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No #UdtaPM, Narendra Modi's foreign policy is clear, rooted in realpolitik

At the height of Udta Punjab controversy, social media had another top trend. Many of those who were posting on Twitter with the hashtag #UdtaPM were ridiculing the Prime Minister's propensity to fly around the world to either hard-sell India as an investment destination or to garner support for the government's ambitious push for seats in high tables.

Foreign policy has remained Narendra Modi's key focus area ever since he assumed office. The Prime Minister has been very proactive in external affairs, be it focusing on India's immediate neighbours with 'Neighbourhood First' initiative, wooing the US Congress, approaching Switzerland to gain backing over NSG inclusion or flying to Iran to sign the Chabahar pact.

But critics — media, the Opposition and even some in his own party — have repeatedly criticised Modi for what they claim is a scattergun approach to foreign relations campaign. It is said that he relies too much on charm and oratory skills to bulldoze the balance of power on international arena that remains a brutally cold and calculated exercise.

Modi's personal ambition and breathtaking pace, goes the criticism, have actually been counter-productive when it comes to external affairs and he has over-extended himself and India's case while doing so.

In 2015, for instance, Modi set a scorching pace in visiting 28 countries and welcomed leaders from 12 countries, including the US, Germany, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Bhutan.

 No #UdtaPM, Narendra Modis foreign policy is clear, rooted in realpolitik

Narendra Modi during TimesNow interview. Screengrab

While talking to Times Now in an interview that was aired on Monday, Modi made it clear this was necessary because world leaders didn't know what he stood for except viewing him through the prism of media.

"The world did not know me; and the world wanted to know who the new (Indian) prime minister is. If someone tries to know Modi through the eyes of the media, they will be confused. If that happened, it will be a loss. My personality shouldn't be a hindrance for the world to have faith in India.

"So, if I had not met world leaders and talked to them, they would not have known the Prime Minister of India. I was not a member of a political family. I was new; so being proactive was important for me," he said.

The point is, said the prime minister, that in an increasingly interconnected world, India cannot remain steadfastly tied to a corner.

"We need to understand that the world was bipolar earlier on. The foreign policy would be centered around two super powers. India was a little late in realising that this bipolar situation was a mirage. Now, the entire world, in changed circumstances, especially in the 21st century, is more inter-dependent and inter-connected… There's been a shift in paradigm."

Modi said that not coming from a political family and having no background in the field were helps, not hindrances, as he doesn't have to carry any baggage and press the 'reset' button where necessary.

"Because I do not have any previous baggage, because I had a clean slate, I write everything from beginning and that has a benefit. Today, we are building relations with countries across the world. The amount of respect with which I engage Saudi Arabia, I engage Iran with the same amount of respect. The amount of respect with which I speak to America, I speak to Russia with the same amount of respect. We need to understand this. We also need to understand that we shouldn't consider smaller countries insignificant. I abide by this principle."

This isn't a man steeped in hubris who is in a hurry to build a legacy on steroids. The prime minister appears to be a man aware of his and India's role on world stage and presents a refreshing new gaze on the way the country must engage with neighbours.

China, which stonewalled India's audacious bid for NSG membership, presents an entirely new challenge though. Its growing political, military and economic clout make it increasingly assertive many areas where India's active interest will be involved.

On being asked why China repeatedly is blocking us despite the PM's personal proactive measures and outreach, Modi's answer was diplomatic, non-confrontational and pointed to his grasp of the realpolitik. He played down the NSG setback as a "continuing process" and said that both countries have differences but do not need to be adversaries.

"The first thing is that we have an ongoing dialogue with China and it should continue to happen. In foreign policy it's not necessary to have similar views to have a conversation. Even when the views are contradictory, talks are the only way forward and problems should be resolved through dialogue. We don't have one problem with China, we have a whole lot of problems pending with China. Slowly and steadily, an effort is on to address these issues through talks and make them less cumbersome.

"I can say that China has been cooperating with India to search for solutions. On some issues, it's a question of principles for them. On some issues, it's a question of principles for us. On some issues they differ with us and there are issues on which we differ with them. There are some basic differences.

"But the most important thing is that we can speak to China eye-to-eye and put forth India's interests in the most unambiguous manner."

On Pakistan, the prime minister pointed to multiple power centres to clarify the NDA government's position which has been slammed as knee-jerk. He said the democratically elected government in Pakistan lacks heft which makes it difficult to carry out policy initiatives.

“The first thing is that with whom in Pakistan will you decide the ‘lakshman rekha (the red line)’ — with the elected government or with other actors? So India will have to be alert and conscious all the time. There should not be any laxity and negligence."

Modi said that his continuous Pakistan outreach has convinced the international community that India wants peace and harmony and Pakistan is under increasing pressure to explain its stand.

"There is an outcome due to my continuous efforts like my visit to Lahore and my invitation to the Pakistani prime minister to come to India. Now I don't have to explain to the world about India's position. The world is unanimously appreciating India's position. And the world is seeing that Pakistan is finding it difficult to respond. Today the world has to accept what India has been saying about terrorism. So I believe we have to take this process forward."

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Updated Date: Jun 28, 2016 11:13:27 IST

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