In some ways, India is beginning to look like the United States. For example, take our elections. On running an election campaign, Mr Barack Obama was a master. Mr Narendra Modi was a quick learner. Never before 2014 did India’s election to the Lok Sabha witness such a masterly combination of organisation, money and technology (that cost, as the BJP officially reported, Rs 487 crore). It resembled a US presidential election.
A US president never ceases to run. He is a perennial campaigner. He has no choice. The US House of Representatives is elected every two years. No sooner is the winner declared on election day in November, than he or she is running for re-election barely two years away. If a US president wishes to keep control of his legislative agenda, he must ensure that his party keeps control of the House of Representatives. So, a US president is continuously on the campaign trail.
India’s elections are held once in five years. For a few decades, elections to the Lok Sabha and to state Legislative Assemblies were held together. That changed in the 1970s.
The norm for election to the Lok Sabha is once in five years (the exceptions were 1977/1980, 1989/1991, and 1996/1998/ 1999). Prime ministers seldom campaigned in state elections and hence were not seen constantly on the campaign trail. That has changed with the arrival of Mr Modi.
IN CAMPAIGN MODE
Since his name was announced in September 2013 as the BJP’s candidate for prime minister, Mr Modi has been on the campaign trail. Credit is due to Mr Modi for being an indefatigable campaigner — whether in an Indian city or Kathmandu or New York or Tokyo or Sydney. Every speech of Mr Modi — whether to scientists or students, bankers or businesspersons — is a campaign speech. He is perpetually wooing his audience to vote for his party at whatever election that is round the corner!
Mr Modi’s foreign travels are no different. They have little to do with foreign policy and have less to show in terms of foreign policy achievements. The target audience (beyond the assembly of persons of Indian origin) is always the domestic constituency.
Prime Minister Modi’s major engagements with foreign leaders in the last eight months have been with the heads of government of Japan, Australia, Russia, China and the United States.
Let us make an objective assessment of the outcomes of those engagements.
THE WISH LIST GROWS
Despite Mr Vajpayee’s and Dr Manmohan Singh’s attempts to instil a strategic dimension, India-US relations have, for the most part, been transactional. Mr Modi’s efforts have not yet produced a transaction equal to the Civil Nuclear Agreement between the two countries. Even that agreement has not resulted in commercial cooperation because of the liability clause which the BJP and others vociferously demanded. There is a yawning gap between the two countries on a number of matters including US aid to Pakistan, balance of power in Asia, climate change, transfer of defence technology, access to David Headley, the IPR ‘priority watch list’, Bilateral Investment Treaty, solar panel imports, and the totalisation agreement.
There have not been major takeaways from the engagements with other countries as well. The Tokyo Declaration after Mr Modi’s visit repeatedly used the word ‘dialogue’. There was no agreement on civil nuclear cooperation or the US-2 amphibian aircraft or the Shinkansen rail.
Mr Abbott came with a clear objective: to sell Australian uranium. And he left with a concrete agreement: on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. The more important Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement is still some distance away.
The joint statement after Mr Putin’s visit — the high-sounding Druzhba-Dosti — was a long wish list, but contained no concrete agreements. There was no agreement on the price of nuclear reactors to be erected at Kudankulam and at a site yet to be identified.
PLAYING CHINESE CHECKERS
The most intriguing joint statement was the one issued after Mr Xi Jinping’s visit in the middle of September 2014. It was a State visit in a literal sense — to the state of Gujarat —with a stopover in Delhi on the way back home. The only agreement was on the announcement of the establishment of two industrial parks, one in Gujarat and the other in Maharashtra (where the election date was October 15). As the two leaders sat on a jhoola, and it was confirmed that nearly 1,000 Chinese troops had intruded 5 kilometres in the Chumur sector, the officials of both sides were hammering out a statement that pledged “to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution” to the India-China boundary question. A date could not be set for a meeting of the Special Representatives.
Engaging foreign leaders and countries requires clarity, strategy and patience. President Obama’s visit may turn out to be a strategic outreach or a well-deserved family outing. We must watch for the outcomes. The dazzle of the Obama engagement may swing a few votes the BJP’s way in the Delhi elections but, sooner than later, the Prime Minister must get off the campaign bandwagon and deliver on his engagements with foreign governments and promises to the people.
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