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A variation of the former British statesman Harold Wilson’s remark that one week is a long time in politics is apt for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Circu-mstances have so changed since his September Ireland/US foray that his current foreign trip feels like an eternity later. Firstly, the scorching loss in the Bihar election, despite pulling every imaginable trick out of Amit Shah’s quiver, has tarnished his image in India and raised questions abroad. Secondly, while his interlocutors abroad understand that fluctuating electoral fortunes are part of politics, the tone and tenor of electioneering by him, his party president, and the even more intemperate rhetoric from his partymen that went unpunished,earning only a mild reprimand, revived the 2002 concerns about him.

Two British journalists openly questioned Mr Modi about intolerance in India. The Speaker of the British Parliament subtly alluded to it by first lauding India for its successful democracy despite diversity and challenges of development, and then intoning that democracy also entails freedom of speech and faith. Mr Modi’s clichéd response was that India was the land of Buddha and Gandhi. The message was clear: that while India is a desirable partner for its economic success, it is no less so for its inherited values which make it the counter-point to China in Asia.

The British government provided the pomp and ceremony befitting a head of government, only marginally short of that extended to China’s President Xi Jinping three weeks earlier. Britain, the former colonial master, was re-defining its relationship with China and India, realising the oppor-tunity for economic engagement. Some anno-uncements, like the support for a permanent seat for India at the UN Security Council, were old hat, chanted for years. The rupee bonds for Indian infrastructure development to be floated in London were innovative. Similarly, cyber-terrorism coop-eration is also welcome as the Internet is the new gateway for recru-itment and radicali-sation. In India, foreign direct investment from UK ranks number three, after Mauritius and Singapore. Similarly, India ranks higher than any other European country in investing in UK. London is a European financial hub where deals are made and through which global capital flows.

The Paris terror attacks commenced as the much-hyped Wembley diaspora event was concluding in London. Patterned on the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008, they even coloured the agenda of the G20 meeting, to which Mr Modi flew from UK. Rather than focus on global growth and the climate change conference in Paris later this year, the gathered leaders of the most powerful countries jointly condemned terrorism and sought a cohesive strategy to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The key is to find convergence between Iran and Russia, comfortable with the Assad regime in Syria, and the West led by the US and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries that want regime change. The Vienna meeting on January 1, 2016, is to discuss a Syrian solut-ion.

US President Barack Obama met his Russian counterpart, Mr Vladimir Putin, to create better under-standing before that meeting. ISIS’ likely downing of the Russian civilian plane in Sinai and the Paris attacks may actually facilitate a deal. At the G20, Mr Modi, besides seeking lower transaction costs on international money transfers, again partly a diaspora issue, pitched in with a 10-point plan to combat terror. He asked for states that sponsor terror, hinting at Pakistan, to be isolated, and a unified stand aga-inst terror and greater intelligence-sharing, disruption of terror financing and outreach to opinion makers, including clergy. The last is interesting considering the different narrative adopted by the Bharatiya Janata Party domestically, particularly during elections.

After literally re-fuelling in India, Mr Modi heads to the 10th East Asia Summit in Malaysia, an 18-nation grouping comprising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) plus China, Japan, Republic of Korea besides India, New Zealand, Australia, US and Russia. It is the only inclusive group in this Asia-Pacific region with a core agenda of economic and social amelioration ranging from environment and energy, education (Nalanda being revived under this rubric) to global health and pandemics, natural disaster management and connectivity.

Three factors loom over this summit. One is the US fast-tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which includes four out of 10 Asean members — Brunei, Malaysia, Sing-apore and Vietnam. Two, a rival grouping called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), constituting the 10 Asean nations plus 6 which have free trade agreements with them, including India, is underway. Three, Chinese unilateralism in forcibly changing the status quo in the South China Sea by sand-banking artificial islands, unrecognised under the United Nations Conv-ention on the Law of the Sea, creates divisions and undermines cooperation.

Mr Modi then heads to Singapore, drawn instinctively by the economic success of a city state suffused with Confucian work ethic though intolerant of dissent. He would seek investment and joint ventures, much as he did in London, Singa-pore also being a regional financial hub. He would return from his over-extended jaunt, which could have been shortened by dropping Singapore and squeezing the London itinerary, to face a stormy Winter Session of Parliament. The investment Mr Modi seeks abroad needs enabling consensus in Indian Parliament on laws needing enactment.

The Prime Minister would be better served to communicate with India, the Opposition and media with the same alacrity he shows vis-a-vis the diaspora, foreign Parliaments and cameras abroad. His actions must demonstrate that India is the land not only of Buddha and Gandhi, but also Kabir, Nanak and others who enhanced spiritual unity amongst Indians of all castes and creeds. Bihar’s 100 million people have spoken. Have those in power heard?

The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry. He tweets at @ambkcsingh

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( Source : deccan chronicle )
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