Modi and his foreign trips
By : Rajeev Sharma
In the past 20 months since taking over as prime minister of India, Narendra Modi has visited 32 countries; five of these twice — Nepal, France, Russia, Singapore and the United States.
The 27 countries he has visited once are: Australia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Canada, China, Fiji, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and Uzbekistan.
In comparison, Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh had visited 73 countries in his entire 10-year tenure as prime minister. Statistically speaking, if Modi were to continue at the same pace he would visit 160 countries by the time he would complete his five-year term in May 2019.
And mind you, Manmohan Singh had clocked a much more modest figure of visiting 73 tenures at the end of his two full tenures, each tenure of five years!
Modi’s penchant for undertaking foreign trips at the drop of a hat had subjected him to ridicule on social media as a barrage of jokes sprouted. One such joke said: “PM Modi will shortly be undertaking a visit to India!” Another said: “ Will anyone enlighten me whether Mr. Modi won the Indian general election in 2014 or a world tour package?” Yet another joke went like this: “The previous prime minister (Manmohan Singh) was on a silent mode, the present one (Modi) is on a flight mode!” One more joke poked Modi thus: “The problem is not how to bring back the black money. The problem is how to bring PM Modi back to India!”
The opposition parties, particularly the Congress, have repeatedly poked fun at Modi for his globetrotting penchant. The issue even became a part of the opposition’s digs at Modi during the Delhi and Bihar assembly election campaigns in 2015, the two bitterly fought crucial elections, which Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party lost miserably.
But no more! Modi seems to have been chastened quite a lot by the opposition’s non-stop chatter against his frequent foreign visits.
Now Modi has decided to curtail his foreign trips. There are multiple reasons for that. One, he has covered most of key foreign countries and he can now go slow and let results (in terms of foreign investments) flow in. A number of foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia, are yet untouched by his outreach. But then he can cover such countries at a leisurely pace.
Two, now that he has completed one-third of his tenure, it’s time for him to turn a laser beam focus on the domestic scene because, after all, his constituency is India, not the world. He has to mend the economy and come up with a lot of concrete deliverables if he has to win a second tenure in 2019.
Third, his big political test is round the corner as assembly elections in four states — Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Tamil Nadu — and the union territory of Puducherry are due by April. Thus, he will hardly have time to continue with his foreign trips.
Four, the Parliament is going to be convened in a couple of weeks for the crucial budget session. The Modi government is currently neck deep in work for preparing the union budget for 2016-17, a political event that will inevitably impact the upcoming polls in five assemblies in a big way.
Therefore, the next foreign visit of Modi will be to Washington for attending the nuclear summit. It is a hugely important event, which Modi can’t skip. Besides, his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif will also be in Washington and there are fair chances of the two having a bilateral meeting in Washington.
In any case, Modi is scheduled to visit China in September for G-20 summit and Laos and Pakistan for attending East Asia summit and SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) respectively later this year, the dates of which are yet to be worked out.
Despite his decision to curtail his foreign visits, Modi will still be traveling abroad quite frequently, though not as frequently as he has been thus far. There are many multilateral events and bilateral visits the calendar of which is still being worked out.
Politics apart, the foreign visits of the Indian prime minister are set to increase exponentially given the rising stature of India in international affairs. No Indian prime minister, irrespective of his party affiliation or his/her personal likes and dislikes about traveling abroad, can afford to sit at home as the world is truly becoming a global village.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.