Diplomacy: K.P. Nayar
Precisely six months after Narendra Modi took office as prime minister and his promise of achche din or “good days” caught the imagination of the Indian people, the high expectations raised by Modi’s style and governance are spreading in the country’s neighbourhood. When Modi and seven other heads of State and government from South Asia meet in Kathmandu a week from today, India will stop being treated as the whipping boy within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation for the first time since Saarc was formed with great fanfare in 1985.
In the run up to next week’s Kathmandu summit, voices continue to be raised that India should do more for its neighbours than vice versa in echoes of the ill-advised and mercifully short-lived “Gujral doctrine”, but such voices are fewer and feebler than at any time before. Instead, the new talking point in the region is that although India accounts for 70 to 80 per cent of the region’s economy, its resources, South Asia’s demographic dividend and much else, the country could be held back in its “Modification” — in more ways than one — unless the prime minister incorporates neighbouring countries into his vision for the future. Because Modi constantly stresses development, both social and economic, in his speeches, the single big theme for the Kathmandu summit will be that the entire South Asia region should move forward together and no country should become the laggard within Saarc.
Deliberately at the choice of Modi, he took office in the presence of all the Saarc leaders at variously high levels from presidents and prime ministers to speaker of an elected legislature. It may be a coincidence that the first Saarc summit attended by Modi will convene exactly six months to the day when he was sworn in as prime minister.
But with Modi one can never be sure. Recall how with unstated planning and understated attention, he entered the South Block office of the prime minister on the 50th anniversary of the death of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, whom he admires. Assertions to the contrary by some people during last week’s 125th birth anniversary of Nehru have been ill-informed and are unfair to Modi.