals.