In many ways, Barack Obama’s response to our prime minister’s invitation to him to grace our R-Day celebration is more than a diplomatic coup. No doubt it has all the makings of a major event in the gathering power play in the region as the 21st century pushes the major countries of Asia for a new rebalancing that could better carry forward their emergence even as the American dominance of the international scene begins to shrink.
A more realistic view would be to consider Obama’s acceptance of the Indian invitation as a recognition that not only India is now a potential superpower but also others are finding it necessary to seek the goodwill of India as a major power.
As the Modi-led NDA government steps into its sixth month in office, the one thing that even its carping critics are amazed at is the scorching pace of the prime minister’s international initiatives. From the presence of the SAARC leaders at his swearing-in, almost every other week, even day, Modi has been either with one or a group of world leaders.
Hardly had he completed the visit to Japan and signed several deals on Japanese investment and technology in Indian defence equipment manufacture as well as a joint exploration for maritime security in Indian and Pacific Oceans, the focus was on his visit to America and discussions on a strategic alliance with that country with a visit from China’s president Xi Jinping to accommodate in between.
There was also the magnificence of the Indian NRI community in the US giving him a grand reception as well as his own focused address to the UN General Assembly. That address was rich not only in ideas but also in specific proposals as the plea for an international yoga day revealed.
Note the projection of Bharatiyata in every aspect of these visits including the language he uses, the clothes he wears and the Indian contributions to the world of ideas that he posits. Then came the ASEAN summit in Myanmar, the G-20 meet in Brisbane and the Australian reception and so on.
As many analysts have pointed out, for the last few years under the UPA regime, the India story had waned into a footnote. Now, under the Modi regime, the story is in the main text itself. In the international scenario, all leaders want to be seen with and meet the Indian prime minister.
After all, despite the clear hint that our prime minister gave while in Tokyo that his is a “vikasvad” as against the “vistarvad” of some others (read China), Xi Jinping was so eager to work with Modi that he advanced his visit to India by a day to be present for Modi’s birthday.
Each of these visits has brought a concrete result, whether it is a commitment for Japanese investment in India, the sale of uranium from Australia, the US dropping its opposition to Indian farm subsidy for the sake of the WTO deal to go through, or even a sulking Sri Lanka opening up with releasing detained Indian fishermen who were sentenced to execution and so on.
In the days leading to the election campaign last summer, his critics especially in the Congress were making snide remarks about Modi’s lack of expertise in foreign policy. They have been exposed as prejudiced by the pace, content and strategic plan in the Modi’s foreign policy spin: containing an aggressive China, winning over the ASEAN nations, the thrust into the Polynesian islands, regaining the confidence of warring Nepali political parties and government, the involvement with neighbours, sanitising a troubled Pakistan with its army seeking to provoke conflict, and building a firm joint front with Japan on one end and the US on the other, unsettling Beijing’s plan to be the sole arbiter in Asia.
Admitted that even at the best of times, foreign policy cannot but be an extension of what domestic power is built up and used, projecting an image of India in the comity of nations. The last three years saw the India story gasping for breath with GDP growth steadily declining from 9 to 4.5 per cent, the currency taking a dive, investment and employment falling and rating agencies threatening to move India to junk status.
The last six months have seen a reversal that is unmistakable with a steady rise in GDP forecast. It isn’t a propaganda line but perception of governments and international agencies and firms abroad. In March this year, rating agencies like Standard and Poor’s were threatening a rating downgrade for India.
Now, top analyst agency PwC says in its report on the Indian perspective the other day (Future of India-the winning leap) that its economy could rise to 10 trillion USD by 2034, far above the six trillion dollar forecast by Boston Consulting Group two years ago. Current levels are a bit below two trillion USD—that gives an idea about the distance the “winning leap” would cover.
The tribute to the NDA government has come on the eve of it crossing the milestone from the world’s largest consulting firm McKinsey’s boss Dominic Barton. “Modi has turned India into a magnet,” he told The Economic Times.
Last March even as the election fever was gathering steam, no one gave the BJP a total majority in the Lok Sabha all by itself. After all the country has had a series of coalition governments since 1996 or minority governments with shifting backings since 1989. Even the first NDA government headed by Atalji was a 23-party affair. To assert a 277-plus lead as a goal itself was a gamble no “business-as-usual” leader would have even attempted. Modi, right from the start, was willing to stake his all on that goal. That he achieved it beyond all expectations of the “experts” revealed a deep understanding of India’s underwater currents.
How India has changed for the world and the rest of the world for India during the last six months was best illustrated when Obama happily accepted to be the chief guest at the Republic Day function at Modi’s invite, after refusing him a US visa for almost a decade. Life indeed has come a full circle both for India and rest of the world.
The author is national vice president, BJP.