Monday, February 6, 2017

Whose Side Are We On, Sir?

 Pankaj Sharma |  5 Feb 2017 |  New Delhi

Narendra Modi has travelled to more Islamic nations in two and a half years of his tenure than any other Indian Prime Minister in such a short span of time. The UAE was the first Gulf country Modi chose to visit. It was the first bilateral visit to the UAE by an Indian Prime Minister in 34 years. He also decided to invite Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces to be the chief guest of this year's Republic Day. In fact, he went to the airport to personally receive the crown prince ignoring the protocol—a rare gesture indeed.

I understand the political message Modi wanted to give to the minority community by inviting the crown prince of Abu Dhabi or by touring Islamic countries. But I fail to understand why Modi keeps quiet on the decision of newly elected American President Donald Trump to ban the entry of people from seven Muslim countries into the United States. Instead of opposing Trump's draconian order, why is India even hopeful that Washington extends the travel ban to Pakistan as well?

The crown prince of Abu Dhabi was the second leader from the Gulf to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade after the King of Saudi Arabia in 2006. In 2013, Sultan of Oman opted out on health grounds to be the chief guest on Republic Day and King of Bhutan was invited instead. He had been the chief guest for the event on three earlier occasions too. Inviting Abu Dhabi crown prince was appropriate as the Gulf region is home to more than seven million Indians. During 2015-16, India's exports to GCC (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar) countries were US $41.71 billion. According to Moody's report, India gets 52.1 per cent of its remittances from the Gulf nation and the region is an important source for India's steady oil imports. During Modi's visit in August 2015, the joint statement mentioned terrorism 11 times. Some of the content was aimed at expressing concern about terrorism in the region and Pakistan's sponsorship of it. "Denounce and oppose terrorism in all forms and manifestations, wherever committed and by whomever, calling on all states to reject and abandon the use of terrorism against other countries, dismantle terrorist infrastructures where they exist, and bring perpetrators of terrorism to justice." it had said.

Modi's zeal to walk an extra mile to build decades' old relations with the Islamic world, especially UAE, is, therefore, understandable. But is it not contradictory if he supports Trump's decision of ban on Muslim countries? India's foreign policy, since its Independence, has been defined not merely by national interests, but also by the fundamental human values and principles. We have been a victim of colonialism and racism. The Indian leadership has never kept quiet in opposing these evils anywhere in the world. Even at considerable economic and political costs, India always made its stand clear in empathy and solidarity with poor and developing countries. It has been one of the cornerstones of India's foreign policy, and that has helped to provide the country with a higher moral pedestal in the community of nations.

Should Modi be allowed to drift away from the foreign policy mooring provided by country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru? Similar to Trump's "America First" magniloquence, Modi has coined his "India first" to describe the core of his foreign policy agenda. Trump's anti-Islamic rhetoric and pro-Hindu statements are enough to keep Modi's India hopeful of an improved relationship with the United States, but can we afford to ignore global sentiments? Trump's policy of "America first" will create problems for India as the potential change in H1B visa policy is going to hit $150-billion Indian outsourcing companies. But Modi has refrained from being openly critical of this potential danger.

While other global leaders are openly criticising Trump's politics and policies, Modi takes pride in connecting with him saying that the establishment targets both of them because of being outsiders. I agree, there are many similarities between Donald Trump and Narendra Modi. Both are charming, charismatic, cunning, and self-absorbed. India has witnessed Modi's utter disregard for human rights, crude use of state machinery for censoring critics, trying all the tricks to undermine the independence and power of the judiciary, and using both state machinery and Hindutva foot soldiers to suppress religious freedom during past 32 months. America will also witness Trump doing the same if he completes 32 months of his tenure. Expecting Modi to criticise Trump over his travel ban for Muslims is little too much as his government is in the process of passing a bill in Parliament, which aims at discriminating Muslim refugees arriving from neighbouring countries. How can Modi criticise Trump for his border wall with Mexico, when he had imposed a months-long blockade against Nepal and brought immense hardship to that country while it was trying to recover from a devastating earthquake? You cannot blame Trump for committing a diplomatic hara-kiri by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal if you have done the same by signing Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the United States, destroying the bedrock of India's foreign policy of 70 years.

The only difference in Trump and Modi is the scope of the impact of their narrow-minded policies. Trump's decisions will have the global ramifications. Modi's decisions will have their impact within India and in its neighbouring countries. Another difference in Trump and Modi is that the former is wise enough to not go to the extent of implementing whimsical decisions such as demonetisation. Britain, France, Germany, and Canada came out openly criticising Trump's policy as divisive, discriminatory, and illegal. Even Australia had taken up the issue forcefully when Trump had his first telephonic conversation with its Prime Minister. Secretary-General of the United Nations has also openly rebuked Trump. But, Modi has no inclination to side with the world leaders and global opinion. Rather, he sees Trump as his soulmate and decides to side with him. He does not care if it has positioned India in the opposite side of the democratic progressive world.

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