Indian PM Modi’s Active Diplomacy in Neighborhoods!


Indian PM Modi’s Active Diplomacy in Neighborhoods!

-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal

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Obviously, the key foreign policy goal of India has for years been to get a veto handle on UNSC to control world along with big powers and new Indian PM Narendra Modi has begun his innings at the crease by undertaking a series of steps necessary for increasing the chances for a veto which many in New Delhi consider as unnecessary an illusion.

New Indian Prime Minister of Hindutva BJP pursues the Congress party policy of veto diplomacy in a sustained manner just like predecessor, an innocent looking Dr. Manmohan Singh had done; Singh also promoted rampant corruption for the purpose, oiling the international palms to get continued international support for Indian occupation of Jammu Kashmir and for obtaining much maligned veto on the discredited UNSC..

India believes nothing is wrong in trying all over again and again, although Indian ambassador in UN burst into annoyance saying India cannot wait endlessly for a veto.

Till recently, India has been passive in regional activities, except in Afghanistan where it fights a cold war with Pakistan over its role in the new scenario in Afghanistan. Losing South Asia would also mean losing a veto.  Indian PM Narendra Modi’s four nation South Asia tour was essentially meant to reclaim its place in the region.  PM Modi used his first ever trip in order to advance Indian strategic partnership with regional governments in deepening security cooperation, revitalizing the economic partnership, and advancing critical clean energy and environmental goals. The third level diplomacy as part of the veto dream is to tour South Asia and strike economic deals and drive the regional nations away from Chinese courting. That would make Americans happy although China remains largest lender of money to Washington.

Modi has been pursuing multi-prong approach in Indian policy of courting neighbors as well as western powers. In order to present economically and politically vibrant India the undisputed leader in South Asia, PM Modi had invited all leaders of SAARC nations for inaugural ceremony in New Delhi. Soon after his assuming office, Modi began his diplomatic exercise by quickly visiting Bhutan and Nepal in the Himalayas.

The objective behind undertaking Indian Ocean tour of Modi is to consolidate New Delhi’s strategic position in the region where China wants to make its presence felt through maritime silk route strategy. He sought to woo smaller Indian Ocean states away from increasing Chinese influence but he stressed that India’s neighbors should be the first beneficiaries of India’s economic progress. Modi became the first Indian leader to visit Sri Lanka in 28 years, reciprocating the trip to India last month by Sri Lanka’s new president. However Modi since his election last May has emphasized rally his SAARC neighbors. Modi held bilateral talks with Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena, who seems to have made a departure from policies favoring Beijing and toward ethnic reconciliation with his country’s Tamil minority, a sensitive issue in India-Sri Lanka relations. Modi said India has committed $1.6 billion in development assistance for Sri Lanka, promising to continue the development partnership.

PM Modi visited India’s sea neighbor Sri Lanka to patch up ties and shore up support for his job at hand. Sri Lanka’s new government has recently suspended the Chinese-funded $1.5 billion Colombo Port City project, citing environmental issues and alleged corruption. It was inaugurated in September during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who included Sri Lanka in a new maritime “Silk Road” linking the energy-rich Persian Gulf with China. BJP ruling India was considered as one overarching positive trend driving the energy and optimism across South Asia. The defeat of Sri Lankan strong mean Rajapaksha by his own minister Sirisena in the presidential poll had a lot Indian fresh air.

Modi visited Seychelles and Mauritius before Sri Lanka on his tour of Indian Ocean states. China in recent years heavily funded infrastructure development projects in these countries, making India apprehensive because it perceives the region to be its traditional territory of influence. He avoided visiting the Maldives, which has a pro-China administration and where a supposedly pro-India opposition leader is being tried for terrorism.

Prime Minister Modi undertook visits to Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles from the second week of March. Ostensibly, this move aims at strengthening New Delhi’s diplomatic and strategic engagement with Indian Ocean countries, but in reality it is taken to checkmate China’s influence in the region. For this, seeds were sown a few years ago when Indian Ocean security grouping (IO-5) was formed by including Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles in it.

