In Delhi on the weekend, a book co-edited by the noted American strategic analyst of Indian origin, Ashley Tellis, was launched by none other than Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the book launch taking place at the prime minister’s official residence in the heart of the sweltering capital. Unusual? Perhaps, considering Tellis has written openly in The Economic Times on what India’s new Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj, should do to serve India, a somewhat indelicate comparison with the openly enthusiastic article by China’s ambassador to India, Wei Wei, on growing bilateral economic opportunity.
The dissonance between India and the US, around the denial of a US visa to Modi since 2005 over his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, has been exacerbated in recent months. And yet, just look at the speed with which Modi is about to accept an invitation by US President Barack Obama for a visit to Washington, DC.
Is Delhi waking up to an exercise of real power? Certainly, there has been a frisson of excitement over the day-long visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as well as the US point person for South Asia, Nisha Biswal, over the last few days. The Americans are bending forwards and backwards and sideways to make amends with Mr Modi. It pleases us to no end, of course. But Mr Modi’s reaction is interesting: he is calmly accepting diplomatic apologies and proceeding to behave as if it is all business as usual.
This is unusual for Delhi too. We are so used to frothing and foaming and standing on the high moral ground that diplomats, supposed to be schooled in the business of hard diplomacy, are rediscovering the joys of, well, diplomacy without the moral ground.
Clearly, India’s new foreign policy will be revamped on the basis of economic fundamentals. Like Manmohan Singh, who hoped to use economics to pave the way for better political ties, Modi will push the business of making money on both sides.
On the India-China front, the contentious border dispute will be isolated so as to let the economies grow. The Chinese have been resisting the entry of Indian pharmaceutical as well as information technology-related companies. That opposition will likely vanish soon. On the US front, the Americans are pushing for a presidential-style leader like Modi to make hard choices in favour of US companies looking for new markets and newer ways of making money.
And then there is Japan. It is already clear that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will pave the way for a greater India-US-Japan relationship. For example, Japanese companies Toshiba and Hitachi have been holding up US companies General Electric and White Westinghouse from selling nuclear reactors to India, because of their own concerns around nuclear energy since the Fukushima disaster. That is also likely to end soon — when Modi makes his second foreign visit to Japan.
Are happy days here again? Kya achhe din aa gaye hain? Certainly, the members of the business community are walking around with permanent smiles plastered on their mouths.
Sajjan Jindal, the Indian businessman in power and steel, hosted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for tea just before Sharif went to Rashtrapati Bhawan to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi. Evidently, Nawaz’s son also met Jindal separately.
Could Jindal be the new economic back-channel between India and Pakistan? Could Jindal’s company be used to lay a few electricity transmission lines from India’s Punjab grid to Lahore?
The funny thing about India-Pakistan is that when Delhi suggests the idea of both sides making money, Islamabad wonders why it is doing so. Sure the Indians will make money, but guess what, 500 megawatts of Indian electricity into the Pakistani grid can also help reduce the 18-hour power cuts that Pakistan Punjab routinely faces.
Better to melt in the heat than buy bijli from India? That big question looms large, in the face of the general Pakistani read-out that Modi lectured Nawaz in Delhi. So what is Pakistan going to do now?
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2014.
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