ARTICLES FROM THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN
Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2018.
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The pace of governance and political events has accelerated so much that news reporters are on their toes, 24X7, competing for coverage, and analysts are lagging behind. Personally, the Prime Minister is following a harsh and rigorous regimen. Between tightening up the administration and announcing programmes that are priorities for his vision of India, he is placing India's footprints on every part of the globe that is vital to India's security. And within India, he is placing his footprint on every neglected or alienated part, introducing himself to the people, and working towards the greater strength of his government and party.
He has quietly and firmly indicated to our neighbours the security shield that he envisages for India to counter the Chinese string of pearls strategy that aims to choke India and establish Chinese hegemony in the Indian Ocean, commercially and strategically, from its mainland to Port Sudan, through the South China Sea.
He started in August with a visit to Japan, a country with which he has developed great rapport, since his days as Gujarat Chief Minister. Apart from being a highly successful visit that also launched him as a political rock star, I think it also opened the chessboard with China, with Modi's tongue in cheek remark about vikaasvad and vistaarvad. After all, Japan too, has been feeling the heat of China's maritime and island expansionism in the East China Sea. But what raised eyebrows, though the eye below may have had a twinkle, was the timing of the visit — barely a couple of weeks short of Chinese President Xi Jinping's maiden visit to India.
The Chinese President's visit too was a great success, even as the chess moves went on. But the dragon did not change its scales, and there was the usual embarrassing border incursion during the bonhomie of the cosy family visit, which the Prime Minister maturely ignored, and the Chinese President coyly declared that "China is not a warlike nation". No doubt, the game of chess will continue.
On the other side of the globe, came October 2014, and we witnessed the Prime Minister's US visit, a monumental success, both politically and personally. Modi showed great statesmanship by ignoring the insult that the US had inflicted upon him for a decade, and not allowing it to interfere with the strategic opportunity of the moment, and for putting India first. By then, the ISIS had started showing its complete barbaric face, and the time had come when the US needed its own string of pearls rather badly. Indian and US strategic interests now flow together, as far as ISIS terror and their absurd Caliphate is concerned, and Modi's US visit will go down as a geo-political game changer.
Another significant event that took place during the US visit was Modi's one on one meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. This was the first high-profile meeting between an Israeli and Indian Prime Minister since Ariel Sharon visited New Delhi in 2003. The opening lines of the meeting augured well: that the "sky is the limit" in Israeli-Indian ties. The commonality of our strategic interest needs no explanation; our partnership is natural, and has reached a strategic turning point. I would like to mention here that the Palestinians must recognise Israel, and eschew the hate club that still dreams of erasing Israel out of the map of the world. This will bring both peace and prosperity to the region, and I have no doubt that Israel will fully reciprocate the gesture.
Late October, we had a visit from Nguyen Tan Dung, Prime Minister of Vietnam, another country facing China's maritime and island expansionism in the South China Sea. The visit resulted in important military and economic agreements, with the Prime Minister stating that "our defence cooperation with Vietnam is among our most important". A major strategic gap had been bridged.
To complete the Eastern Sector, Modi visited Australia and faraway Fiji in mid November. It turned out to be another rock star visit, receiving saturation coverage, and delighting the Indian community. His visit mended the strains that had followed racial attacks on Indian students some years ago, and announced the framework of security co-operation between the two countries, underscoring the growing depth of the Australia-India strategic partnership, converging economic interests, supply of uranium for energy, maritime security, and combating terrorism, including the threat posed by foreign fighters joining extremist groups. The language was clear and loud.
It would be worthwhile remembering that Australia too, deeply concerned about China's maritime irredentism, approved the stationing of US troops and aircraft in its northern city of Darwin in late 2011, as part of the United States' "Pivot to Asia" strategy.
Closer home, Modi is stringing his own pearl necklace, in accordance to India's priorities. His first state visit was to Bhutan in mid-June, barely three weeks after becoming Prime Minister. He visited neglected Nepal in early August, imprinting a hard geo political message to the Maoists, to the ISI and other anti India groups, and to China, which has been working hard to create its protectorates around India. In November it was Myanmar, our north eastern neighbour and gateway to the East for the annual East Asia Summit and the ASEAN-India Summit. But his visit brimmed with ideas for the future in converting the "Look East" slogan to "Act East", starting with smooth connectivity, economic partnership and trade.
But Modi has yet to crack the code for stabilising our mercurial equation with Sri Lanka, and the intractable yet imperative solution with Pakistan. The pearls acquired by China in our neighbourhood have to be retrieved. And most certainly, they will be. Forceful diplomacy must already be going on, and in all probability Modi will visit Sri Lanka and Bangladesh next year.
Ties with our traditional ally of the Cold War and nonaligned days, Russia, have been invigorated after considerable stagnation during the last decade. Russia, India, and the world have changed greatly since the geopolitics of the Cold War and non-alignment. There was speculation as to how Modi would handle Indo-Russian ties that appeared to be trapped in a vortex of contradictions of India's increasing defence purchases from Europe and the US, with Russia selling attack helicopters to Pakistan, Russia's growing affinity with China in the wake of the Ukrainian imbroglio and India's growing affinity with the US. But the Joint Communiqué issued after President Putin's visit this week has set all speculation to rest. Even before the visit, Putin made extremely encouraging statements that fitted well with Modi's "Make in India" pitch, describing India as a "reliable and time-tested partner", and speaking of a "gradual transition from the producer-consumer model to joint development and production of advanced weapons systems". And at a joint news conference after meeting Putin, Prime Minister Modi emphasised India's deep defence ties with Russia, stating, "Even if India's options have increased, Russia remains our most important defence partner."
Putin's visit has resulted in rich dividends for strengthening the Indian-Russian partnership over the next decade. It spelt out bilateral cooperation in matters of nuclear energy, joint exploration in power, oil and gas, and the possibilities of building a hydrocarbon pipeline system, connecting the Russian Federation with India, construction of nuclear power units, technology sharing and joint design and development of defence systems, also setting a target of bilateral trade turnover of goods and services at US$30 billion by the year 2025.
Now here are some significant highlights from the Joint Communiqué:
"India and Russia oppose economic sanctions that do not have the approval of the United Nations Security Council ... the Security Council should reflect contemporary realities. In this context, the sides will work together to ensure reforms of the UN Security Council. Russia will extend its support for India's candidature for permanent membership of the Council... The leaders condoled the loss of life in senseless terrorist acts in recent days in Jammu & Kashmir, India and in Chechnya, Russia... The sides agreed to work together for the adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism by the 70th Anniversary Summit of the UN. The leaders expressed hope that all safe havens and sanctuaries for terrorists will be wiped out without delay and terrorism would be completely eradicated from the common region within a decade." This can only be music to our ears.
President Putin is known to be a master chess player himself. The world will be watching the moves of both leaders, as their strategic partnership evolves.
The international surprise of the year was India's invitation to President Obama to be chief guest at our Republic Day parade next year, the first ever extended to a US President. President Obama's acceptance and his presence at India Gate next 26 January, will officially flag off the new and special relationship that India and US, the most powerful and the most populous democracies of the world, are embarking upon. Clearly, the common and converging interests, of both countries relating to defence, counter-terrorism, economic and a serious genuine strategic partnership have finally been acknowledged by them. Our neighbour Pakistan, whom Modi has wisely been ignoring for their unpardonable behaviour at our borders, has yet to see reality and outgrow its Kashmir obsession. Nawaz Sharif has beseeched Obama to raise the Kashmir issue on the occasion. Is this diplomatic dementia or a desperate delusion?