India under Modi will be Asia’s new magnet

By coming to New Delhi to grace the oath-taking ceremony of the new Prime Minister, the leaders of our seven neighbouring countries not only recognised India’s re-emergence in the comity of nations after a dark decade in which relations with most nations were grievously vitiated, but helped to power the rise of Asia on the world stage. Their arrival is equally a vote of confidence in India’s new Prime Minister, an affirmation of his ability to help lead Asia towards a better harmony and prosperity.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had clearly revealed his mind about reclaiming a premier position for India in Asia during the course of his back-breaking election campaign, when he called upon the people to step up and work to make the twenty-first century an Asian century. And since the new Prime Minister is famous for his ability to promptly put his words to action, it should have come as no surprise that along with invitations to NDA partners, BJP leaders and other dignitaries in India, he should have used the occasion to reach out to the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations.

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That all leaders accepted his invitation and came (Sheikh Hasina sent Speaker Shirin Sharmin Choudhary because of a previous commitment in Japan), is clear evidence that India has emerged once again as a major pivot of the continent, particularly the South Asian region. A major foreign policy coup was thus scored even before being sworn-in, an event which lent an extra frisson of excitement to the official anointment of the first Prime Minister to head a one-party majority Government since Rajiv Gandhi bowed out of office in 1989.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai was the first to signal that the rise of a strong leader in India has added spine to the region as a whole by refusing to meet the US President when summoned to the Bagram Air Base after Barack Obama made a surprise landing to rally his troops before US withdrawal. Stating that he was going to India to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi, he doubtless stunned all of Washington and the Western world.

Doubtless India’s new Prime Minister will factor this in, along with Kabul’s legitimate expectations from a regional power, during their bilateral meeting tomorrow. In keeping with his status, President Karzai was seated next to Vice President Hamid Karzai and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom sat next to BJP veteran LK Advani. Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakshe, who signalled a desire to begin a new chapter in relations with India by releasing Indian fishermen arrested for trespassing in Lankan waters, was also seated with former Deputy Prime Minister Advani.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay of Bhutan, who sparkled in deep saffron, took a place of honour besides President Rajapakse and former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda. Mauritius Prime Minister Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam arrived as well; Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala sat with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. All these countries will expect enhanced economic ties with India.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who elicited the greatest attention owing to the troubled relations between the two countries, sat in between former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gursharan Kaur. The Pakistan Prime Minister was quick to follow the Sri Lanka President in making a goodwill gesture to India by ordering the release of around 151 Indian fishermen languishing in Pakistani jails for straying into Pakistan waters; they arrived at the Wagah border hours before the swearing-in ceremony. The confiscated boats were also released.

The release of fishermen from Tamil Nadu and north India, a contentious issue during the recent elections, has taken the wind out of the sails of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who has been raising public temperatures on the issue. The issue of Indian fishermen constantly encroaching Lankan waters is likely to figure in the bilateral talks with President Rajapakse tomorrow, as Colombo has long been protesting that Tamil Nadu fishermen have over-fished Indian waters and hence routinely cross the maritime boundary to make a catch.

Earlier in the day, MDMK leader Vaiko was taken into custody for defying prohibitory orders to protest at the arrival of the Sri Lanka President, alleging that the latter was responsible for genocide of Tamils in the island nation.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has openly condemned the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba for the attack on the Indian consulate in Herat, is likely to expect an enhanced involvement of New Delhi in the reconstruction of his shattered country.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister is expected to promise to expedite the trial of the accused in the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, and assure New Delhi that there will be no enhanced terror in and from Afghanistan after the US withdrawal. He is expected to press for some kind of dialogue to justify his visit for Narendra Modi’s swearing-in. As a gesture of his sincerity, his office announced in advance that he would not meet with the separatist Hurriyat leaders during his visit. Nawaz Sharif is also expected to formally invite his Indian counterpart to Islamabad. The issues expected to figure in his bilateral discussion tomorrow reportedly include Kashmir, Sir Creek, water and trade.

The Bangladesh Speaker will likely not discuss bilateral issues, but Narendra Modi may go ahead and sign the Teesta waters agreement negotiated by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as a return gesture to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for helping India deal with insurgents on Bangladesh territory. The exchange of enclaves, also held up due to the attitude of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, may also go through, as per the deal worked out by the outgoing Congress regime.

It is noteworthy that Narendra Modi’s emphasis upon the economic revival of India by inter alia boosting trade and tourism and giving an impetus of the economy of the region as a whole, is a major factor behind the arrival of the leaders of all seven SAARC nations for the swearing-in ceremony, a landmark event in the continent and indeed, in the world. Truly, it was as if the entire region has risen to meet a joint destiny at a critical moment in history.

Sandhya Jain26 May 2014



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