DR VIJAY CHAUTHAIWALE
After his mammoth victory in Lok Sabha elections in May 2019, Prime Minister Modiji’s agenda on foreign policy remained very hectic It was comprised of strengthening bilateral ties, putting forward India’s interests in multilateral forums, and later on, during COVID-19 pandemic, extending helping hand to every country that was in need for medicine or any other assistance.
After inviting SAARC leaders for his swearing-in ceremony in 2014, PM Modiji invited the BIMSTEC leaders for the second oath ceremony. BIMSTEC, a grouping of Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan, the countries dependent on the Bay of Bengal, is a major foreign policy of PM. Additionally, Kyrgyzstan’s President Sooronbay Jeenbekov (then chair of SCO) and to the Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Jugnauth were also invited for the occasion.
In the second term, his first visit abroad was to Sri Lanka, during which PM visited the St. Anthony’s Shrine and paid homage to those who lost their lives during the cowardly terror attack on Easter and expressed solidarity with Sri Lankan people. It was followed by several bilateral visits to countries like Bhutan, France, Bahrain, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. During these visits, he touched upon various topics of mutual interests as well as on the issues of global importance. For example, in France, he said ““Nowadays we talk of 21st century ‘INFRA’. That is ‘IN’ plus ‘FRA’ is the alliance of ‘INDIA’ and ‘FRANCE’. ..The alliance of India and France is moving strongly.” He also touched upon climate change and Solar alliance during his speeches. In Bhutan, he inaugurated 720 MW Mangdechhu Hydroelectric power plant and also launched RuPay card.
PM Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Bahrain. First ever prime ministerial visit from India to Bahrain. During his visit, Prime Minister was conferred the prestigious ‘The King Hamad Order of the Renaissance’, the highest honour of Bahrain. Prime Minister visited the Shreenathji Temple dedicated to Sri Krishna and also the “prasad” that he bought with the RuPay card.
During his visit to Saudi Arabia, PM Narendra Modi visited Saudi Arabia for a high-profile Future Investment Initiative Summit, dubbed as “Davos in the desert,” an initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
During Russia visit, PM Modi was greeted by Vladimir Putin at Vladivostok and the Russian President, Both the leaders participated in the 20th India-Russia Annual Summit. While addressing the press after the summit, PM Modi said that both India and Russia are against outside influence in the internal matters of any nation. The annual summit covered a number of regional and international issues of mutual interest including the situation in the Gulf region, the Afghan peace process and the possibilities to further strengthen cooperation between the two countries in the oil and gas sector. India and Russia also exchanged 25 agreements in the field of defence, trade, industrial cooperation, investments, connectivity corridors and energy. President Putin has also announced that PM Modi will be conferred by ‘Order of St Andrew the Apostle’ the highest civilian award of Russia.
In addition to abovementioned bilateral visits, PM Modiji has also participated several important multilateral platforms. First, he went to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan to participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit. During the summit, PM Modi discussed the global security situation security, multilateral economic cooperation, people to-people exchanges and topical issues of international and regional importance.
PM Modi visited Osaka, Japan to attend G 20 Summit. Women empowerment, issues related to digitalization and artificial intelligence, progress in achieving Sustainable Development Goals and addressing major global challenges such as terrorism and climate change formed the rich agenda of the Summit. The PM also held bilateral and multilateral talks with several world leaders.
In addition to main G-20 meeting and several bilateral meetings on the sidelines, PM Modi joined two tri-lateral meetings one with Russia and China and other with USA and Japan.
PM Modi was a participant at the 45th G7 summit at the special invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, as India is not a member of the group of seven. This invitation is seen as a “reflection of the personal chemistry” between the two leaders and also recognition of India as a major economic power. The G7 summit addressed a host of issues from climate change to India’s membership for the Nuclear Suppliers’ groups (NSG) and the global trade, taxation mechanism for technology companies among others.
But the big focus was also on India’s move to do away with Article 370 on Jammu and Kashmir. The move Pakistan has been trying to take up at the international level but the world has once again thrown their weight behind India and reiterated that Kashmir is a solely an internal issue of India. In another major development, the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) understood India’s position on its bid for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and said that he is willing to help on the matter.
Prime Minister’s most significant visit of this year was his seven-day long visit to USA. During this visit, he addressed several small and big groups, had multiple bi-lateral meetings, plus he also addressed United Nations General Assembly.
