NEW DAWN FOR REGIONAL COOPERATION ?
A mere 10 days after the results of the longest polls in Indian electoral history were announced and pundits were still absorbing the paradigm change that has happened in Indian politics, the new government pulls off a diplomatic coup of sorts even before assuming office, which sends all the right signals to an international community that is keenly observing developments in the subcontinent. Modi not only assumes office with a ‘right-sized’ A-Team, but also positions India in a geopolitically prominent position in the homily of nations …
Even as the swearing in of the new government was on at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan on the 26th of May 2014, the euphoria brought about by the dramatic change in regime and hope on the fulfilment of spiralling aspirations took a backseat, to savour Modi’s masterly move to position India as a truly ‘prominent,’ if not ‘dominant’ regional leader via the scoring of an impeccable foreign affairs coup even before his government got on to the gaddi, accomplished through an out-of-the-box decision to invite leaders of SAARC and other immediate neighbours for the swearing-in. That this group of Eight included heads of two troublesome neighbours like Pakistan and Sri Lanka made the exercise an even more interesting and exciting affair. And as for a full two days our media speculated on ‘will he?’ or ‘won’t he,’ we were of course sure that Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif would accept the invitation. Why shouldn’t he? After all the Sharif of today has a more pragmatic and sober head on his shoulders than the impetuous Sharif of the late 90s …
The invitation to the leaders of the neighbourhood provided Modi an excellent opportunity indeed to establish one-to-one contact with them, as a first step in his foreign policy strategy and furthering the intention of playing a key role in regional cooperation and integration into a more cohesive Bloc. And particularly with Pakistan, it served as an ice-breaker in ties that are nearing a freezing point, and a positive step that can pave the way for taking the relationship forward. At one level, it is a very sobering thought indeed, when we note that expectations from the Modi regime are high not merely in India but in the immediate neighbourhood as well, and that surely does include Pakistan as well. This is quite far removed from those “Mian Musharraf” days, and a striking example of the monumental transformation the BJP leader has wrought in repositioning his party and by corollary himself, as his metamorphosis from being a divisive and polarising leader to the prime minister of a country as diverse and pluralistic as India signifies.
And to underscore our point once again, Modi has, by this single master-stroke and diplomatic coup in inviting the SAARC leaders, including Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, and sending allies in Tamilnadu into a tizzy, Modi has made a signature symbolic statement. If you have travelled the Indian subcontinent, you would surely agree with us on how much there is a love-hate relationship our smaller neighbours have with India. And this includes Bangladesh, which we had ironically, ‘liberated.’ We have so far been the “big brother,” or if you will allow us to be a bit more sarcastic, the “big bully” of the subcontinent and the SAARC region. An Indian Prime Minister who can change that idiom will surely deserve to have his name permanently etched not merely in the memory of those nations, but also in India’s modern history.
Today Modi, with his overwhelming mandate and a strong government stands at the threshold of being able to steer an entire South Asia on a journey of rapid development and universal prosperity, even while changing the fortunes of an India.
So how much of this vast potential for seachange in the region has been grasped by PM Modi and how does he intend to harness it ? we sampled his statements over the past few days and summarise them here:
The invitation to SAARC leaders for the swearing-in of the NDA government was … “a right decision at the right time.” This first major foreign policy initiative of this government has sent out a message to the world about India’s strength … and the world is still talking about it. The world should realise the strength and might of India’s democracy, giving the country its due respect and status … People have a lot of expectations from the new government and it is the duty of our dispensation to keep pace with those aspirations and excel in delivering the goods. “We have never thought beyond the country’s frontiers. We are a big country, we are an old country, and we are indeed a big power. We should make the world realise it. Once we do it, the world will not shy away from ceding us our rightful place” … in the homily of nations. The initiative of inviting leaders of the neighbourhood for the swearing-in was a means to “give out a message to the world. They are still talking about it as to what happened, how it happened. This shows how much big results a right decision taken at the right time can bring.”
We Indians have been waiting patiently since 1947 for our lives to improve, and what ordinary Indians ask for is not too much: a decent education, a good job, adequatefood in their homes, and the ability to live their lives in dignity, safety and peace. Of late, this patience of India has slowly been transitioning into an impatience, as even 60- odd years after independence, nothing much has really changed significantly in the lives of our peoples.
Hopefully, this simple man Narendra Damodardas Modi, this man who comes from a simple background and has fought against all odds to reach Number Seven Race Course Road and won, will keep his vision firmly focused on these millions of ordinary Indians even as he ends the policy paralysis and breaks the bonds that shackle the sleeping giant that is India, releasing the powers that reside within. Shades of Rabindranath Tagore ?
NAVIN CHANDRA RAMGOOLAM PRIME MINISTER OF MAURITIUS
Navin Chandra Ramgoolam, Prime Minister of Mauritius, discussed issues of longpending treaty re-negotiation and other mutual concerns with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, during their bilateral meeting on the 27th of May 2014. The major thrust of talks between the two PMs seem to have been more trade-focused than on regional security or other issues. This was evident from the thematic slant of Ramgoolam’s press conference, held after his one-to-one with PM Modi. He has specifically mentioned that Mauritius was determined to allay India’s fears on roundtripping of funds, by incorporating adequate safeguards in the India-Mauritius tax treaty. The PM also said that they have decided to provide automatic exchange of tax-related information to India.
“We have given additional proposals to reassure India that we will not allow anyone to abuse or misuse provisions of the tax treaty … and we have both agreed that there must be a quick resolution to outstanding issues. There is a need for certainty, clarity, and predictability in our dealings, as it is in the interest of both India and Mauritius.” Mauritius had earlier proposed to introduce a Limitation of Benefit (LoB) clause in the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with India, while India had been of the view that this was ‘inadequate’ and was insisting on source-based taxation for capital gains, so that it gets the right to tax shortterm capital gains on investments routed through the island nation by residents of other countries.
