Thursday, March 30th, 2023 02:17:27

Modi’s Mission Saarc

Updated: July 30, 2015 3:40 pm


The out of box thinking inspired Narendra Modi, the about-to-be-sworn-in as India’s Prime Minister, to invite heads of all SAARC member countries for the oath ceremony in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan on May 26.

Modi’s initiative although appreciated even in the western countries, as a gesture of peace, caused concern about the participation of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Given to himself he would surely come, but how the Pakistani Generals would react, was the thinking in the PMO.

The vacillation continued till the last but ultimately he came with a large contingent of officers and businessmen. One knows the rest. Modi met each of the Heads in one to one meeting.

This was the breakthrough needed both by India and more critically for firming up SAARC as a powerful group as dreamt by the Founding Fathers when they set it up on December 8, 1985. The government of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka formally adopted its charter providing for the promotion of economic and social progress, cultural development within the South Asia region and also for friendship and cooperation with other developing countries. The basic principles as envisaged in SAARC are sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in internal affairs of other states and mutual benefit.

All decisions within this regional setting are to be taken on the basis of consensus. This has been the biggest impediment in the further growth of SAARC, which has the potential of becoming EU (European Union) for South Asian countries. The continuing distrust and differences between India and Pakistan is another, in fact more serious, hurdle in cooperation and agreements for mutual development.

The all-weather friendship between China and Pakistan and their move to make Beijing a full-fledged SAARC member threatens to divide SAARC members. And challenge India’s leadership of the group.

India was, because of its size, economy and all round development, a natural leader of SAARC. But diplomatic slackness and leadership which seemed to have no interest in SAARC, India was seen increasingly a Big Brother, with noting but evil designs.

An example of Indian leadership’s criminal neglect and officious obstinate attitude of the diplomats gave the Chinese the opportunity to befriend most SAARC’s members. They have been helping in existing projects in many member countries.

For example Sri Lanka first offered the project for a port but India turned it down. China stepped in and Sri Lanka opened a $500 million container terminal at Colombo Port last year, the biggest investment in the island’s harbours. Sri Lanka has ever since then has been seeking Chinese help to upgrade its infrastructure.

China has now tightened its hold in Sri Lanka by committing at least $3.7 billion since 2005 to help expand ports to power generation. “Sri Lanka has been looking toward China because of the availability of FUNDING,” said Dushni Weerakoon, deputy director at the Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo. “With Sri Lanka’s plans to create a hub concept, expansion of the Colombo port makes good economic sense.”

The Export-Import Bank of China has FUNDED investment projects including Sri Lanka’s first four-lane expressway, second international airport and a port in Hambantota city.

Now why should India object to Sri Lanka’s willingness to admit China as permanent member of SAARC. In fact China has entered Nepal, has firm hold in Pakistan and has also invested heavily in Afghanistan. The joke which only one with macabre sense of humour can appreciate is that a necklace of pearls has been hung by Chinese around India’s neck.

All hope about regaining the old slot of leadership now depends on Modi. This Optimism is because Modi not ceasing to have any interest in SAARC after the one-to one meeting following his swearing-in as prime minister.

His first trip abroad was to Bhutan where he announced allotments for five-year plan and a few projects Bhuta is implementing. What is to be noted that he stressed cooperation between SAARC member countries. “Strong Bhutan will benefit India like a strong and prosperous India will be beneficial for the countries of the region, especially the SAARC members. India’s prosperity is important as then it can help small countries and perform its duty of a good neighbour. But if India is weak and struggling with its own problems, then how can it help others,” he said.

Modi also said India was always conscious of its responsibility towards its neighbours and in this context referred to the invitation extended to SAARC leaders for his swearing-in ceremony last month. “It added sheen to the event.”

In the joint communiqué Bhutan assured that it would not allow any anti-India activity on its soil—fear of terror outfits from north-east making Bhutan as their bases.

After the launch of a satellite carrying five foreign rockets Modi said to the scientists, “I also ask you, to enlarge the footprint of our satellite-based navigation system, to cover all of South Asia” and added “Today, I ask our space community, to take up the challenge, of developing a SAARC satellite.”

One can see how SAARC conscious he is. His Nepal visit, first by an Indian PM after 17 years, too was a highly successful one, where as a goodwill gesture he said India was willing to scrap the Treat of 1950, which is not liked by Nepal.

Dinesh Kalfie a Ph.D. student wrote “A leader like Modi, who drew his strength from the young, was a fascinating figure for a people who have experienced great political change in their recent past.

“Modi gave us a lot of hope in leaders, which we had lost for a long time. From leaders to common folk, everyone was enthralled by his rhetorical speech.

“I think, Modi was the third political leader to have impacted such a huge number of Nepalis through his oratorical skills and as an embodiment of hope in contemporary Nepali politics. First was Comrade Madan Bhandari, who was unfortunately killed in a car accident some twenty years ago; second was Comrade Prachanda who gave us a lot of hope after he came overground, but it didn’t take too long for the hopes to dwindle.”

Modi got a huge welcome in Nepal and won the hearts and minds when he started his speech in Nepali.

“Modi was articulate, speaking in Nepali and acknowledging Nepal as the land of the Buddha definitely won hearts. Lord Buddha was born in Nepal, and Nepalis don’t take kindly to him being referred to as ‘Indian’ which often happens informally,” said an observer.

Modi assured that the refrain “India promises but China delivers” recede in the background and made Nepalese wait and watch.

He established an emotional bond when Modi alighted from his bullet-proof car and shook hands with the Nepalis on the street.

Likewise Modi sent Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to Bangladesh. He is surely stooping to regain the trust of other SAARC member countries. If he is able to make SAARC Secretariat and its other wings work, his mission SAARC is to succeed. And he has to get the unanimity as the condition for any decision removed and replaced by majority decision except in security matters, he would make SAARC as useful entity as EU. And puts back its leadership for India.

By Vijay Dutt

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