Can Modi Seize the 'Opportunity of the Century'?

Modi has his hands full — he has to keep his diverse citizens happy while juggling America, China and Russia. Its time to replace symbolism with substance, writes T J S George

Published: 11th February 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th February 2015 11:02 PM   |  A+A-

Savour the big ‘breaking news’ items of last week: The dirtiest election in Delhi’s history; simultaneous moves by China, Russia and America to keep Pakistan on par with India; Sakshi Maharaj cautioning Narendra Modi that if he ignores Hindu nationalist demands, his government will spin in circles; a “printing error” in the BJP’s vision statement that depicts citizens of north-eastern States as immigrants. That about sums up the idea of India today. Will all the skills and the charisma of the Prime Minister be enough to withstand this typhoon of ill winds and steer India forward?

modi.JPGThe Delhi elections should have been a tame affair given Modi’s towering image and the Aam Aadmi Party’s eroded credibility following past mistakes. But then strange things happened. That the tortoise had caught up with the hare became apparent when the battle between Kejriwal and Bedi ended and a war between Kejriwal and Modi began. It was a flustered BJP that went all out in the last days of the war, and the fluster will continue because, whatever be the results, dissensions will haunt the party. It was to end infighting that the top leadership brought in Kiran Bedi as the chief minister candidate. That move backfired. State-level leaders objected to the imposition of a “rank outsider” while cadres publicly protested against the party. Add to this Sakshi Maharaj daring to warn the Prime Minister, and another Sadhvi asking Hindus to produce more children. It looks like Modi’s writ does not have the same effect in the Hindi belt as it had in Gujarat. He must assert his authority soon lest his development agenda is compromised.

Modi’s foreign policy agenda also needs to be rescued from his disputable partners. Within days of returning from his dazzling receptions in India, Barack Obama announced a six-fold increase in America’s military aid to Pakistan, an impressive $263 million for 2016. He added another $334 million for economic aid and $143 million “for counter-terrorism” whatever that means. This is at a time when individuals and organisations America has declared as terrorist roam safely in Pakistan.

The US knows better than any other country that Pakistan’s military establishment has only one enemy and that is not “extremism”, as the US President put it in his budget speech. It is strange that Obama’s policy objective in Pakistan is to build up its military prowess while his objective in India is to push American investments on terms that are unfavourable to India. The two nuclear reactor designs India is asked to buy, for Gujarat and Andhra, are both expensive and untested, according to experts in the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace. Is this the same Obama who advised us against religious splintering? Advice delivered, he goes and provides muscle to the one country that devotes all its energy to splintering India along religious lines.

The intricacies involved in international power politics came to the fore when Russia and China responded to India’s dance with America, Russia with action and China with nuanced statements. Russian disenchantment began in Manmohan Singh’s time. Pakistan moved in smartly. Sensing America’s newfound interest in the “pivot” policy of rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific region and Russia’s growing isolation from Nato over Ukraine, Pakistan made overtures to Moscow. The response was a Russian offer of combat helicopters ignoring Indian protests. Last November Russia went so far as to sign a defence pact with Pakistan. We lost an all-weather friend while gaining a fair-weather one who equates us with Pakistan.

China’s early reactions to Indian hosannas to Obama were strongly worded, though within the limits of diplomacy. We should not forget that China is ahead of us militarily, strategically and economically. It has the means to pin us down all along our land borders. But it wants to carry India along so that American-led plans to dominate Asia-Pacific can be nullified. President Xi with Russian support wants to get India into the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group. Most importantly, China has begun to show sensitivity to India’s worries about the Maritime Silk Route, according to Chinese official media. Xi told Sushma Swaraj, “Both sides should grab the opportunity of the century.” For Modi to make his moves at that level of political artistry, the first thing he should do is to replace symbolism with substance. Symbolism is an artifice anyone can work up. See Pakistan’s decision to hold a military parade next month with Xi Jinping as the chief guest. The parity game played to perfection.

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