By Pawan Khera
Between a 10-day visit to Myanmar, Australia and Fiji and a three-day visit to Nepal, our Prime Minister is on a five-day visit to India.
On arriving in India, Narendra Modi went to Jharkhand to do what he is best at doing – election campaigning.
To be fair to him, he addressed a public meeting in Sydney too but, alas, there were no elections in Australia. His event managers are likely upset that there were no votes to be collected after the Madison Square Garden event in September.
Of the six months that Narendra Modi has been in office, he has spent one month abroad (this includes the upcoming three-day trip to Nepal next week). For the first three months of next year, there are already three visits being planned – Sri Lanka in January (coinciding with elections there), UK in January/February and Germany in April.
There is no problem with the Prime Minister traveling abroad to secure the country’s economic and strategic interests in a competitive world. In Japan, the Indian Prime Minister criticized the secular elements of India while gifting the Bhagwad Gita to the Japanese emperor. In Sydney, the Prime Minister of India publicly criticized the pace and unimaginative thinking of the Indian bureaucracy. In New York’s Madison Square Garden, he criticized what he described as the archaic laws of India.
Instead of putting the country’s best foot forward, India’s Prime Minister chooses to criticize his predecessors and political opponents on foreign soil in a constant bid to play to the galleries.
If the Prime Minister’s foreign trips were to go under the lens of a presumptuous Comptroller and Auditor General like Vinod Rai, the presumptive losses of his foreign visits and foreign policy would be startling.
The blunders and missed opportunities in foreign policy decisions started when German Chancellor Angela Markel stood up Modi and his entire entourage in Berlin in July. Apparently the Prime Minister’s Officers hadn’t foreseen the eventuality that Merkel would leave for Brazil to watch her team win the FIFA world cup.
Modi’s lacklustre speech at the BRICS summit left his audience unimpressed. A scheduled meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin did not take place; instead it was replaced by a hurriedly put-together 40-minute chat later. All that we achieved from the BRICS summit was that member states agreed to accept the name suggested by India for the bank created for BRICS nations. We failed to secure the Bank’s headquarters in New Delhi. It went to Shanghai instead.
Modi’s visit to Nepal was no great success either. He failed to sign two-much touted agreements on the development and sale of hydro-generated power – the Power Trade Agreement and the Power Development Agreement. All this despite gifting a billion dollar soft loan to Nepal and offering 2,500 kg of sandalwood and 2,400 kg of ghee to the Pashupatinath temple, which cost the exchequer Rs.40.9 million.
The visit to Japan too failed to meet one of the main objectives – to sign an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation. The massive $90 billion nuclear trade pact that would have allowed Japanese nuclear power companies to build plants in India was stalled once again. Modi’s speech in Japan was touted by hawks as heavily nuanced against China’s territorial ambitions in the East China Sea.
Just two days ago, Tokyo denied discussing the funding of construction of border roads in India by JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) with Narendra Modi during his visit to Tokyo. The Japanese denial comes in response to China’s query based on India’s claims to the contrary. What does this do to our overtures to Japan vis-a-vis China? And why should we get another country to reiterate the territorial claims of China in Arunachal Pradesh? Above all, what does it do to the image of our Prime Minister? Foreign policy is not a fly-by-night operation.
In retrospect, visuals of the Prime Minister beating the traditional Japanese drum symbolize the fact that his visit was long on noise and short on results.
Even the Prime Minister’s own blog on his foreign trips never mentions any specific achievements while declaring ‘the world is looking at India with renewed respect and immense enthusiasm’ and the talks were ‘frank, comprehensive and fruitful’.
A serious analysis of his foreign trips shows that apart from self-promoting PR events and approval-seeking privately-sponsored extravaganzas, nothing substantial comes out which can benefit the country.
Narendra Modi must stop campaigning and start governing. It is time he put India’s interests above self and governance above selfies.
(Pawan Khera is a political analyst with the Congress party.)