One of the most endearing images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s current three-nation tour of Japan (for the G7 summit), Papua New Guinea and Australia was the gesture by PNG Prime Minister James Marape of touching Modi’s feet to express his respect for the Indian leader. The G7 meet saw Indian diplomacy touch a high as Modi expressed his commitment to do everything in his power to resolve the Ukraine crisis while reiterating that diplomacy and dialogue was the only way out of the conflict. In his bilateral engagements with UK Premier Rishi Sunak and Brazilian leader Lula de Silva, Modi reviewed strategic partnerships. In fact, Modi has, over the years, displayed a remarkable rapport with several world leaders, including former Japanese Prime Minister, the late Shinzo Abe, with whom he had a special bond. Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Modi had a close relationship till ties between the countries turned frosty over the Galwan clashes in 2020. US President Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak also have warm ties with the Indian Prime Minister. The intermittent rumblings about human rights violations and attacks on Press freedom in India by activists abroad have not had any effect on India’s relations with several European countries or the US despite their constant harking on the necessity to protect people’s rights in the context of Russia and China. India as a potential investment destination and as an upcoming economic giant has such immense value that liberal objections can be easily overlooked by the political establishment.
India has a long history of close ties with world leaders, be it Jawaharlal Nehru’s Panchsheel initiative and the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement with Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. By opting out of the world’s key power blocs, these nations managed to chart an independent course, an unprecedented step in world history. The non-aligned movement was carried forward with great gusto by Indira Gandhi, who became one of the leading lights of NAM. Confident of her close relationship with the Soviet bloc, she chose to cock a snook at America, especially during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh. Nehru’s ties with America, too, were lukewarm at the most. Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee tried to mend fences with the US but ties with the superpower truly took off during the premiership of Manmohan Singh. Both George W Bush and his successor Barack Obama held Singh in great esteem and valued the friendship with India. The Indo-US nuclear deal inked during Bush’s presidency was a potential game-changer. With the election of Modi as Prime Minister in 2014 there was some trepidation as he was denied visas by the US, Britain and the European Union when he was Gujarat Chief Minister over his alleged role in the 2002 riots. However, his tour of the US and Britain allayed all fears as he received a rousing welcome from the establishment and the Indian diaspora in those countries. Modi’s closeness with Gulf leaders, too, has worked to the nation’s advantage given the large Indian population in those countries.
India has over the years had good ties with most of its neighbours except for a brief period in Sri Lanka and its troublesome western neighbour Pakistan. Islamabad has always played hot and cold with New Delhi and any forward movement is inevitably met with betrayal. Vajpayee’s path-breaking bus trip to Lahore in 1999 was followed by the Kargil incursion. Singh had always batted for Indo-Pak peace but hawks in both establishments did not allow that to materialise. Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan in 2015 was followed by the attack on the Pathankot Air Force base and a series of terrorist attacks. Pakistan has proved to be an undependable neighbour and an Indio-Pak detente seems highly unlikely. China is another sticking point in the Indian horizon. Its unprovoked incursions into Indian territory and its oft-repeated claim over Arunachal Pradesh make any meaningful relationship with India’s northern neighbour virtually impossible. The G-20 summit in New Delhi in September will be a test case for India’s foreign policy. The presence of Joe Biden, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin on one stage will test India’s diplomatic skills to the hilt. It will be a triumph of no small measure if India pulls off a successful summit and does not let Ukraine overshadow the proceedings.
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