Saturday, September 6, 2014

One Hundred Days of Diplomacy

In what has been one of the most keenly observed governments in many a sub-40 lifetime, one of the standout accomplishments of the Narendra Modi government has been on the diplomatic front. Aided by an efficient Foreign Minister and an ebullient set of babus in South Block, PM Modi has shored up India's profile by some extent internationally. What is particularly noteworthy is the manner in which all diplomatic moves appear to have been thought out - giving each international visitor/host a special honour, as has been his wont.
Here's a quick recap of the hectic diplomatic calendar India's Ministry of External Affairs has followed in the past 100 days, with special mention of how each visit was special.

Country Outgoing/Incoming Who? Speciality
SAARC Incoming All SAARC Countries First-of-a-kind invitation to SAARC leaders for a Prime Minister's Swearing-In Ceremony
Saree Diplomacy with Pakistan
Bhutan Outgoing Prime Minister PM's first foreign visit after assuming office
China Outgoing Vice President First visit by an Indian Vice President to China since 1994
Bangladesh Outgoing Foreign Minister Foreign Minister's first stand-alone foreign visit after assuming office
Nepal Outgoing Prime Minister An Indian PM's visit to Nepal after 17 years
Myanmar Outgoing Foreign Minister -
Singapore Outgoing Foreign Minister -
Sri Lanka Incoming Tamil National Alliance A carefully-planned visit to show that the PM was his own man despite perceived closeness to certain Rajapakse-supporters in party
Vietnam Outgoing Foreign Minister -
Japan Outgoing Prime Minister Everything about the visit
Bahrain Outgoing Foreign Minister Foreign Minister's first visit to the Gulf region
Australia Incoming Prime Minister First State Guest of Modi Government
USA Outgoing Prime Minister Simply the fact that the PM has consented to visit Washington DC.

Symbolism is a much abused concept in India. Its importance is either exaggerated or summarily dismissed. What Modi has done here is to treat it with the respect it deserves. What's more - whether by design or by coincidence, more-or-less all of the new government's diplomatic engagements have ensured that the other country feels special in some way at least.
And all this simply analyzing the Modi government's diplomatic activities at a very superficial level.
A map to show the countries which we have engaged with in these 100 days.

What is evident is a clear focus on the neighbourhood - an aspect of diplomacy that we appear to have ignored over the past (lost) decade. Our concerns and engagements over the past decade were all high-ticket commodities - be it the US or Russia or China. This offers another insight into Modi's line of thinking - incrementalism or attention to the smaller items. This is, by no means, meant to belittle the countries (Japan is of course no "small item"), but show our Prime Minister has got his priorities right and is aiming for the long term. We have a Prime Minister who appears to be acting with the confidence of someone who knows he has got a decade to cause significant changes to the nation's policies. This might explain why, contrary to popular expectations, he isn't rushing into big-bang reforms but is taking his time to get all the basics right. To us, systemic change is about creating new sweeping laws. To Modi, it appears to be changing the engagement and approach to administration.
Anyhow, coming back to diplomacy, the beginning has been nothing short of awesome and as they say, well-begun is half-done. Here's hoping the PM builds upon this solid foundation and establishes India's (rightful?) pre-eminence on the global stage.