Can PM Modi do the so far undoable?

Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra
June 2, 2019


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Nobody was sure that Narendra Damodardas Modi would become the Prime Minister of India during the 2014 National elections in India. But he sprang a surprise, led the Bharatiya Janata Party to remarkable victory and became a controversial, polarizing and yet innovative Prime Minister of the largest democracy on earth.

Most of the domestic and foreign policy initiatives of the Modi 1.0 government were challenging, relatively new, or carefully modified versions of policies of yesteryears. The Modi style in the conduct of diplomacy combined with substantive and innovative foreign policies marked a distinct phase in the evolution of Indian foreign policy since the country’s independence. One can list a whole set of new approaches to foreign affairs and international relations innovated by Prime Minister Modi himself.

But now that he has received a massive mandate from the people to govern for another term of five years, many would expect Modi 2.0 government to continue to spring surprises and make India truly a world power and a country that has alleviated poverty, brought prosperity and promoted peace and stability, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.

Foreign policies are not made and unmade instantly. They have a long gestation period. Foreign policies of nations are shaped by their domestic politics and processes as well as strengths and weaknesses in socio-economic and military structures. But events in the external world, especially the global distribution of power, economic conditions and policies of friends and adversaries are significant too.

As far as India is concerned, there is a set of issues that have haunted India for decades, and these persistent challenges are the ones that Prime Minister Modi should address at a priority level. Number one issue is the border dispute with China. Both China and India had evolved a great deal since 1962 when the armies of both countries fought fierce battles. More than half a century after this war, Beijing and New Delhi have not been able to remove each other from their respective lists of real or potential adversaries.

Today, India is an aspiring global player, and China is an aspiring global superpower. The aspirations of both countries can be conditional upon their mutual perceptions and policies towards each other. With or without complete resolution of the border/territorial issues, can China and India facilitate each other to fulfill their respective ambitions? The alternative will be nothing but aspirations of both remaining confined to pieces of papers.

If the enemies during the Second World War, such as the US and Japan and the US and Germany could transform into best of allies, is that not a real lesson for India and China?

The second most desirable, yet so far undoable act, is a scenario where the worst of two enemies in South Asia have continued to live in an atmosphere of hatred, hostility, mistrust, and misunderstanding for over six decades! While there is a general belief in the dictum that there are no permanent friends or eternal foes in international relations, it appears that India and Pakistan have become permanent enemies.

The birth of Pakistan was in the midst of bloodshed and human tragedy. But cannot the future of Pakistan ever be amidst peace and tranquillity? If India has been wounded multiple times by Pakistan, yet has risen like a phoenix, fast emerging as a major player in global affairs, why cannot Pakistan learn from the example of its twin brother? If one wing of Pakistan that became separated and has lived an independent life since 1971 and now has set the example as a thriving economic story among smaller South Asian countries, why will not Pakistan be persuaded, encouraged, advised and assisted to set the goal of being a stable, peaceful and prosperous neighbour of India? If Sri Lanka, a tiny country, was able to wipe out LTTE, why does the Pakistani State continue to allow multiple terror groups to set shops and destabilize the entire neighborhood?

Can Prime Minister Narendra Modi move a magic wand and do the undoable? He did attempt to set a good example of friendly neighborliness from the very first day of his office after winning the election in 2014. He did make a surprise visit to attend a wedding ceremony and extend his help of friendship to then Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif. He did experience terrible betrayal. But should he not try again through multiple methods to create a new peaceful, and stable South Asia?

All those who study Pakistan will unanimously agree to the near impossibility of brining about change in that country. Yet everyone knows the fatal consequences of allowing a Pakistan armed with nuclear bombs and missiles to remain as a terrorist-infested territory. US President Donald Trump has been so patiently trying to persuade North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un to give up the nuclear path. China openly supports the idea of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. But the United States has maintained a strategic alliance with Pakistan, and China is Pakistan’s all-weather friend. There are no instances to show where either Washington or Beijing has taken any significant steps to guide Pakistan towards becoming a peaceful and prosperous nation. Can Prime Minister Modi do this apparently undoable act?

The nation perhaps looks at Prime Minister Modi as a black-belt, in the parlance of martial art, to prove, not that he can achieve his desire with an instant kick, but not give up in trying to do the undoable. If he is able to score a six, in the cricket idiom, the world will benefit. If he cannot achieve the goal, none can blame him.