In February this year, replying to the motion to thank the President, Prime Minister Modi told us that during his visit to Japan, he had discussions with Shinya Yamanaka, a Nobel Laureate, on how his research in stem cells can be used to control sickle cell anemia amongst tribals in Madhya Pradesh; He further told us that during his visit to Australia, they had discussions on using Australian research to increase the yield of pulses; and also on another Australian study that will help in increasing nutrition value in bananas!
This is perhaps the first time that a Prime Minister has spoken about such issues while on foreign visits. And these are just one of the many unique factors that have been guiding his foreign policy so far.
PM Modi has begun to take these visits beyond the formalities of formal meetings and strict dinners. Every country he has visited thus far, we have learnt more about the history and traditions of that country; and also learnt the various Indian connections we have with those countries.
During his recent visit to France, he visited the Neuve Chapelle war memorial. I had personally never heard of this war memorial and I suspect many Indians hadn’t. I now know that this war memorial has been constructed as a tribute to the thousands of Indian soldiers who perished fighting valiantly on the battlefield, in World War 1.Mr. Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit and pay homage at this memorial.
Selected works of C.V.Raman were presented to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Many were stumped, because we had no clue why CV Raman’s books were chosen. In the Prime Minister’s own words - Sir CV Raman's work finds extensive application in diverse areas, even quantum chemistry – in which Chancellor Merkel holds a doctorate. Sir CV Raman had a deep connection with Germany. He was inspired to pursue science as a career by famous German scientist von Helmholtz. Now well known terms like Raman Effect & Raman Spectrum were coined in 1928 by a German physics professor Dr Peter Pringsheim.
There are many examples of out of the box thinking on Foreign Policy which we know has distinct Modi stamp.His visit to the Mahabodhi society, while in Srilanka,or to a Gurudwara, while in Canada, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper accompanying him signified that out of the box thinking. Prime Minister’s reference to "Ramayana trail in Sri Lanka and a Buddhist Circuit in India" or to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, while in Australia, along with many cricketing legends from both the countries went beyond regular diplomatic protocol. Consider Prime Minister’s visit to the Fiji Islands (I mean, how many of us would have even cared about Fiji!) but we now know why Fiji figured in his itinerary. Fiji could serve as a hub for stronger Indian engagement with Pacific islands. The thought process and team work that goes into planning these diplomatic visits is unheard of before. Prime Minister has indeed hit the diplomatic ground running right from the first day in office.
Modi has understood that personal chemistry between leaders is a basic prerequisite for co-operation between countries to work. Take a look at the collage of pictures below.
Most visits and handshakes and meetings earlier by Indian organizations were restricted to norms of protocol and niceties. This warmth and one-one interactions (over tea, on a swing, on a boat ride, over a walk) firmly establish a new and a welcome precedent – something leaders world over might want to emulate too.
Whilst massive thrust and focus on many of Narendra Modi’s visits have been on “Make in India”, he has silently also bought back focus on some ancient wisdom that makes India unique. Almost every world leader was gifted with a copy of the Bhagavad Gita (Xi Jinping got a Mandarin version too!). Getting 170 countries from the UN to vote for International Yoga Day on June 21st must rank as one of the biggest victories of this foreign policy. A matter of immense pride for the nation indeed!
However, the most significant aspect of all his international visits has been this – his interactions with the Indian diaspora. Be it stopping by the road to greet the crowds or address large town hall gatherings (where one does not need to lobby to get a seat!), PM Modi has acknowledged the massive contributions this community has made to the growth of our country.
NRIs’ are an often derided lot back home. They are criticized just about everywhere - in movies, in articles, and even in interviews. Though their contributions to the growth of our country are immense, such acknowledgement seldom comes their way. PM Modi has contributed well to remove this stigma. Every single such community reception has been a roaring hit - a testimony that the NRIs finally felt fully recognized for their efforts.
Unfortunately, the media coverage has been a little skewed on this front. Ramana Mupalla wrote a detailed piece on this website on India’s Modi-fied foreign policy and the print media still does better given the time and space it has to react. TV Media coverage however has been peripheral at best or hypocritical at worst. We were witness to this sorry spectacle of one journo asking random people off the street in NY, whether they knew the Indian PM. We were also witness to behavior by a senior journo outside MSG in NYT that can be easily classified as crass. Or this discourse that sought to spread lies about his shawl and suits, or this discourse that tried to bring in the mythical “attacks” on churches.The French Rafale deal was criticized purely on the ground that this goes against “Make in India”. The deal signified pragmatism over emotion which is the mainstay of Modi doctrine. This website carried a superb piece that explains this deal in more detail.
Does this mean there have been no flaws so far? Not at all. It is human nature to step on the wrong foot. A great beginning to the Hannover Messe fair seems to have had a lackluster ending. The criticism about the plaguing problem of execution in India is something that Modi does realize and is working towards. A couple of references to politics back home (for example, reference to Scam India) were definitely avoidable, but those still do not take away the strides we have made on foreign policy front. Here’s wishing many more success stories in the future.