Indian PM Modi back on the world stage - GulfToday

Indian PM Modi back on the world stage

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Narendra-Modi-750-

Narendra Modi. File

Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week resumed his global peregrinations, which were interrupted by the COVID pandemic, with a visit to the United States.

He spent three days in Washington, DC, where he met President Joe Biden for the first time and attended the first Quad summit. Later he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Modi is the world’s most widely travelled head of government. Between 2014 and 2019, he made 110 trips to 60 countries, including six to the US, which had earlier denied him a visa on account of the communal riots in Gujarat state while he was the Chief Minister.

The   pandemic forced him to stay at home throughout 2019, limiting foreign contacts to online events.

Last year he went to neighbouring Bangladesh when his Bharatiya Janata Party was making a bid to seize power in West Bengal from the regional Trinamool Congress.  Critics alleged that his publicised visit to a temple there was aimed at influencing voters in the state.

The first US President Modi met was Barack Obama. He found Donald Trump a kindred soul and bonded well with him. The Trump period saw progress on raising the level of Indo-US strategic partnership.

However, he attracted criticism from Democratic Senators, notably Kamala Harris, who is now the Vice-President, on the changes in citizenship norms and Jammu and Kashmir’s status.

On this visit Modi succeeded in establishing a good working relationship with Biden as well as Harris, who has Indian and Jamaican roots. Both the leaders reaffirmed the importance the US attaches to ties with India.

Developments in Afghanistan, where Taliban took control after US troops pulled out, figured in Modi’s talks in the US.

China and Pakistan, neighbours with whom India has had strained relations since long, were quick to welcome the Taliban takeover. India, which had ignored the US advice to join the Doha talks with Taliban, adopted a wait-and- watch policy.

Heads of governments of all countries of the South Asian Association for Co-operation were present when Modi took office as the Prime Minister in 2014. Now India is not on talking terms with two SAARC countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is not a happy situation.

Inability to deal directly with Taliban forced India to approach the US, Russia and Qatar for help to evacuate its nationals stranded in Afghanistan.   

BBC recently quoted a Taliban spokesman as saying it intends to “raise its voice for Muslims” in Kashmir. Modi was able to get the US and the Quad to endorse his position that Afghanistan must not become a breeding ground of terrorism. But India needs to remember that the mightiest power, too, has limitations, as recent events have shown.

The US is not unaware of Pakistan’s role, on which Modi dwelt in his UN speech, without mentioning it by name. US failure to take any harsh action against Pakistan for providing sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, whom it had declared the most wanted terrorist, holds a lesson. The US will not do anything that may upset the power balance in the subcontinent.      

The Quad, in which the US, India, Japan and Australia are partners, was in the making for a few years. The Washington meet was its first at summit level.

The stated objective of the Quad, formed in the wake of Chinese assertiveness, is to boost co-operation in the Asia-Pacific region, which the US renamed as Indo-Pacific. It envisages a free, open Indo-Pacific.

Japan and Australia already had military ties with the US. The only new ally it has found is India. On the eve of the Quad summit, China dubbed it a “clique”. The joint statement issued at the end of the summit did not mention China at all.  

One part of that statement exemplifies diplomatic skullduggery. But it also outlines the good that can flow from co-operation among nations.

It said the Quad leaders recommitted themselves to “a region that is a bedrock of our shared security and prosperity—a free and open Indo-Pacific, which is also inclusive and resilient”. They also pledged to work together to promote the “free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law, undaunted by coercion, and to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond”.

The leaders reaffirmed strong support for ASEAN’s unity and centrality. This can be taken as indicative of the group’s desire to draw ASEAN into its orbit.

In the latter part the joint statement narrated at some length the role the Quad has been playing, along with others, in the fight against the pandemic. It also outlined plans to work together in areas like climate change and technological development.

Curiously, the opposition parties had nothing to say on the Quad.   

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