Thursday, March 3, 2016

New, strong and clear outreach

Nirupama Rao, The Hindu

Image from article, with caption: Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Madison Square Garden in New York, in 2014.

India’s almost 30-million-strong population of persons of Indian origin across the continents has become an important player in the scheme of foreign policy priorities for the country. Prime Minister Modi has astutely understood the need to consolidate the linkages between Mother India and this vast immigrant presence abroad of people from ‘home’. Mega shows at Madison Square Garden or at Wembley Stadium go beyond mere spectacle; they embody Mr. Modi’s ability to embrace this strategic asset for India with confidence and long-term vision, asserting blood ties over mere economic necessity and buttressing a more participatory role for the overseas Indian community in the building of India’s future.
Visible in this foreign policy narrative and discourse is a greater determination to get things done, and an emphasis on the bigger and better. Hesitation and risk-aversion have been replaced with more focus and determination. Mr. Modi’s style is more fortissimo, and yet more personal — bonding with Shinzo Abe, sitting on a swing with Xi Jinping, tea with Barack Obama, all the things it takes to get India more noticed. Public diplomacy is better deployed as in getting the world to know more about India’s contributions to global peace and a narrative that aims at building “our place in the world”. There are new slogans and symbolism: Neighbourhood First becomes a signature segment of foreign policy; Act East replaces Look East; yoga becomes a leitmotif of Indian soft power; and even on climate change, heritage and lifestyle are introduced into conversations on the subject. There is a new stress on “obtaining recognition of India’s great power status”.
And yet, running through all this is the inexorable unspooling of a thread known as India’s foreign policy. Core interests and concerns for a nation do not change. Hand-holding does not solve strategic headaches. The limited size of the Foreign Service continues to pose a challenge. Optics do well in diplomacy but cannot usurp the show itself. Tangible outcomes are what the people will ultimately seek.
In all fairness to the Prime Minister, he is driven by the need to achieve results but the world, and particularly the region he operates in, is not an easy place. He has shown he has a hardwired ability to right-track foreign policy into a sphere of multiple engagements and a brave new universe. Now, to paraphrase Herman Melville and Moby Dick, let him square the yards, and make a fair wind of it homeward.

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