Ramgoolam said Mauritius had “absolutely no problem” in addressing the LoB issue but did not give a clear comment when asked whether the specific issue of capital gains tax was discussed with Modi. He said a quick resolution to the issue would remove uncertainties and Mauritius would hope to be back on the top position as the source of FDI in India. “We will not allow anybody to abuse or misuse our jurisdiction… any Indian company investing in Mauritius has to demonstrate business purpose, commercial value and economic substance,” he said, adding the two leaders discussed many issues of mutual interest besides the DTAA. Ramgoolam also shared that he had invited the Indian Prime Minister to visit Mauritius. The two countries have agreed to have an innovative partnership to strengthen their bilateral relations. The Prime Minister’s Office in both countries will set up special cells for effective implementation of ideas. “There are strong ties between India and Mauritius … we want to strengthen, broaden and deepen our relations. We (I and Modi) had fruitful discussions … It is a relationship based on shared values and traditions,” Ramgoolamadded.
NAWAZ SHARIF PRIME MINISTER OF PAKISTAN
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was in Delhi to attend the swearing in ceremony of Prime Minister Modi and his council of ministers on the 26th of may 2014, chose to meet the Indian media after his oneto- one bilateral parley with the Indian PM on the 27th afternoon. PM Sharif asserted that c o o p e r a t i o n rather than conf rontat ion was the only way to move ahead in Pakistan India relations. Speaking of his tete-a-tete with Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier in the day, he said, “We had talks in a warm and cordial atmosphere …” where “I had pointed out that we both were in the beginning of a clear mandate from our respective nations. This provides us the opportunity to fulfil the hopes of the 1.5 billion people of our two countries who want us to focus on development and welfare.”
When queried on the content of their dialogue, sharif said that “Our common agenda is not possible without peace and security. Consequently, it is important for us to work together. Let us change confrontation into cooperation. My government stands ready … in the spirit of cooperation.” Going further, he continued: “We owe it to our people to overcome mistrust and enemity. Prime Minister Modi reciprocated my sentiments.
He said that it is incumbent on both of us to work together for the common objective of peace and development. So, lets carry forward our bilateral agenda … “ As a departing aside, Nawaz Sharif also quipped, “I leave this historic city with a strong sense of anticipation that the people of our two countries will work together for peace and cooperation. Our two foreign secretaries will be meeting soon …”
MAHINDA RAJAPAKSHA PRESIDENT OF SRI LANKA
In a message to Modi immediately after he took oath as India’s 15th PM, Rajapaksa opined that “… your victory rewards your tireless commitment to serving the people of India. It recognises your inspirational qualities of leadership and represents the hopes and aspirations of the Indian polity.” Rajapaksa has flown in to New Delhi from Colombo to attend the swearing in ceremony on 26th May 2014, and have a bilateral meet with Prime Minister Modi on the next day. On his closed-doors bilateral meeting with Narendra Modi, Rajapaksa had this to say, “Today, we are united in our struggle against terrorism and nation building efforts. Our two countries enjoy a multifaceted relationship encompassing all areas of contemporary relevance, and India has emerged as a pre-eminent partner in development and commercial activities across Sri Lanka.” President Mahinda Rajapaksa had briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sri Lanka’s initiatives to achieve reconciliation with the minority Tamil community, even as they held wide-ranging talks on a host of issues. During the meeting both sides tried to understand the common challenges and discussed ways to enhance cooperation in key areas. “President Rajapaksa described the initiatives Sri Lanka has taken with regard to rehabilitation, resettlement, reconstruction and the ongoing reconciliation process in the country,” a statement issued by the President’s Office said.
p>The two leaders also discussed the issue of fishermen from both countries and measures that may be taken to find a permanent solution through a process in which the views of fishermen from both countries were be taken into consideration. Rajapaksa, welcoming the views expressed by PM Modi, stated that India’s leadership is crucial for the success of SAARC ventures, and that Sri Lanka looks forward to working with India in taking them forward. Prime Minister Modi expressed the view that the SAARC must now focus upon common issues that can benefit the region, and reflect our concerns on a global platform.
HAMID KARZAI PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN
In his first bilateral meeting with international leaders after assuming charge, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. The meeting with Karzai took place at the ceremonial Hyderabad House here. Modi and Karzai discussed ways to enhance cooperation in the wake of NATO withdrawal from the war-torn country. President Karzai did not hold a press meet but instead chose to go on Indian television (on Times Now), where his explosive interview covered a wide gamut of issues that are of concern not just for India, but for the whole region. Karzai, placed the responsibility for the recent attack on the Indian consulate at Herat in Afghanistan squarely on terrorist group LeT, and minced no words when he asserted that it would be in Islamabad’s interest to uproot the terror sanctuaries and safe havens on Pakistani soil. He also praised the Indo- Tibetan Border Police and the Afghan National Security Forces for their prompt response in neutralising the terrorists in the May 23 attack. “The Herat … attack … was very clearly a terrorist strike on Indian and Afghan interests,” Karzai said. “Both Afghanistan and India hope that relevant authorities in Pakistan will react and uproot the sources and sanctuaries of terror there.” On Indo-Afghan ties, President Karzai said, “India has been a great friend and has stood by our people steadfastedly for the past 12 years.” Looking ahead, President Karzai said that he doesn’t see 2014 as a drawdown but “as an opportunity to build on our strengths and show the world that the nation is now self-reliant, of course with support and guidance from friends like India”.