Operation 'Rahat' - the disaster management diplomacy - putting India’s back into global play and outreach in neighbourhood combined together will be principal hall mark of first year of Indian diplomacy under Narendra Modi.
But has Modi has put his stamp on foreign policy faster and much stronger than his predecessors including Pt Jawaharlal Nehru?
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Indian foreign policy is largely seen as the resultant of many forces acting within the country and outside. This is more crystal clear when it comes to India’s relations in the neighbourhood. But during last one year since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over and perhaps more importantly took charge of stewardship of country’s foreign policy engine room, Indian diplomacy now bears Modi’s distinct imprint.
The neighbourhood in South Asia and East Asia has been the hallmark of the new government’s focus even as much has been achieved in terms of attempts being made to enhance India’s position globally. In fact, Modi started his foreign tour with a trip to Bhutan and then followed it up with his visit to Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka. He would be Bangladesh early next month. Through his high-profile diplomacy of ‘personal touch’ and addressing Indian diaspora Modi has pulled India out of the security shadows, clearly reflecting that a tough and a decisive leader can take on any challenges.
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The pro-active humanitarian missions in Yemen and Nepal has given India an edge to claim permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
In the words of the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, disaster management-diplomacy has so far been a strength of the United States but last one year India has able to make a significant breakthrough on this front.
Prime Minister Modi’s friendly gestures and outreach in the neigbourhood including smaller nations like South Korea and Mongolia have actually sought to achieve a few multi-dimensional goals for New Delhi. One significant aspect has been the efforts to regain some of the ground lost by India in recent years in pursuing the Indian diplomatic path vis-à-vis competitors like China.
The favourable press that Modi’s visit to these countries got both within India and outside and especially in the Himalayan nations of Nepal and Bhutan had even left his detractors amused.
One enthusiastic observer in Nepal even had written in no unambiguous words. “Modi’s dreams are big, centred around the idea of bringing back the Asian dominance of the 16th-17thcenturies”.
Again Prime Minister Modi displayed an unprecedented speed and decisiveness when he presided over a cabinet and high-level meeting on April 25 afternoon to rush aid and rescue teams to quake-battered Nepal. Similarly has been Modi’s characteristic quick and firm decisiveness when the Government of India deployed the Indian forces for evacuation of Indian and foreign nationals from Nepal and conflict-torn Yemen and Iraq.
In fact, actions in Iraq front had to come within 100 days of Modi-led dispensation but it was a timely intervention from the Indian government. A high-level crisis management cell was set up to monitor the situation and coordinate India’s response. There was a high-level involvement in the rescue works including by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and even the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who personally flew to Baghdad.
The handling of evacuation from conflict-hit Yemen under the active leadership of a former army general and now minister of state for External Affairs Gen V K Singh has only added feather to the cap.
These were like making significant departures from the conventional methods generally known about Indian foreign policy. It was not only a case of helping Indians return home safe and sound from Nepal, Yemen and Iraq, these episodes helped raise India’s international profile. In fact for the first time in Indian history of diplomacy, the Modi-led dispensation has able to highlight the Indian authorities capacity to respond swiftly to natural and other disasters.
In fact, there has been international appreciation perhaps for the first time when Indian rescue teams in Yemen helped out stranded Pakistanis and Afghans. In the words of Gen (Retd) V K Singh, who led the Operation Rahat or Relief, "Our Prime Minister was not only concerned about Indians in difficult situations, but he had also instructed me to take care of any stranded citizen from Afghanistan and Pakistan".
|With Gen V K Singh, hero of Operation Rahat|
In the process, there was evacuation of more than 4640 Indians stranded in Yemen and also 960 foreign national nations from 41 countries.
On another neighbourhood front, last year would go as a game-changer. PM Modi’s Sri Lanka visit in March was the first by an Indian prime minister to that country in 28 years.
Allegedly long neglect of Sri Lanka and the larger Indian Ocean region posed a multiple challenges to India as this gave added advantage to China.
In the coming days, Prime Minister Modi is also slated to Bangladesh, whose friendly gestures towards India is now well known. It is here again, Modi set a target for himself and acted with determination and in political consensus when the much awaited Land Boundary Agreement Bill was passed in Parliament.
In the ultimate analysis, PM Modi’s first year in office has put a clear stamp of the new regime especially in improving relations in the neighbourhood. As they say, the foreign policy must be seen from the primary objective of ‘national interest’ and peace and friendship in the neighbourhood.
These goals have been achieved.