Modi undertook the four-minus-one nation tour through the Indian Ocean starting with Sri Lanka and then heading to Mauritius and Seychelles, dropping his sojourn in Male. Those trips were planned to stamp Modi’s emphasis on India’s tinier island neighbours to the south, aggressively wooed by China as part of President Xi Jinping’s “Maritime Silk Route” project to build a new marine route dominated by Beijing.

II

The second level diplomacy of PM Modi began in USA. Modi had gone to Washington to invite US president to attend Indian Repulbic Day celebrations in January and an innocent looking Obama did oblige PM Modi, he came to New Delhi to meet his “‘friend”.  Obama came to India with a large bunch of US businessmen to strike deals with their Indian counterparts.

India could not manage a hint from Obama about India’s fate about a veto on the discredited UNSC. As usual the US president did not offer any assurance. However, India achieved one objective: Obama did not even mention about the disputed Kashmir issue but focused on the parade and business.

As India believes insistence would achieve the goal of veto, Americans are skeptical about Indian ability to analyze issues to know that a new veto membership on UNSC, if at all, would go to Germany which has been in wafting or Japan or North Korea or any other nation that shares US values.  It is not cricket that India by virtue of its IPL expenditures could get a series win along with man of match position win by various means including prior fixing or get favorable schedules, but veto is not given just because somebody keeps pestering.

India and USA reached agreement with India to strengthen the India-US partnership on economy, human rights and governance fronts. They seek to elevate the commercial and economic partnership as part of the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue to advance “shared prosperity”. Washington also said the new Indian government had energized the bilateral ties and the two countries were now essential partners in promoting peace, prosperity, and stability across the Indo-Pacific region. By leveraging the private sector and Indian resources, the USA has been getting sizable outcomes out of small inputs.

USA claims to be the net providers of security, together ensuring freedom of navigation and safeguarding the maritime domain. These values are clearly enshrined in two new documents: Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region and the Delhi Declaration of Friendship.

Focused on international issues like a seat on the discredited UNSC, PM Modi has been, however, focusing on USA and other western nations. India considers South Asia a play field space to work for advancing major objectives send messages to USA. Modi has visited Washington and met US president Barack Obama on the sidelines of a UN meet and discussed India’s problems and concerns. .

III

Recently, contours of India’s countermeasure against Beijing’s influence in the region got reflected when New Delhi and Colombo signed civil nuclear cooperation agreement during Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s four-day visit. The two countries also decided to expand defence and security cooperation between them.

The four nation tour on the Indian Ocean Modi used in consolidating New Delhi’s hold over the region. This is the first stage of Modi’s active diplomacy. The idea was to show to big powers that India is the tallest leader of South, deserving a veto seat on UNSC to share global control mechanism.  However, USA was not impressed with India parading the rulers of South Asia for his inaugural ceremony last year.

India would like to show to the world that the resurgence of India was evidenced by the vibrant but corrupt elections last year that saw emergence of BJP as the strongest party in India and the ouster of the senior most corrupt Congress led UPA government. However, that optimism of Indian strategists disappeared very soon as the ruling BJP lost in Kashmir, Delhi and elsewhere. The effort to equalize BJP with India failed. India claims to be the sole leader of South Asia and claimed a veto seat but world powers did not take the claim seriously.

Narendra Modi was the first Indian PM to visit Sri Lanka in 28 years, to visit Northern and Eastern regions of the country to see India-funded projects, including 500-MW thermal power plant being built by NTPC in collaboration with Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Electricity Board in Trincomalee. Modi also unveiled highway and railway projects there. India also announced a fresh financial package for the island nation, which has sought New Delhi’s assistance in the health sector too.

