• Friday 20th September 2019

Modi 2.0: omens and portends

  • Published on: June 5, 2019

  • By M.R. Josse

    GAITHERSBURG, MD: As this is being banged out, two America-related items have grabbed my attention: the dilemma swirling through the Democratic camp vis-à-vis the impeachment question, and the opening of President Donald Trump’s state visit to the United Kingdom and other forthcoming travels.
    President Trump received a royal salute as he arrived in London and made his way to Buckingham Palace to greet Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the British royal family.
    Scripted to the minute, the carefully choreographed ‘tamasha’ will provide a lavish spectacle of pomp, pageantry and splendor for the American president and his entourage, to luxuriate in, even if it is played out against the awkward backcloth of a Britain still struggling to find a way to exit the European Union – not to mention the unseemly altercation between Trump and London mayor Sadiq Khan, on its very eve.
    Anyway, two aspects strike me as especially noteworthy: one, that despite a mountain of political problems at home and a raft of serious foreign/security policies to be addressed urgently, Trump can traipse forth so imperturbably across the globe; second, that ‘special relations’ between London and Washington is alive if not well.
    Meanwhile, the dilemma in the Democratic party about whether or not to formally initiate impeachment proceedings against President Trump has sharpened, following special counsel Robert Mueller’s public statement last week that he’s reluctant to talk anymore in public – including before Congress – on his recent report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
    As introducing Mueller before members of Congress would mean bringing them before Republicans as well, it could complicate matters for the Democrats who wish to proceed with impeachment proceedings. In fact, the choice before Democrats is whether presenting Mueller to a national audience would help them politically because the testimony he would give – or complicate matters for them because of the questions from the Republicans that might muddy the story.
    In last week’s piece yours truly had ruminated on the ‘scary’ dimensions of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s resounding electoral victory.
    Hence, I took particular note of the ‘scare’ effect it seems to already have had on the political establishment back home. This, especially against the backdrop of the dramatic elevation of S. Jaishanker to the position of foreign minister in the Modi 2.0 government.
    It was sworn-in on May 30 in New Delhi before an audience that included BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) worthies, including Prime Minister K.P. Oli.
    Pundits and senior political honchos have gravely recalled that political neophyte Jaishanker, who retired as foreign secretary some eighteen months ago, had been dispatched to Kathmandu on the very eve of the adoption of the new Constitution in a last-ditch attempt to abort it, as it was not sufficiently pro-Madeshi.
    In his high-level discussions at the time, the erstwhile Indian foreign secretary tried his best to stymie its formalisation – but mercifully failed in that nefarious bid. Shortly thereafter, as is widely remembered, a pitiless, five-month-plus blockade was imposed on an earthquake-ravaged Nepal.
    That Jaishanker is reportedly the only non-elected member in the new government naturally makes his choice as India’s new foreign minister most telling.
    Given that backdrop, it is only natural that political speculation should be rampant in Nepal that a tough, anti-Nepal foreign policy is on the cards – speculation that, on the Madeshi front, has been greeted with much anticipatory glee and frolic.
    But, apart from Jaishanker’s mysterious, sky-rocketing rise, it is no less notable that Modi has advertised to the world that India is formally jettisoning SAARC in favour of BIMSTEC. This has obvious anti-Nepal overtones in as much as it belittles Nepal’s role in the formation of SAARC – recognized in Kathmandu being chosen as headquarters.
    That apart, it clearly implies that a major plank of India’s foreign policy will henceforth be to isolate Pakistan in the region, while also signaling that it intends to neutralize China’s expanding influence and presence in the Indian Ocean region. Conjoined, they conjure up the image of a wanna-be South/Southeast Asian hegemon. Can India pull it off? Wishes are not horses.
    Yet, its implied anti-China mooring is contradicted by the fact that there was no presence of any member of the “Tibetan government-in-exile” – as there had been during the swearing-in ceremony for Modi 1.0 in 2014. Indeed, Rajeev Sharma in South Asian Monitor.com says that the Dalai Lama has now become “like an albatross around India’s neck” with Modi believing it is “more important to improve bilateral ties with China.”
    While it remains to be seen how India’s new sweet-and-sour policy vis-à-vis China – as interpreted from the aforementioned clues – will play out in the real world, recent policy moves by New Delhi, with regard to the United States are also somewhat puzzling.
    In fact, despite the fact that Trump’s America has not paid much notice to New Delhi, India has, since last April, ended all oil imports from Iran, amid pressure from Washington. This happened after Washington refused to grant a waiver to India from its sanctions on imports of Iranian oil.
    It may be recalled that, earlier this year, Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale stated that India’s alignment is issue-based, giving it flexibility and decisional autonomy. If that is so, that will surely be tested – soon.
    It will, in any case, be edifying to see how the new Indian government navigates foreign policy challenges in the days ahead, particularly with respect to her relations with China and the United States. How long can she run with the hares and hunt with the hounds?
    Looking ahead, it is most absorbing to learn via zeenews.india.com that senior DMK leader M.K. Stalin stated recently that he “would welcome any attempt by South Indian states to demand a separate country of Dravida Nadu” – in the afterglow of Modi’s remarkable electoral triumph!


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