Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enthusiasm is only to capture power; the same, however, cannot be said of foreign policy administration, especially in dealing with our immediate neighbors, and China. The best examples of his policy paralysis are the way in which demonetization and GSTs are implemented, or his sudden visit to Pakistan in December 2015. He is always in election mode. During the first two years, he was in the humor of a general election victory. Thereafter, he has spent much of his energy in establishing himself as the sole savior of the BJP in state elections, and this year he will turn his attention to the 2019 general elections.
Two years ago, without doing any homework or planning, Modi travelled to Pakistan from Afghanistan to greet his counterpart, the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to wish him well on his birthday. He hugged Sharif and spent only two hours with him to try to sort out the 70 year outstanding divergence between India and Pakistan.
Modi strategically hugs fellow world leaders. He has no strategic perception. He believes only in the power of his personal charisma in dealing with foreign policy matters. This strategy has failed considerably with China and with our other immediate neighbors, but he neither intends to accept these mistakes, nor is he interested in learning from them. More importantly, an alternative diplomatic strategy is necessary to maintain our international position; through prudent policy articulations. Let us examine the impact of his hug diplomacy.
During the 2013/14 general elections campaign he attacked the Congress-led UPA government on multiple fronts, including towards former Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh’s policy on Pakistan. He proposed that the BJP government would have more guts to better deal with Pakistan. Under his administration, we lost numerous soldiers in fighting with Pakistan terrorists, experienced a 100-day shutdown in Kashmir, blindly allowed a Pakistan team to inspect our Pathankot Air Force Station, and generally continued down a visionless path in foreign policy. These indicate that Modi’s defensive and offensive strokes against Pakistan have failed completely, including the most politicized ‘surgical strike’ that did not contain the terrorists from Pakistan. Today, the Modi government is searching for policy directions in handling Pakistan, but sat in a corner like a lame duck.
In the beginning, when he took office, Modi perhaps believed that ‘everything is possible’ in international affairs simply by virtue of occupying the prime minister seat. Further, he thought that all his visits abroad would bring a breakthrough. His hugs with counterparts, various costume changes, and the serving of tea, indicate that our prime minister is using soft power approaches. These approaches were used by our first Prime Minister Nehru whilst India did not have a strong military or economy. However, India is not today what it was in the 1950/60s. Presently, hugging and changing costumes will not necessarily keep India influential in international relations, especially at a time when the world is undergoing multi-polar disorder. However, he is in continuous denial that his paths are wrong, especially in dealing with our neighbors.
What is the BJP led-NDA government policy on Pakistan? Does this government have any policy for Pakistan? Since 2014,Modi has not permitted the Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, to contribute to any foreign policy articulations. As long as Sushma fulfills the duty of Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs she will receive praise from the prime minister’s office.
During 2015 he met Sharif at his residence in Islamabad to give him a hug. This happened exactly two years ago. Further, this is a very serious question that the Media and Modi-supporting TV channels forgot to raise. Instead, without hesitation, they praised him for touching the sky, and described the moment as a diplomatic initiative for a breakthrough with our neighbor Pakistan. The Media will realize this mistake when their traditional viewers switch over to other channels to get centrist news.
What are the outcomes of Modi hugging Sharif at his residence? The results are terrible. India’s relation with Pakistan touches the lowest ever level in a history of 70 years. The Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed was released from house arrest and has started a political party to contest the general elections in Pakistan next year. This government does not have the guts to put pressure on Pakistan to provide the evidence – as requested by the Pakistan’s Court – essential to keeping the trial alive against Saeed. Modi has often preached that his government succeeded in isolating Pakistan in the international domain. The reality would be as much India diplomatically isolating Pakistan from the international community as the vacuum has been comfortably filled by China without any difficulty. These are the achievements that Modi’s hugs have brought to India.
The stability of Afghanistan is in India’s long-term strategic interest. India’s ‘aid diplomacy’ to Afghanistan in various fields has been increasing day after day, including infrastructure development and the training of Afghan security forces. Yet, India’s influence in Afghanistan is in disarray. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said, “India should have its own policy on Afghanistan”. However, Modi’s policy makers in New Delhi are expecting the US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to maintain India’s active and significant role in Afghanistan.
India showed its displeasure during the constitutional crisis in Nepal, in halting energy supply to Kathmandu. This forced the land-locked country to obtain easy support from Beijing. Nepal was once the buffer state between India and China; it is now sitting on China’s lap and steering India. Modi’s mute approach to the Rohingya crisis speculates India’s major power ambition. This is a serious setback to India’s diplomacy: it is now pushing Myanmar to get support from China, along with our neighbor Bangladesh, in resolving the crisis with Rohingya refugees.
The first democratically elected government under Mohamed Nasheed was toppled unconstitutionally in Maldives. Since India has failed to raise any substantial voice against this atrocity, China has jumped onto the scene. New Delhi ought to have designed a policy to resolve the political crisis, but India, the world’s largest democracy, has watched this incident as a movie in the Indian Ocean Theatre. The highlight was the decision of our Prime Minister to skip a visit to the Maldives whilst on his tour of the Indian Ocean islands.
In Sri Lanka, China is designing its future battlefield against India. As the war against LTTE was over, Colombo started travelling in a two-way track, with India and China. Beijing’s love affair, apparently with Colombo, but with an eye on New Delhi, is no secret. Since Modi has allowed these developments without exercising any diplomatic resistance, he has given China a comfortable seat inside Sri Lanka. China has now realised that her weaved network against India can be strengthened easily in the Indian Ocean, because New Delhi only displays silent concern. After Modi took office, India – China relations have remained static. The border talks are on stand still. Beijing holds on to extend a technical hold on Masood Azhar, a UN designated terrorist. The dragon pulls our immediate neighbors to her side. These developments indicate that our foreign policy articulations are not supported by any clear strategic trajectory.
Modi’s diplomacy is like an air balloon which, once torn, cannot be refilled; a new balloon is needed. Hugging a leader does not lead to any commitment in foreign affairs. Personal charisma does not work as a foreign policy tool in dealing with a world power. For this reason, Modi cannot understand the setback he is facing with China, Pakistan, and our other neighbors. In comparison, Vajpayee’s or Dr. Manmohan Singh’s combined simple charisma as leaders or economists with appropriate home-work in the past; has caused tremendous results in foreign policy, including expected results in Indo-US nuclear negotiations. This is completely missing in Modi’s administration.
Hence, the newly elected Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi has said, “Modi’s hug diplomacy fails”. It was a valuable comment that the ruling elite should consider as a meaningful insight. Alternative approaches are vital to regain our neighbors’ trust, as opposed to China’s. However, Prime Minister Modi’s this year of work will be focused on the 2019 general elections, compromising the proper attention due to India’s international diplomacy.
First published in Congress Sandesh