Prime Minister Modi’s diplomacy invites comparison with some of the past greats of the profession. Of all the issues articulated by the BJP election campaign of 2014, diplomacy was not prominent enough to demand attention. Yet, the Prime Minister has delighted and awed domestic adversaries and supporters, as well as sceptical international observers, with his extraordinary diplomatic panache. Nothing that has happened may be truly novel or unprecedented, but the Prime Minister can surely claim credit for the speed with which many unfinished goals have been brought to a conclusion and agendas consolidated. It would not be unduly patronising to suggest that he has proved the importance of instinct and native talent, surmounting the conviction that extensive professional experience and institutional training are obligatory qualifications.
Relations with the US were indeed progressing steadily, not least with the Indo-US Nuclear Accord, a coup of unparalleled historic significance that could not have occurred without the active encouragement of an otherwise faltering UPA. Indian diplomacy negotiating the accord had in its armoury some serious talent that providence brought together to deliver the important deal, among them the current FS Jaishankar, former Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen, former FS Shyam Saran and former Ambassador Raakesh Sood. Yet some of the political and diplomatic promise of the unprecedented goodwill of George Bush Jr. towards Indian aspirations failed to find further identifiable traction. Prime Minister Modi has wasted no time in reaching out with style and a substantive agenda to create myriad Indo-US economic and technology relationships and India’s designation as Major Defense Partner.
Four pacts between India and US include the unprecedented Logistics Exchange Memorandum Agreement that offers bilateral access to supplies and repairs for each other’s military. And it has occurred with little domestic dissent. The invitation to the leaders of the region for his inauguration was a masterstroke, compelling recognition of India’s centrality within it and placing inveterate adversaries in delightful quandary. The relationship with Bangladesh, which had been faltering despite ardent efforts earlier, was implemented purposefully. By contrast, relations with the Nepal caught the Indian diplomatic establishment unawares and thoughtful effort will be needed to overcome setback to the huge goodwill Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Nepal had earned and then lost. However, India’s delicate position in an international situation characterised by flux has not undermined India’s vital relationship with Russia though where it will eventually lead remains to be seen. The joint development of an advanced new generation Indo-Russian fighter aircraft is the most recent agreement.
The other significant achievement has been widening cooperation with Gulf countries and the careful balancing of relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Important agreements have been signed on security and terrorism that have forced countries of the region to abandon some long held reflexive convictions on friendships based on shared faith alone. This Modi diplomatic initiative is of great importance to Indian security and an achievement of a high order that may bring further gains in the future. Prime Minister Modi has also sought to broaden ties with Southeast Asia and Australasia and other fronts have been opened in Africa and Latin America. They are in keeping with the transition of the Indian economy to ever greater international openness. As the fastest growing economy in the world today, the possibilities of enhancing India’s footprint are being seized with alacrity, with typical Modi inclination for the concrete.
One novel innovation of Prime Minister Modi that may be surmised is the apparent reliance on unofficial personal envoys to initiate dramatic changes in vexatious situations. In the UK, an unfolding drama leads one to believe he has unleashed a highly ambitious lawyer-entrepreneur to transform the perceptions of a deeply hostile British Pakistani community towards India. The former BJP Director of Communications, for the 2014 Indian general elections, who evidently has claim to much of the credit for Modi’s historic victory, with Amit Shah indebted to him for counsel, is now active as the Prime Minister’s sole UK spokesperson. Despite his association with Prime Minister Modi, whom British Muslims denounce as a butcher and his role as founder of the National Hindu Students Forum, Modi’s man is making unprecedented waves among British Muslims. Many observers have come to regard him as an Indian Union Cabinet Minister abroad, without portfolio, with a global brief that supersedes normal official channels. Will the era of unparalleled British Hindu-Muslim mutual regard he has apparently ushered in effortlessly now resolve the historic Indo-Pak divide too, although all past efforts by the most skilled negotiators failed to advance it an inch?
Modi’s ubiquitous UK envoy seems headed for the British House of Lords, though sympathy for Indian interests has never been manifest in it. He is also likely to become minister in a future Labour government though it was condemned as anti-Hindu and deserted by the constituency at the last general elections. Yet, Modi envoy’s campaign for the Pakistani, Sadiq Khan, in the mayoral election was so successful the staunchly pro-Hindu Rothschild contender, is considered to have lost much of the Hindu vote to him. However, the ‘devout’ Muslim Sadiq Khan could face accusations of ignoring unambiguous Koranic injunctions as a result of his regular visits to idolatrous Hindu places of worship. Could it now be inferred he does not regard Modi as the butcher of Gujarat as most of his misguided fellow British Muslims and their terrorist Pakistani kin still do? Some might even conclude mayor Sadiq Khan does not subscribe to the mandated British Labour Party policy supporting a plebiscite in J&K, contradicting a central article of faith of his truculent ancestral country. And, surely, Sadiq Khan must unequivocally condemn Jihadi Pakistani organisations that tried to decapitate leaders of the political dispensation of Modi’s envoy in 2001, subsequently inflicting murder and mayhem in Mumbai on 26/11. The extraordinary activity of Prime Minister Modi’s personal envoy is the final footnote to a story of remarkable diplomatic forays.
Dr. Gautam Sen taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science for over two decades.