On 15 March, he was expected to land at Male, the capital of Maldives. But this plan changed in the last minute as political situation in this country remained tensed. Ex-Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed’s arrest under terrorism charges has kicked up a political storm in the country. India has raised concern over the development. Maldivian opposition leaders requested Modi to cancel the first ever prime ministerial visit to the island country. India does not want to give leeway to China in Maldives where Beijing is developing the Ihavandoo and Maarandhoo islands. At Hanimaadhoo, it wants to establish second international airport. It also plans to set up a naval submarine base in Marao.  The naval base issue was raised with the Maldivian authorities during Chinese defence minister Chang Wanguan’s visit in November 2014 close on the heels of the Chinese President’s visit in September. New Delhi believes that the current dispensation in Male, like Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapakse, is trying to use ongoing rivalry between India and China to its benefit. Aware of this fact, New Delhi is not in a mood to lose its grip on the Maldives. This is the reason it wanted Modi to visit Maldives.

From Male, Modi was to fly to Mauritius for a three-day visit. During his stay in Port Luis, he was expected to address the country’s parliament. The bilateral agreements envisaged were during Modi’s visit might include a pact on defence and maritime exercise. It should be noted that India handed over the first offshore petrol vessel to Mauritius in December 2014. New Delhi wants closer maritime cooperation from Mauritius, the country which annually sends dozens of cadets for training in India. During Modi’s visit, cooperation between Indian Navy and Mauritian Coast Guard was high on the agenda of the dialogue. There were likely to be talks over Agalega islands, which have been much sought after by Indian armed forces. They want to use North Agalega island to service manned and unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. To improve its air surveillance capabilities in the Indian Ocean region, New Delhi has been persuading Mauritius to hand over on lease both North and South Agalega islands, which are located closer to India than Mauritius.

Seychelles, together with the navies of 16 other countries, is a part of India’s ‘Exercise Milan’ held annually in the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific region. India and Seychelles (which comprises a group of 115 small islands totaling an area of 455 sq km) are partners in the blue economy, which envisages tapping of oceanic resources in the Seychelles’ vast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Though no defence pact will take place, yet the visit was high on symbolism as the two nations are likely to sign a slew of agreements on science, education and health. India may also announce financial assistance for this strategically valuable country.

Indian foreign ministry is busy. While India signed a civil nuclear agreement with Sri Lanka, which the government expects will restore its primacy for the Indian Ocean Islands, Maldives foreign minister Dunya Maumoon quietly flew into New Delhi a day earlier to discuss with Swaraj the agenda for the upcoming visit by Modi to the archipelago.  Indian FM Swaraj also visited Colombo in the first week of March to cull out talking points for Modi’s return visit to Sri Lanka. Modi himself will embark on a 4-nation Indian Ocean yatra, perhaps one of the most ambitious visits ever undertaken by an Indian prime minister, starting March 10.

While India’s bilateral ties with all the countries are expected to get a fillip, New Delhi is also keen to rope in Mauritius and Seychelles in the trilateral maritime cooperation framework it already agreed upon with Sri Lanka and the Maldives in 2013.

 

IV

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits to four Indian Ocean nations saw New Delhi expanding its existing maritime cooperation framework with Sri Lanka and the Maldives to include Mauritius and Seychelles.

New Delhi’s move is apparently intended to checkmate China’s growing strategic footprints in the Indian Ocean region. Modi is likely to visit Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Seychelles and the Maldives in the second week of March. However, a visit to the Maldives now appears to be a bit uncertain in the wake of volatile political situation in the island nation following arrest of former president Mohamed Nasheed, the Deccan Herald report further said.

Ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to China in May, the government’s Indian Ocean gambit is gathering momentum like it has never before. India has hardly merited consideration until now as a serious player in the maritime great game but that could all be changing with the government lining successive engagements with its neighbours spread across the Indian Ocean region.

Modi’s China visit in May is likely to be one of his toughest foreign policy assignments in the first year of his tenure as PM? A successful Indian Ocean tour with a focus on increasing security and military cooperation with the smaller island neighbours will help Modi negotiate with the Chinese from a position of strength.  In September 2014, when Chinese President Xi Jinping landed in India for a three-day visit he had already visited Maldives and Sri Lanka – both strategically sensitive nations in the Indian Ocean region. From Male and Colombo, he had secured cooperation for his country’s much vaunted maritime silk route plan. He had also announced Beijing’s plans to intensify defence and maritime engagement with Maldives and Sri Lanka. Such moves were looked upon by India with concern.

