Mainstream, VOL LII No 30, July 19, 2014
Accolades Abroad, Darkness at Home
Sunday 20 July 2014, by
In his first major global outing at Fortaleza, Brazil to attend the BRICS Summit, the country’s new PM Narendra Modi has been able to successfully project India’s international image while confidently establishing himself as an important player in the multilateral fora. India was given the presidency of the just set up New Development Bank of the organisation that is to be headquartered in Shanghai. This was the product of close Sino-Russian coordination during the negotiations on the subject following the multi-billion dollar gas deal that Beijing lately concluded with Moscow. More importantly, Chinese President Xi Jinping invited Modi to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in China in November. By this he stole a march over everyone else, and the US leadership in particular, something whose significance would become clearer with the passage of time. And he also went out of his way to urge India to play a more active role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) whose members are, besides China and Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgy-zstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
On his part Modi emphasised the need to resolve the Sino-Indian boundary dispute that has prevented the two countries from attaining the full potential of their cooperative relationship. This was intended to highlight the new government’s priority to settle the border problem instead of keeping it interminably in the backburner. And he underscored that, if successful in resolving the vexed question, the two states could set it as an “example for the entire world on peaceful conflict resolution”.
Among his meetings with other leaders, his first interaction with Russian President Vladimir Putin was most noteworthy. Though a comparatively low-keyed meet, its importance came out in bold relief in the words used by Modi to characterise Indo-Russian relations and Putin as a person: “The Prime Minister conveyed his sincere appreciation and admiration for President Putin’s decisive leadership in deepening and expanding the India-Russian special and privileged partnership.” Not only that. Modi expressed deep appreciation for Russia’s friendship and unstinting bilateral and international support for India’s economic develop-ment and security since India’s independence and promised to take the relationship forward, the focus being on the broadening of strategic partnership including in areas of defence, nuclear energy, space, energy, trade and investment, people-to-people contacts and addressing regional and global challenges. Speaking in Hindi, he said: “Even a child in India, if asked to say who is India’s best friend, will reply it is Russia because Russia has been with India in times of crisis.” The warmth and cordiality that marked the Modi-Putin meeting was qualitatibely different from what had been witnessed in similar bilateral summit talks in recent years.
Modi also invited the Russian President to visit the Kudankulam nuclear power plant during his trip to India in December for the annual belateral India-Russia summit.
In a surprise gesture to Modi, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff received the PM with full military honours at the Presidential Palace in Brasilia before their breakfast meeting. He also had the opportunity to meet with his South American counterparts in Brazil. His meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma turned out to be productive and useful.
While his trip to Brazil for his first multilateral meet was a definite success and he won accolades wherever he went and womsoever he met, at home the picture is vastly different. The Union Government is continually stonewalling discussion in Parliament on the savage Israeli bombing of Gaza which has severely undermined peace in the region with the External Affairs Minister saying it could lead to public attacks on both Israel and Palestine (and the Arab world) with which India enjoys good relations. This was just to camouflage the BJP’s pro-Israeli bias and antipathy for the Arab world. No wonder the President’s speech to both Houses of Parliament was conspicuous by the silence on India’s close ties with the West Asian states; this was not in tune with and militated against India’s time-tested policy of standing by the West Asian countries through thick and thin.
Meanwhile sectarian pronouncements by Right-wing politicians of the Sangh Parivar have queered the pitch once again. Topping the list is VHP leader Ashok Singhal who has warned the Muslims that they can no longer exercise veto in socio-political matters since for the first time a government has been formed at the Centre without their help. There is no Muslim among those elected to the Lok Sabha on the BJP ticket.
Such utterances strike at the very foundation of our secular democracy and weaken our traditional ethos based on the concept of unity in diversity. With Amit Shah assuming the post of the BJP President, things can only worsen further in this regard accentuating, in the process, the insecurity of the Muslim minorities in partucular.
Unless Modi curbs such trends within the country, his foreign policy successes will be of limited value. But if his past record is any pointer, it is too much to expect any firm step from him in this respect.
July 17 S.C.