The first engagement of PM Modi in Houston was with the top CEOs and representatives from sixteen energy majors of the US. The discussion was focussed on working together for energy security and expanding mutual investment opportunities between India and the US. In New York, PM Modi’s first address was Climate Action Summit on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Even as PM Modi prepared to begin his address, there was a surprise guest in the audience, US President Donald Trump. PM invoked the teachings of Gandhi and appealed for behavioural changes to make climate sustainable. He spelt out all the initiatives taken by India with respect to environmental issues, not to leave his initiative to ban the use of single-use plastic in India on October 2.
PM also talked at a high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage. “World welfare begins with people’s welfare, and health is an important component of it. And in line with this global principle, India is laying great emphasis on health,” said PM Modi. This was followed by a leaders’ dialogue on strategic response to terrorism and violent extremists narratives.
PM Modi also spoke at an event– ‘Leadership Matters: Relevance of Gandhi in Temporary Times’–organised by the Indian mission to the UN in New York to commemorate 150th anniversary on Mahatma Gandhi. He lauded Gandhi’s teachings, social reforms and vision and said that they were relevant in contemporary times. As a friendly gesture, India also gifted a Gandhi Solar Park to the UN, which was installed with solar panels on the rooftop of the UN building in New York.
During this visit, PM was conferred “Global Gatekeepers Award” by Bills and Melinda Gates Foundation for the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan.
PM Modi, for the first time, met leaders from Pacific Island nations in New York in a plurilateral format. He demonstrated India’s commitment to advancing their development priorities, PM Modi made a major push for foreign investments in the areas like smart cities, infrastructure and real estate, At Bloomberg Global Business Forum . He also interacted with over 40 business leaders and American CEOs at CEO Roundtable where he highlighted the steps taken by India to build a USD 5 trillion economy.
In his last day speech at the UN, PM Modi spoke about protecting the climate, fighting terrorism, maintaining global peace and his government’s efforts at helping the marginalised. He repeated his message of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ from the podium as he spoke about India’s culture. The prime minister went on to quote a 3,000-year-old Tamil poem to say inclusivity is India’s strength and tradition. He also called on the world to unite in the battle against terrorism.
The most significant event of this visit was of course “Howdy Modi” which was attended by more than 50000 enthusiastic members of Indian Diaspora and was addressed by PM Modiji and US President Mr Donald Trump.
Later on PM Modi ji went to Bangkok to participate ASEAN summit and RCEP meeting. During this period, India has taken an important decision to opt out of RCEP treaty. He also went to Brazil to attend BRICS summit.
COVID-19 pandemic is one of the gravest crises the world is facing in its history. It is but natural that India shows its leadership with compassion and love for humanity. In addition to protect our own citizens, India has supplied essential medicines to more than 133 countries in the world . (446 million HCQ tablets and 1.54 billion Paracetamol tablets).
PM Modi hosted the Video Conference of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Leaders on COVID-19 was held recently. All the members of SAARC (India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan) attended the conference.
India has proposed to create a COVID-19 Emergency Fund which could be based on a voluntary contribution from all SAARC members and contributed $10 Million to it.
India has also proposed a rapid response team of doctors and specialists, along with testing kits and other equipment for all the member countries.
During G-20 virtual summit Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged a new approach to globalisation and multilateralism in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic . Prime Minister had one-to-one telephonic conversations with more than forty world leaders and External Affairs Minister Dr Jaishankar talked to his counterparts of more than sixty countries.
In last one year, India has taken several transformational initiatives on domestic front, such as abrogation of article 370, CAA, etc. Section of global media created a concerted campaign against these measures. It was therefore imperative for India to explain the rationale and importance of these measures. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, India has successfully navigated this challenge and convinced our global friends that these measures are not only non-discriminatory but also empowers weaker sections of the society and enables persecuted minorities of countries like Pakistan to restart their lives with dignity.
Barring few notable exceptions, India has largely successful to bring global powers on board on these issues. Later on, during COVID-19 crisis, India has again shown its leadership with compassion by active exchange of information, supply of essential medicines and even food grains, etc. Though foreign visits of Prime Minister have stopped for last few months, it didn’t deter him from being active player in global geo-politics and also from being leading partner against the COVID19 pandemic. No wonder, PM Modi’s leadership has been praised all over the world, bringing India to the new glory.
(The writer is National In-Charge, BJP Foreign Affairs department)