Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his greetings to BIMSTEC nations — an acronym for the mouthful that is the “Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation – on the 20th anniversary of its founding on June 6, following it up by another tweet which said, “BIMSTEC is a natural platform for regional cooperation.”
There’s a message there for anyone who cares to look beyond 140 characters. With BIMSTEC centred around the Bay of Bengal, which links South Asia to South-East Asia – which is why leaders of Bangladesh and Thailand and Sri Lanka and others marginalised it – the truth is that Modi wants to marginalise Pakistan.
The prime minister believes that BIMSTEC, instead of SAARC, the South Asia grouping which has been around for 31 years, is India’s natural habitat. Pakistan is too heavy a ball and a chain intent on dragging India down. The only way to allow India to bloom is by getting out of the region and allying itself with the South-East Asian Tigers.
But this gives rise to the big question : Why did External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj yesterday (June 5) emphatically rule out a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Astana, Kazakhstan, on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on June 8-9?
It is clear that Modi doesn’t like to be boxed into a position, one way or another. On the face of it, the PM has insisted that terror and talks cannot go together – as Sushma Swaraj pointed out again and again – but on the other hand, the trip by businessman Sajjan Jindal, along with two other NRIs, Suket Singhal and Virander Babar Singh, to meet Nawaz Sharif in the Pakistani hill town of Murree in April, indicates that the PM is trying to probe whether a back-channel with Pakistan is possible at all.
The fact is, Modi and Nawaz Sharif will be face to face at Astana, on the high table, along with other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. There is no way that an Indian prime minister can bring a regional fight to an international conference. Modi will have to deal with this new responsibility in his own inimitable way.
Over the last three years, the PM has tried to expand his world view, both literally and figuratively – as exemplified by two engagements on the same day as Sushma Swaraj spoke — with the Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth (SPIC-MACAY) and the GSLV space launch.
At a video-conference felicitating SPIC-MACAY’s 40th anniversary yesterday, a veritable journey over the last four decades expanding the appreciation of Indian music and the arts in every nook and cranny of the country, Modi spoke with feeling.
Music is not only about ‘shasan,’ rules, but also about ‘anushasan,’ about discipline, Modi said. For the world, music is an art, but for Indians, it is linked to the “guru-shishya parampara,” the inculcation of an art until it fills the fibre of your being.
Whether folk, classical or film, Modi went on to add, music has bound the country into one ‘swar’, one note, and persuaded us to live together…But we cannot be forgetful or reckless about our heritage. We have to be alert every second to prevent someone else from destroying it, he added.
But the PM couldn’t resist introducing his politics into an otherwise other-worldly subject. On October 31, which is the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhai Patel, he said, we will launch the programme of “Ek Bharat/Shreshtha Bharat’.
There was not one word about the fact that October 31 is also the death anniversary of one of India’s greatest leaders, Indira Gandhi. In Modi’s scheme of things, there is clearly not much space for her.
As for his congratulations to ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organisation, for underlining India’s very special position in the unique club of space powers by launching the GSLV- Mark III, the PM tweeted, “the nation is proud !”
Hereby hangs a tale, as old as 1993, when then US president Bill Clinton pressed then Russian president Boris Yeltsin to cancel Russian space agency, Glavkosmos’ cooperation with ISRO, on the transfer of technology and cryogenic engines.
Under pressure from the US, the Russians invoked the “force majeure” clause and cancelled the contract with ISRO. But behind the purdah and out of sight of their own leadership, Russian scientists worked hard to give ISRO the requisite space technology, in total secret.
Trunk fulls of documents were taken in diplomatic bags from Moscow to Delhi in the dead of night…That’s a story that has hardly ever been written about, even 24 years later.
As the GSLV, powered by a cryogenic engine, breaks new frontiers in space, a small salute to those ISRO and Glavkosmos scientists is in order. With his tweet, the PM led from the front.