NEW DELHI: In a bold diplomatic initiative, invitations have been sent to heads of governments of all the seven SAARC countries to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi—the first time foreign leaders will attend the official event.
The initiative, it is learnt, came from Modi himself, who wanted to reach out to the neighbourhood and demonstrate its top slot in India’s foreign policy. Sources said that talks were under way to invite leaders of other countries also, but the names are apparently held top secret. While Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has confirmed his attendance, there is still no information from Islamabad. Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina will be sending her country’s Speaker S S Chaudhary, as she will be leaving on an official trip to Japan.
“In this communication, she (foreign secretary Sujatha Singh) has conveyed to them, on behalf of the Prime Minister-designate, Narendra Modi an invitation to their leaders to the swearing-in ceremony on the 26th of this month,” said MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin. The MEA spokesperson indicated that no formal confirmation has been received yet. Officials from the South Asian missions were called for meetings in South Block on Wednesday for a preliminary discussion over logistical issues. Nepal PM Sushil Koirala, Bhutan PM Tshering Tobgay, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Maldives President Abdulla Yameen are also likely to be present.
Pakistan foreign office spokesperson confirmed they have received the invitation, but added that no decision has been taken yet. Sources said that it is unlikely that Sharif will visit Delhi. Modi had thundered against Islamabad in his election speeches. Jammu and Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah called the move “excellent”. “Hope this is beginning of sustained talks,” he tweeted. However, he took a dig shortly tweeting,”At the same time I can’t help wonder what BJP would have said if a PM-designate Rahul Gandhi had done the same thing.” Mehbooba Mufti of People’s Democratic Party said, “It is a positive beginning and would generate hope among the people... He (Modi) has actually sent out an encouraging signal that he is serious to follow the Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s initiatives of friendship towards Pakistan,” she said.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor welcomed the move and said, “If Nawaz Sharif does accept the invitation, let’s hope Narendra Modi will serve him chicken biryani!” he said. This was in reference to Modi attacking the Congress in 2013, when the then external affairs minister Salman Khurshid hosted a luncheon for Pakistan PM Raja Pervez Ashraf, in the midst of the controversy of beheading of Indian soldiers by the Pakistani Army. BJP leader Arun Jaitley said that foreign leaders were being invited to show how peaceful transition takes place in the world’s largest democracy.