Best foot forward

PM’s foreign visits, his participation in global summits, burnish the country’s image abroad.

Written by A R Kohli | Updated: February 14, 2018 1:14:16 am
PM Modi has made over 70 visits abroad, clearly underlining India’s growing engagements across the world. (Source: Twitter/@narendramodi)

Recently, I came across an interesting article which quoted a top Chinese foreign policy expert associated with a think-tank affiliated to China’s foreign ministry. The article spoke about the “Modi Doctrine” — how India’s diplomacy has become more vibrant, assertive and has acquired a distinctive character under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Another event that also caught my attention was PM Modi’s recent visit to Davos to attend the important annual World Economic Forum. Even as the world acknowledges India’s emergence as an economic superpower and its growing international stature, what made me particularly proud was the PM choosing to deliver his speech in Hindi. He spoke about India’s rich cultural diversity and linked it to the robust business environment. How often do we see an important Indian personality addressing a global audience in Hindi and that too while linking our rich heritage with our economic strength?

One is surprised to note that it took two decades for an Indian prime minister to realise the salience of attending the WEF, where many believe that important economic agenda takes shape. That’s why the WEF is regularly addressed by the world’s who’s who. Interestingly, a notable change was made for the first time at the WEF when the plenary’s timing was changed to suit Modi’s engagements.

Though I am not a foreign policy expert, as one who has practised management and been involved in governance, all these developments have a specific message — India’s voice today matters on the world stage. This is undoubtedly a matter of pride for us as a nation.

To a discerning eye, events reveal and help assess the personal style of a leader. For instance, on taking over as prime minister in 2014, at the swearing-in ceremony of his cabinet, Modi invited leaders from all of India’s neighbouring countries. This was new, unexpected and set the tone of the out-of-the-box style of how Modi would communicate with the global community and its leaders. Equally important was the message that India sought regional cooperation and good relations with its neighbours.

India delivered a significant message to the world during Modi’s maiden foreign visit as prime minister to Bhutan. It was subtly conveyed that for India its trusted allies matter the most, no matter how big or small they are. Recently, leaders of ASEAN countries gathered in New Delhi to be part of India’s Republic Day celebrations. This was indeed a rare occasion — the leaders of the entire region being present together in Delhi. It also furthered India’s “Look East” and “Act East” policy to boost strategic relations with Southeast Asia and counter-balance China’s influence in the region.

Till date, PM Modi has made over 70 visits abroad, clearly underlining India’s growing engagements across the world. Through these visits, he has made it clear that as India grows and its economy expands, it is equally important to ensure the expansion of its global presence and engagement. This also reveals why the prime minister has chosen to lead from the front at all important global summits and meetings.

Be it the UN General Assembly, BRICS, the Climate Change Conference, the first India-European Union Summit, Nuclear Security Summit, G20 Summit and the East Asia Summit, PM Modi leads the way to opening new avenues and relationships as well as cementing old ones. He also took special interest in renewing age-old bilateral relations, be it his state visit to Japan, or to the US, Russia, South Korea, Germany, France, Sri Lanka, UAE, Iran, Bangladesh, Australia, Vietnam and recently, Israel. All these visits will have a long-lasting impact on expanding and strengthening the Indian economy and its industrialisation, besides reaping other social, diplomatic and strategic benefits.

By what one reads and observes, I am sure that each one of Modi’s foreign visits is meticulously planned and executed in order to reap maximum benefit for the national interest. Many specific outcomes have also been achieved — Japan’s help in building our high-speed rail network, the India-Russia Annual Summit to sign a pact to boost nuclear power generation and more — each confirming that the prime minister literally means business.
This was also on display at the critical Paris Agreement on Climate Change, crucial for the very survival for our planet, when after the US decided to back out, India stood firm and made it an article of faith.

For decades now, India has been demanding its rightful position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Time and again, it has been blocked by other superpowers. Someday, whenever the time comes for nations to cast their crucial vote for carrying out major structural changes in the UN, it will be these visits and sustained efforts of the prime minister to build strong bilateral relationship that will count.

For me, at my age, having seen India through the decades, diplomacy is presenting India’s inherent richness and strengths to the world. Over the past two decades, India’s stature on the global stage has grown considerably. But what India has achieved under PM Modi is significant. India is no longer seen merely as a developing nation. When Modi speaks, world leaders listen — and listen carefully. For our Opposition parties, it is easy to criticise and demean the efforts of the prime minister. But they conveniently forget that India is now seen as a global leader whose opinion matters. While the Opposition has a critical role in democracy, the politics of demeaning diplomatic efforts to a street level will only bring down India’s stature globally and that does not serve the interest of India and her citizens.

The writer is former governor of Mizoram

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