July 16, 2009 can be considered as one of the most disastrous day for India as far as foreign policy is concerned. A joint statement was issued on that day by then PM Dr Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. In that statement, Manmohan Singh committed two most significant blunders. For the first time in India-Pakistan relations since the threat of Pakistan-borne terrorists emerged, Prime Minister Singh delinked India-Pakistan composite dialog from terrorism. It's noteworthy that India had in past taken a consistent stand after Mumbai attack that no composite dialog was possible till Pakistan dismantle anti-India terrorist network from its soil.
In a complete reversal of this policy, the joint statement says, "Both Prime Ministers recognized that dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed. Prime Minister Singh said that India was ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding issues." The second blunder committed in the same statement by recognizing Baluchistan separatism issue in India-Pakistan dialog.
Pak had always accused India of supporting separatism in Baluchistan, which India had rightly denied. But by mentioning this issue in joint statement, Pakistan asserted it as India's acceptance to baseless allegations. While UPA spin doctors tried to save the face by describing it as "poorly drafted statement", the damage was already done.
Then, in February 2011, comes a worst joke in in diplomatic history of India when then external affairs minister, SM Krishna read the speech of Portuguese foreign minister at UN meeting.
While, everyone was sure that such blunders would not be repeated during BJP government, no one thought that overall foreign policy would be given so much importance by Prime Minister Modi.
The government that had come to power largely on the plank of development and governance was not considered to go strong on foreign affairs.
Added to this was US visa issue, a letter by 62 Indian MPs to US govt to continue to deny visa to Modi (a unprecedented and equally deplorable step indeed), anti-Modi propaganda by influential Western media (The Economist formally endorsed Rahul Gandhi as PM before last year's elections and continues to show its anti-Modi bias even today).
What the observers were missing was the fact that even before he became Gujarat chief minister, Modi not only travelled US and UK, but astutely observed the functioning of societies, government and administration during these visits. Later on, as a chief minister, he interacted with NRIs frequently, kept himself updated with the latest global developments and also met diplomats from various countries. Vibrant Gujarat summits provided several global players and diplomats a platform to meet Modi and closely observe his governance model. For example, Japan and Canada are official partners of Vibrant Gujarat for last several years. He went to Israel in 2006, to Japan in 2007 and again in July 2012 for four days, as the first CM to be invited by the Government of Japan. He visited China for five days in November 2011, where he was accorded unprecedented importance and the highest level of protocol to any CM, beyond the established protocol. Later, after victory in Gujarat assembly poll in November 2012, EU ambassadors met Modi in January 2013 over a lunch hosted by German ambassador Michael Steiner.
Therefore, it was naive to say that Modi was unaware of foreign policy issues when he was elected as PM. He has proved his deep insight in the same on very first day by inviting leaders of Saarc countries for his swearing-in ceremony.
Since then, foreign affairs initiatives are considered as one of the most talked about success stories of Modi government. First and most important achievement of PM Modiji's foreign policy initiatives is that India has gained a central place on world stage. May it be presence of President Obama on Republic Day, India's partnership with Germany in Hannover Messe, his meeting with Israel PM Netanyahu in New York, everything symbolizes increased importance world leaders are giving to India and PM Modi.
A classic example is a commentary by Yair Rosenberg in Tablet Magazine titled, "The Most Important Thing Netanyahu Did in New York Wasn't at the UN. It was meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi".
When was the last time the heads of any developed country and Indian PM have two bi-lateral meetings, one in India and other in their respective countries, in a span of 12 months? Not only two meetings with President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, now Chancellor Markel will visit India in October as a follow up of PM Modi's Germany visit in May. The second most important aspect is addressing India's security concerns. Last October, PM Modi frankly discussed India's food security concerns with President Obama while discussing trade facilitation. It was followed by a major victory by Indian negotiators at WTO, where India's stand of selling food grains to needy section of society at discounted price was accepted by WTO.
And it was done, as stressed by Nirmala Sitharaman in Lok Sabha "We have accomplished this without any concessions, compromise or new conditions." Similarly, the speed with which Rafale deal was concluded by PM Modi and President Hollande shows that Indian PM has very clear priorities on defence related issues.
There are already reports in media on possible signing pact with Israel on joint development and production of medium range surface to air missiles (MRSAM). His visits to Mynmar, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and visit of Vietnamese PM to India last October is also largely viewed as a focused initiative to address mutual security concerns in Asean and pacific regions
. On the energy security front, India has signed a very significant deal with Canada by which Canada will supply more than three thousand tonnes of Uranium to Indian nuclear power reactors over next five years. Similar civil nuclear deal was also signed between Australia
and India during PM Modi's visit to Australia last September. Enhanced trade and business cooperation is an integral part of every foreign visit of PM Modi.
The visits to Japan, China, South Korea, US, Canada and its active participation in Hannover trade fair and proactive push for "Make in India" campaign is surely yield positive results in the near future in terms of enhanced investments in the country. In a process, he could develop great personal chemistry with several world leaders. Unscheduled visit to Martin Luther King Memorial along with Barak Obama, Xi Jinping visiting Ahmedabad and Modi visiting Xi'an, Canadian PM Harper accompanying Modiji throughout three days of the visit, there are many examples
. Reviving and strengthening civilizational ties is an integral part of PM Modi's foreign policy vision. He could effortless connect with Xi Jinping by Buddhist heritage at his birthplace, Vadnagar and Xi'an, hometown of Xi Jinping. His visit to Naguleswaram temple in Jaffna, oldest Gurudwara and temple in Vancouver (along with Canadian PM Harper) also signifies the same. Engagement with diaspora therefore is an important aspect of foreign policy under BJP government.
Grand reception accorded by Indian diaspora to PM Modi in US, Australia, France, Mauritius and Canada are simply historical. These events have reenergized NRI community, strengthening their ties with their country of origin and enhanced their stature in their country of residence. One of the most significant events was of course in Shanghai, where more than five thousand Indians gathered to welcome PM Modi, first of its kind in the Chinese history
On the other hand, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj visited more than twenty countries, including many, East Asia, Middle East and SAARC countries.
Another most important global element is proactively extending helping hand to global community at an hour of crisis, may it be rescue mission at Yemen, where VK Singh has shown his leadership qualities or Nepal earthquake
. Our MEA and consulates are always criticized for their indifferent attitude towards our citizens and NRI. There is marked change in this attitude.
Ex-spokesperson Mr Akbaruddin used to respond to even small queries on twitter. NRI community has narrated several positive experiences of consulates on social media. This all show a marked change in the culture of MEA.
On 25th May, Indian couple was returning from Germany to India, when wife suffered massive cardiac arrest in flight. Flight took emergency landing in Teheran. Unfortunately she was already dead by then. Someone tweeted it to Sushma Swaraj and talked to her office. Within no time, Indian embassy official went to the spot and Sushma Swaraj updated it on twitter. And all that happened on a Sunday. In short, this government is chartering a path of "inspired diplomacy" where in India's just position on global scene is re-established, role of diaspora is re-refined, India has shown leadership during humanitarian crisis and civilizational connections are revived.
(Dr Vijay Chauthaiwale is the in charge of BJP's foreign affair cell)