Cometh the hour, cometh the man! Narendra Modi has been sworn in as India’s 15th Prime Minister. He who began life as a humble tea vendor has secured the topmost elected position in the world’s largest democracy. His stellar rise in the world of politics red in tooth and claw is truly remarkable and inspiring. His task now is to live up to people’s expectations.
Meanwhile, a noticeable absentee at Modi’s oath taking ceremony on Monday was Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha, who kept away in protest against the BJP’s invitation to President Mahinda Rajapaksa she is all out to demonise.
The BJP has stood its ground and welcomed President Rajapaksa. This is in sharp contrast to how PM Modi’s immediate predecessor handled Jayalalitha; he even turned down an invitation to attend the last CHOGM in Colombo due to pressure from Tamil Nadu. Prime Minister Modi did not care a damn about Jayalalitha or Karunanidhi when he invited SAARC leaders including President Rajapaksa. In so doing, he seems to have sent a clear message to Jayalalitha et al that he brooks no nonsense and is not prepared to compromise India’s foreign policy to placate individual politicians with parochial agendas.
The nationalistic forces that propelled the BJP to power with a huge majority to build a stronger India are aware that Sri Lanka is hardly a threat to them. They will be more concerned about the rebellious tendencies of Tamil Nadu politicians who callously undermine the writ of the Centre at every turn as evident from Jayalalitha’s controversial order to release the Rajiv killers. They will want Modi to deal with Tamil Nadu firmly on his terms.
A victim of a vilification campaign in the West following the Gujarat ethnic violence, PM Modi knows where the shoe pinches so to speak. He has his own way of silencing his critics. First, having risen from near obscurity, he, as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, built the economy of his state to the present level much to the envy of his counterparts and proved himself as a leader capable of ruling India. Second, he has, with his unprecedented popular mandate, got the countries that had denied him entry until a few weeks ago to bite the bullet and offer a red carpet welcome for him.
Interestingly, PM Modi turned his oath taking ceremony into a mini SARRC summit as it were. He has apparently realised that India’s success as an emerging world power hinges to a great extent on peace, stability and prosperity of the region which it leads. What needs to be done for the benefit of India and the region is for him to remould India’s foreign policy, taking on board theGujral Doctrine to ‘recast South Asia’s regional relationship including the tormented relationship between India and Pakistan, in a friendly, cooperative mould’. His task is to ensure that India as a regional leader is loved and not feared by its neighbours. Diplomatic fence-mending aimed at addressing substantive politico-military issues subsequently will benefit both India and Pakistan, given their ever burgeoning defence budgets and cross-border terrorism which they accuse each other of promoting. They have already stockpiled enough nukes to wipe out two billion people according to nuclear watchdogs and there is no reason why they should continue their arms race.
PM Modi has amply demonstrated that regional cooperation is high on his agenda. He has certainly got his priorities right in his efforts to facilitate India’s rise internationally. It is doubtful whether Chief Minister Jayalalitha will be able to bend the Centre to her will with boycotts, threats etc.