Hindustan Times (Jalandhar)

There’s more to Modi’s diplo­macy than just hugs

The warmth of the prime min­is­ter’s greet­ings do not mean any­thing be­yond the warmth of his greet­ings

- shishir.gupta@hin­dus­tan­times.com n SHISHIR GUPTA India News · Middle East News · Politics · Diplomacy · World Politics · Narendra Modi · Pakistan · Jammu and Kashmir · Kashmir · Islamabad · Nawaz Sharif · Muhammad Iqbal · Indian Army · Indian Army · India · People's Liberation Army · People's Liberation Army · Bhutan · Xi Jinping · G20 · China's State Council · China · East Asia Summit · Asia · Donald Trump · Paris · Benjamin Netanyahu · United Nations · United States of America · Jerusalem · Saudi Arabia · Saudi Arabia national football team · Indira Gandhi · Mahatma Gandhi · United Arab Emirates · Abu Dhabi · ASEAN · Riyadh · Tehran · Japan · Beijing · New Delhi · Delhi · Palestinian Authority · Palestinian National Authority · Palestinian Territory · West Bank · Mahmoud Abbas · Israel · Muhammad Iqbal · Indian National Congress · Li Keqiang · Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan · Gwadar


On Septem­ber 29, 2016, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi or­dered sur­gi­cal strikes against ter­ror­ist launch pads in Pak­istan oc­cu­pied Kash­mir (PoK), chal­leng­ing Is­lam­abad’s nu­clear flash­point the­ory and dent­ing the im­age of Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif, a man he had warmly hugged at Al­lama Iqbal air­port in La­hore the pre­vi­ous Christ­mas day. The In­dian Army wanted to an­nounce the strike at 11 am but the press con­fer­ence was post­poned by an hour as Modi in­sisted on in­form­ing Pak­istan first through diplo­matic and mil­i­tary chan­nels. The strike, the hug, and the def­er­ence to pro­to­col were all to be ex­pected.

This piece is about hugs, and hand­shakes, and reach­ing out.

The main Op­po­si­tion party in In­dia, the Congress, re­cently re­leased an­other video pok­ing fun at Modi’s so-called “huglo­macy” , but the In­dian PM’s un­ortho­dox and “notso-stiff up­per lip” style of greet­ing key global lead­ers with a warm hug has yielded re­sults in sit­u­a­tions be­yond the con­trol of In­dia’s diplo­mats or mil­i­tary.

At the height of the un­sta­ble stand-off be­tween the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) and the In­dian Army at the Dok­lam plateau in Bhutan, Modi reached out to Chi­nese leader Xi Jin­ping by the hand on the side­lines of the G-20 sum­mit last July (they were not ex­pected to meet at all). The two shook hands and agreed to defuse the cri­sis diplo­mat­i­cally. This was af­ter the man­darins on both sides had given up, the me­dia was in war-mode, Bhutan was jit­tery, and the armies of the two coun­tries had been de­ployed in for­ward po­si­tions in case the red bal­loon went up. Modi’s out­reach de-es­ca­lated the stand-off by Au­gust 28, 2017, and the PM fol­lowed up and the closed the is­sue by shak­ing hands with the Premier of the State Coun­cil of China Li Ke­qiang at the East Asia Sum­mit on Novem­ber 14. The first hand­shake broke the dead­lock; the sec­ond en­sured there was no blow­back.

Modi’s diplo­matic style is prag­matic. To my mind, it is as warm at the per­sonal level as it is cold and cal­cu­lat­ing when it comes to en­sur­ing In­dia’s in­ter­ests. In his diplo­matic world­view, there is no point in sulk­ing or start­ing. It would be safe to as­sume that Modi will hug Sharif when he meets him in fu­ture and in­vite him for tea. It would also be safe to as­sume that he would then place In­dia’s in­ter­ests on the table.

The warmth of his greet­ings do not mean any­thing be­yond the warmth of his greet­ings. For in­stance, Modi may have greeted US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ef­fu­sively but he didn’t fol­low the lat­ter out of the Paris Cli­mate Ac­cord, and, in fact, was one of the first to reaf­firm his coun­try’s com­mit­ment to it. And while Modi and Ben­jamin ‘Bibi’ Ne­tanyahu have a bro­mance of sorts go­ing on, In­dia’s re­cent vote in the UN (on the US de­ci­sion on Jerusalem) was driven by its own in­ter­ests. While pre­vi­ous regimes viewed diplo­matic ties with West Asian coun­tries and Saudi Ara­bia through the prism of Pak­istan, Modi be­came the first In­dian leader af­ter Indira Gandhi to reach out to United Arab Emi­rates in 2015. Last year, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince Mo­hammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was the chief guest at In­dia’s Repub­lic Day (and did re­ceive the cus­tom­ary hug). And just as In­dia needs West Asian coun­tries, it does ASEAN ones. This year, 10 ASEAN lead­ers are chief guests at the Repub­lic Day pa­rade.

He man­aged to forge ex­cel­lent ties with the Saudi Roy­alty dur­ing his 2016 visit to Riyadh, but also had the courage to tell Saudi Ara­bia that he was go­ing to visit Tehran the fol­low­ing month. The re­sult is that nei­ther Saudi nor UAE have had any qualms about de­port­ing In­dian crim­i­nals. Tehran has opened the gate­way to Cen­tral Asia through Chah Bahr port, a mere 76 nau­ti­cal miles west of Gwadar port in Pak­istan.

With a vi­sion that is not clogged with a Cold War mind­set, or In­dia’s past ex­pe­ri­ences, Modi has openly reached out to US, Ja­pan and even China. The lat­ter, he is con­fi­dent, will not en­gage in a mil­i­tary skir­mish with New Delhi as it seeks to build its im­age as a re­spon­si­ble and ma­ture su­per­power. He is now host­ing his good friend Bibi in Delhi but is al­most cer­tain to hug Pales­tine Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas dur­ing his visit to the coun­try with the tra­di­tional Is­rael-Pales­tine hy­phen tossed into the Dead Sea.

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