(Modi being greeted by a gaggle of NRIs on his arrival in Washington from Portugal June 24, 2017)
It is unfortunate that prime minister Narendra Modi, like his predecessors in office, reiterated that old saw — “all world is family” ( vasudhaiva kutumbakan) for an audience of NRIs at the Ritz-Carlton in Virginia June 25 evening. He further elaborated on this foundation of his policy, assuring everybody within earshot and the larger policy audience in the Washington Beltway that India would not, during his tenure, disrupt the global order even though it is entirely skewed against India’s national economic and security interests, but rather work within it. It is thinking that’s entirely contrary to the Trump Admin’s views.
The US National Security Adviser Gen. HR McMaster and White House senior staffer Gary Cohn authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2017, showing up Mr Modi’s tired old idea as so much nonsense which, incidentally, is the thrust of my detailed argument against such vacuuous thinking that animates Indian foreign and military policy in my last book ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ . Trump, they wrote, “embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors, and businesses engage and compete for advantage.” So Modi proposes that India keep fighting by the rule book while everybody else chucks it. Good luck then for getting any results!
The PM then compounded the problem by insisting that this everybody is family-concept won’t hinder any actions he might order to counter terrorism and mentioned, in this respect, the so-called “surgical strike” he had ordered a while back. As revealed in my posts on this blog at the time, the surgical strike was a shallow penetration, counter-force measure that took out a few jihadis and possibly Pakistan Army support personnel and differed very little in its essentials from previous such almost routine strikes the Indian Army’s Special Forces conduct across the LOC. And as I predicted this strike has not in the least deterred or in any way dissuaded GHQ, Rawalpindi, from using its terrorist proxies (Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad) to infiltrate Indian Kashmir at will and to create mayhem. This much is evidenced in the record of continued cross-border atrocities, including yesterday’s incident of the attack on paralmil soldiers by terrorists (who then holed up in some school premises and were shot). So, not sure why the PM keeps referring to this act of retribution as something unprecedented and stellar when plainly it has had no effect whatsoever and is considered by both sides as part of the tit-for-tat hit game. But it does indicate that the “surgical strike” — however it plays in his mind — is the limit of punitive action Modi is willing to risk for fear of upsetting the “international norms” he says India will not violate. Which is another way of saying that the country cannot and should not expect any end to Pakistan-prompted terrorism.
There are two other takeaways from Modi’s much reduced exposure to NRIs this time around. His repetitive and effusive praise for the MEA and how, under minister Sushma Swaraj’s ministrations, it had become responsive, receptive, and attentive to NRIs’ concerns. It covered up the fact of the Foreign Office’s marginalisation in that it simply isn’t the source of policy ideas but is merely asked to busy itself with keeping NRIs in good fettle and doing consular work well. This may be no bad development considering now we know whom to blame for foreign and military policy missteps.
More masterfully, in a roomful of contented and hurrahing NRIs, Modi subtly seeded a doubt about their own physical safety and well being in Trump’s America that could at any time turn against them as an alien, albeit prosperous, hence a more noticeable and targetable, minority. This was a delicate indictment of the extant socio-economic reality in Trump’s USA by Modi — though the audience seems not to have got it — in the context of his reassuring the NRIs of Delhi’s readiness at all times to fly any beleaguered India-origin Indians anywhere home to safety.
Given this curtain-raiser (and the by now standard meeting with the usual American CEOs whom the PM met with separately), it will be interesting to see how the White House Modi-Trump one-on-one pans out some nine hours from now, and especially whether our pradhan mantri will be able to resist buying the F-16 that the MEA may have wanted off the table but Trump may push anyway.