AT the outset there is need for caution against hype over Saarc leaders being invited to the swearing-in of Mr. Narendra Modi, thus far it is no more than a call to celebrate. Yet, recalling that “you have to meet before you can shake hands,” it points to a considered re-think in the prosecution of foreign policy: larger objectives remain consistent, the diplomatic effort needs re-energising. As yet the prime minister-designate has not “named” his foreign policy advisers, he certainly has made a “smart” move -- how it is sustained is what will count, and for that assessment prudence dictates patience. While far too frequently have gestures flopped for want of follow-up, there can be no minimising the relevance of symbolism, particularly in the context of regional cultural mores. True the immediate responses were cautious: that the invitation was not rejected outright by anyone is more than mere diplomatic nicety. The message sent out is that electoral rhetoric and hawkishness need not necessarily be converted into national policy, and it seems to have registered. Simultaneously, the fact hawkishness helped secure the substantial mandate that facilitates a policy re-work is not to be discounted, by anyone.
More evidence of Modi's predecessor lacking the internal authority to make bold moves externally: why, the poor chap couldn't visit his ancestral village wearing the India “crown.” Another indication of the clout Modi wields that he has in a single sweep ignored the Shiv Sena line on Pakistan as well as signalled to Mamata Banerjee and the Tamil parties who will be calling the shots on tricky aspects of ties with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It is not insignificant that the invitations were issued by the External Affairs Ministry, not the BJP. Even before being sworn in Modi has announced he has “arrived,” acknowledged by the Congress having only an “alert” by way of reaction. There is joy in Kashmir circles. Not quite so in Tamil Nadu.
The priority accorded to Saarc is tactically sound as well as strategically important. Physical proximity makes it difficult for the invitation to be rejected on the basis of travel-complications, and a “regret” would leave itself open to interpretation. Not rushing invites to Washington, Moscow, Beijing, London or Paris suggests Modi is aware that India's becoming a global player is still work-in-progress. A resuscitation of Saarc has both diplomatic and economic advantages -- it tempers the allegation of India playing “Big Brother,” and even mere containment of tensions in the neighbourhood would suffice for a mini-success. For someone whose previous job involved limited diplomatic activity, Modi's opening foray -- in any sphere of government -- merits appreciation. Applause must await effective pursuance of the promises.
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