Modi surprises critics
By: Nilofar Suhrawardy
Within seconds of Narendra Modi’s inauguration as the new prime minister of India, the PM’s official website was updated with his photographs, messages and related information. It was for the first time that a prime minister’s official website has been updated so swiftly. It is also the first time that this website contains numerous “tweets” from the new premier. This certainly indicates that Modi is very conscious about maintaining his political image.
Modi took to the Twitter to let others know about his informal conversation with his Pakistani counterpart. The only SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) leader Modi has referred to in several of his tweets posted on May 26 is Nawaz Sharif. Per the tweets, the two had “emotional” conversations. Sharif, Modi tweets, was touched by visuals of his mother offering him sweets.
“The visuals touched both Nawaz Sharifji and his mother. He (Sharif) told me after seeing the visuals, his mother got very emotional,” Modi tweeted. Sharif, according to Modi’s tweets, visits his mother once a week.
Undoubtedly, Modi took a major step by inviting SAARC leaders to his oath-taking ceremony. Interestingly, by adding diplomatic dash to his inauguration, Modi shrewdly escaped scrutiny on the domestic front. He escaped immediate deliberations and questions about his plans to meet the economic challenges.
Prime Minister Modi played his cards well by holding separate talks with each of the SAARC dignitaries. He has effectively defied speculations about his anti-Pakistan stance, for which his saffron brigade is famous.
There is a view that Modi deliberately extended invitation to all SAARC members as inviting only Pakistan would not have been favored by other neighbors as well as the saffron brigade.
Sharif must also be credited for having responded positively. This was his first official visit to India. During his last two tenures, he did not visit India. Sharif has described his India visit as “historic” and talks with Modi as “constructive.”
Soon after assuming charge as new external affairs minister, in a statement, Sushma Swaraj described Modi’s meetings with SAARC leaders as “substantive and cordial.” She stated, “PM has a vision for friendly cooperation with each of the SAARC countries. This invitation was the first step toward realizing this vision. A promising beginning has been made at the start of the new government in our engagement with each of these countries.”
Responding to a question on whether Modi and Sharif discussed terrorism, Swaraj replied, “Talks and good relations can be successful and right only when terrorism is stopped. But if bomb blasts continue, then the talks will be lost in the din. This is what Modi told Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif. We also raised the topic of speedy trials of the 26/11 terror attack and even they said they will work on it.”
Briefing media on Modi’s talks with Sharif, Indian Ministry of External Affairs’ officials said, “The PMs agreed that the foreign secretaries will remain in touch and explore how to move forward. PM said that the two countries could move immediately toward full trade normalization on the basis of the September 2012 roadmap. PM expressed his hope that India-Pakistan relations would progress in the economic, cultural and political fields in the same manner that India’s relations with her other SAARC neighbors have progressed in recent years. He shared his vision of a SAARC region built on partnerships for development and mutual prosperity.”
Replying to a query on whether “concrete steps” will be taken to “normalize” Indo-Pak trade ties, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh said, “The next step that needs to be taken is for Wagah-Attari to be opened up to full trade. After that, other steps will follow.”
United States has “cautiously” applauded Modi-Sharif talks. A senior Obama administration official in Washington said, “We are cautiously hopeful that (Modi-Sharif meeting) could be a positive indicator, but we’re also mindful that this will be very important to the dynamic going forward.”
By shaking hands and holding talks, Modi and Sharif have played an important role in displaying their positive attitude toward improvement of Indo-Pak ties. Now, it is to be watched whether they act speedily in taking steps to “normalize” their ties, and how do other countries react.