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29 December, 2015

Modi never ceases to marvel

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

There were no hysterical crowds of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) chanting slogans and there was no display of histrionics but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits to three countries in as many days last week were probably the most productive of the many travels he has undertaken since assuming office 19 months ago. In each country he did or said something to marvel at.

When he set out from New Delhi, only two countries were on the published itinerary: Russia, where he was to meet President Vladimir Putin for the customary bilateral summit, and Afghanistan where he was to open a parliament building, which was India’s gift to that country.

Before leaving the Afghan capital Modi tweeted that on the way back home he would stop at Lahore, Pakistan, to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was celebrating his birthday.

Media reports said when he called Sharif to convey birthday greetings, the latter suggested that he stop over at Lahore and he agreed. However, some analysts believe back channel diplomacy played a part in the development. An Indian businessman who had facilitated a meeting between them when they were both in Kathmandu for the SAARC summit was said to be in Lahore too.

Travelling frequently to promote India’s political and economic interests, Modi has earned a reputation as a globetrotter and invited barbs like “NRI prime minister” and “Salesman-in-Chief”. His domestic and foreign travels are usually plotted in great detail and official and non-official agencies are pressed into service to make sure that everything goes on as planned. Extensive media coverage guarantees political dividends.

Ridiculing Modi’s frequent travels, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi recently said uncharitably, “We don’t know where he goes. Maybe he is travelling so much because earlier he was banned and now he has got the freedom to visit foreign countries.”

However, a study by Sanjay Pulipaka of the Indian Council for Research on International Relations shows that Modi is not as great a traveller as friends and foes imagine. In his first year as Prime Minister he visited 18 countries, which was below the average of 20.4 countries visited by heads of governments of major countries.

France’s Francois Hollande visited 27 countries during the year, Japan’s Shinzo Abe 26, Germany’s Angela Merkel and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma 22 each and Britain’s David Cameron and China’s Xi Jinping 19 each.

Modi took with him to Moscow some top industrialists. While he was there India and Russia signed 16 agreements covering vital areas like defence and energy.

One of the agreements provides for joint manufacture of military helicopters. It enlarges the area of military cooperation between the two countries which are already jointly producing ship-based supersonic Brahmos missiles.

Putin indicated they would soon work together on a multi-role jet fighter and transport aircraft too.

India and Russia developed a close relationship during the time of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev. It gradually evolved into a strategic partnership and was later elevated to the level of “special and privileged strategic partnership” in recognition of their multifaceted bilateral engagement.

Talking to the Russian agency Tass ahead of the visit, Modi traced the origin of Indo-Russian relations to the 17th century when Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich sent an emissary to the court of Moghul emperor Shah Jahan and Russian merchant Afanasy Nikitin toured India.

Modi, who is pursuing India’s nuclear energy programme vigorously, may be pleased with the agreement under which Russia will build 12 atomic plants with the involvement of Indian companies. However, there is strong popular resistance to the expansion of nuclear facilities.

Modi’s visit has set the stage for expansion of Indo-Russian relations. Before leaving Moscow, he said, “India and Russia represent two faces of a multipolar world. We want to work with Russia not just for our bilateral interests but also for a peaceful, stable and sustainable world.

The opening of the parliament building in Kabul underscored India’s abiding interest in the future of war-torn Afghanistan.

It is no secret that Indian and Pakistani interests in Afghanistan are at variance. Some analysts have pointed out that by flying directly from Kabul to Nawaz Sherif’s hometown Lahore to personally greet him on his birthday he has helped to remove Pakistani misgivings about India’s Afghan policy.

India-Pakistan relations are once again warming up. There is no indication how the Pakistan army, which reputedly looks over Sherif’s shoulders, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh, which looks over Modi’s, view the two Prime Ministers’ attempt to fast-forward the political process. - Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 29, 2015

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