New Delhi: Just as in many ways, President Barack Obama’s farewell speech contained a message to India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inaugural address at the second Raisina Dialogue included a few pointers for Obama’s successor Donald Trump.
The theme of the Raisina Dialogue (17 to 19 January in New Delhi) this year is ‘The New Normal: Multilateralism with Multipolarity’ – a motif that seems very apt for the present day and age in which traditional power equations and hegemonies are being challenged and in some cases, overthrown.
To that effect, the prime minister spoke of how the world is undergoing profound changes in uncertain times wherein human progress and violent turmoil are both growing. He noted that:
"Physical borders may be less relevant in this age of bits and bytes. But, walls within nations, a sentiment against trade and migration, and rising parochial and protectionist attitudes across the globe are also a stark statistic. The result, globalisation gains are at risk and economic gains are no longer easy to come by."
A cursory viewing of some of the speeches, pronouncements and tweets by Trump – who is to be inaugurated as the 45th American president on Friday – over the course of his campaign and after the election show that these are some of the attributes he is bringing to the table. Most notably, the ‘sentiment against trade and migration’, which is evident in his desire to scrap numerous multilateral trade agreements signed by his predecessors; ‘parochial and protectionist attitudes’ are reflected in his narrow and dim view of Mexico; and of course, the mention of ‘walls’ and ‘physical borders’, which is self-explanatory. Interestingly, even President Xi Jinping offered a similar warning to Trump earlier in the day.
As Modi continued, the references were vaguer, but still contained some valuable lessons for the incoming President of the United States:
“The multi-polarity of the world… is a dominant fact today. And, we welcome it. Because, it captures the reality of the rise of many nations. It accepts that voices of many, not views of a few should shape the global agenda. Therefore, we need to guard against any instinct or inclination that promotes exclusion.”
The ‘guarding against any instinct or inclination that promotes exclusion’ part of the statement is most instructive. But it was a statement, a little later in his speech, that broadly spelt out that it’s no longer enough to want to just Make America Great Again or ensure that Americans are safe wherever they may be. By turning the narrative inward to reflect also how India’s Ministry of External Affairs has been at the helm of providing assistance to foreign nationals all over the world – whether those trying to get out of Libya or those trapped in the earthquake in Nepal, Modi drove the most important point home:
“The prosperity of Indians, both at home and abroad, and security of our citizens are of paramount importance. But, self interest alone is neither in our culture nor in our behaviour.”
Sure, some might say this is all a case of reading too much into a harmless set of statements. But then international relations – particularly when it comes to messaging – are more often than not built on a subtle and gentle approach rather than a hammer-and-tongs approach.
And by referring very positively to the US and indeed, Trump by name later on, Modi appeared to be somewhat softening the blow:
"With the United States, our actions have brought speed, substance and strength to the entire spectrum of economic, business, commercial, and security engagement. In my conversation with President-elect Donald Trump, we agreed to keep building on these gains in our strategic partnership."
And as pieces of this nature usually conclude, whether or not Trump pays heed remains to be seen. But, there isn’t long to go until we find out.
Updated Date: Jan 17, 2017 21:00 PM