SUHASINI HAIDAR, thehindu.com
Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s key eight-day visit to Ireland and the U.S., the media was not briefed. But before Mr. Modi travelled to the U.S. last September, for example, the External Publicity Wing of the External Affairs Ministry and senior Ministry officials held a round of briefings, following the normal practice.
This year, however, there was no official announcement; nor was there a briefing.
On September 20, Mr. Modi tweeted about his upcoming visit. “My USA visit will build on the substantial ground covered during my visit last year and President Obama’s visit to India earlier this year,” he wrote in one of a series of tweets.
While the Ministry’s website gave no details of the visit, the Prime Minister directed readers to his personal web portal, which has its own webpage to deal with the visit, www.narendramodi.in/usa_ home
An official told The Hindu there had been ‘very little time’ to organise the interactions ahead of the U.S. visit. Instead, the briefing came from BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, who held a Facebook interaction on September 21.
“U.S.-India relations are bipartisan and are on a strong wicket,” Mr. Madhav said in the interaction.
“India-U.S. bilateral trade agreements are held up not because of any lack of interest or confidence in PM Modiji’s ‘bold’ decisions. There are a couple of contentious issues that need to be sorted out between the countries.”
The forthright statements and the use of the PM’s personal website and Twitter handles are giving rise to speculation that South Block is ceding ground to more ‘unofficial modes’ of public diplomacy in the Modi government.
But there are other reasons for the speculation. Mr. Madhav’s words carry particular weight as he has himself been closely involved in Mr. Modi’s travel plans and foreign policy.
The think tank ‘India Foundation’, that Mr. Madhav and Shaurya Doval (NSA Ajit Doval’s son) run together, has also been involved in providing inputs for the PM’s external diplomacy and strategy.
“This is perhaps the style of PM Modi, to do everything in-house, and the MEA doesn’t fit into that,” says former Ambassador K.C. Singh, who held the post of J.S. (XP) and Spokesperson in 1998-1999. “But it is unprecedented that the MEA has not been enlisted to prepare the ground for his visit,in briefing the media contingent ahead of his visits.”
According to Mr. Singh, the office of the XP and spokesperson was set up separate from the Press Information Bureau in the 1950s by PM Nehru as his preferred mode of public diplomacy. “It is important that the MEA give its perspective on a visit. For example, on this visit to Ireland, no one seemed to know what the PM’s visit was about. This leads to speculation and jibes about the PM’s travels, whereas important details like the need for Irelands support at the Nuclear Suppliers group get ignored,” he explained to The Hindu.