May 13, 2016
“While Mr. Modi has been rightly lauded for his out-of-the-box thinking, the kilometres clocked are no longer telling the whole story.” The Prime Minister at Madison Square Garden in New York
Foreign policy has been at the heart of Prime Minister Modi’s public profile. Two years on, he needs to reaffirm the Foreign Ministry’s role as India’s primary interlocutor
Within hours of being elected in May 2014, Narendra Modi had begun work on his first big project as Prime Minister: to invite leaders of all neighbouring countries to his swearing-in ceremony. The phone calls, made from a makeshift office space at a senior party leader’s home, sent a powerful message. To the outside world, it was that Mr. Modi was ready to be the reconciler, a magnanimous subcontinental leader. The domestic message was equally clear: he would steer the foreign policy ship, rather than paddle to Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) instruction.MEA in the driver’s seat
Within weeks, the shift in command structure was obvious within South Block. Prime Minister Modi would decide, often surprising his officers with his decisions, and the MEA had to scramble to keep pace with his distinctive style. When he decided to put off a visit to Japan in July 2014, the message reached the Japanese Prime Minister directly, minutes ahead of even the Indian Ambassador in Tokyo. A few months later, when he decided to cancel Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh’s trip to Pakistan if the Pakistan High Commissioner wouldn’t call off meetings with the Hurriyat, Ms. Singh herself was caught unawares. Other visits were announced with an equally firm grip and planned outside the MEA: details of his U.S. itinerary were decided by the Prime Minister and his personal advisers. Soon, surprise became the routine, and when he tweeted his invitation to U.S. President Barack Obama to be the Republic Day chief guest, the MEA had settled down to the idea that it wouldn’t be in the driver’s seat. By the time Mr. Modi landed in Lahore in December last year, it didn’t surprise anyone that the Pakistan division of the MEA was not consulted, and the Indian High Commissioner couldn’t make it to the tarmac in time.