Despite India’s reservations over China’s maritime Silk Road project, which entails port-building activities at several places in Indian Ocean, most of these countries India is reaching out to have accepted the Chinese proposal for economic benefits and equally to increase their bargaining power with geographically nearer New Delhi.  India continues to nurse deep insecurities about the project, an initiative of President Xi Jinping.

New Delhi is actually working to blunt the force of China’s proposal by choosing to highlight its own maritime history, including India’s central role in what it calls spice and mausam routes. The government has looked to impart a strategic content to the culture ministry’s Project Mausam, a transnational initiative meant to revive India’s ancient maritime routes and cultural linkages with countries in the Indian Ocean.

A message New Delhi is seeking to convey – that it is possible for giant nations to have peaceful, mutually beneficial relations with their maritime neighbours. Unlike the case with China, India’s relations with its neighbours across vast bodies of water are not marred by maritime disputes.

Ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to China in May, the government’s Indian Ocean gambit is gathering momentum like it has never before. India has hardly merited consideration until now as a serious player in the maritime great game but that could all be changing with the government lining successive engagements with its neighbours spread across the Indian Ocean region.

In the latest instance, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj left on Tuesday for Oman where she is expected to focus on anti piracy operations in Indian Ocean. While India Monday signed a civil nuclear agreement with Sri Lanka, which the government expects will restore its primacy for the Indian Ocean island, Maldives foreign minister Dunya Maumoon quietly flew into New Delhi a day earlier to discuss with Swaraj the agenda for the upcoming visit by Modi to the archipelago.

Swaraj will also visit Colombo in the first week of March to cull out talking points for Modi’s return visit to Sri Lanka. Modi himself will embark on a 4-nation Indian Ocean yatra, perhaps one of the most ambitious visits ever undertaken by an Indian prime minister, starting March 10.

India seems to have warned the Maldives with cancellation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Indian Ocean nation in the second week of March, unless it ensures a fair trial for former President Mohammed Nasheed, arrested amid a crisis that has caught New Delhi off guard. At the time the Maldives government was preparing to arrest Nasheed, on Saturday evening, the Indian high commission in Male was hosting a poolside “Bollywood Night” with dancers jiving to popular Hindi film songs.

Nasheed, the principal Opposition leader in the Maldives, has long alleged a witch hunt by the government led by Yameen, cousin of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled the nation for close to three decades before the introduction of democracy. Yameen, who had after coming to power in late 2013 promised strong ties with India, has in recent months been wooing China too. Nasheed’s arrest has precipitated Modi’s biggest diplomatic trial as Prime Minister yet from India’s smaller but strategically critical neighbours. Modi had mocked the previous UPA government for allowing the Maldives to pose a challenge to India.

The BJP’s criticism had sharpened when the Maldives government cancelled a 25-year contract to Bangalore infrastructure firm GMR to build an international airport in Male, and then when Nasheed took asylum at the Indian high commission there. Now, with the Maldives in the throes of a domestic political crisis, the Modi government may need to recalibrate its strategy for the region. Despite a series of warnings over the past two months, India did not expect the Yameen government to actually arrest Nasheed and trigger a face-off with the supporters of the MDP, the island’s largest political party.

Sri Lanka is the last leg of Modi’s tour of the region, PM Modi has already visited a friendly Bhutan and a distancing Nepal. Started with safe Bhutan and Nepal, Modi has ended his South Asia tour in Sri Lanka while he has so far left out Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Maldives – all Muslims countries that New Delhi considers problematic.

The strategic partnership with USA has not solved all its problems, not even in nuclear sector and many Indian sources murmur that India is wasting its resources on USA for nothing in return while Pakistan gets huge sums from Washington as service charges. And Modi’s next journey is towards the Great Wall in the neighborhood followed by Canada, France, and Germany in April. This shuttle diplomacy is supposed to auger well for advancing India’s national interest.

Like Congress party, BJP also has done everything possible to retain Kashmir and to apply pressure on USA for strategic partnership that would also work against Pakistan and China.

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