[Link TV] Twitter diplomacy: A taste of foreign policy under Modi

Reuters/Adnan Abidi
India’s prime minister elect Narendra Modi gestures towards his supporters from his car during a road show upon his arrival at the airport in New Delhi May 17, 2014. Reuters/Adnan Abidi

In the wake of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory over the incumbent National Congress Party, a host of in-depth commentaries and analyses (as well as jokes and Internet memes) have come out discussing the outcome of the Indian elections and its coverage.

The bulk of these pieces focus on how startling Narendra Modi’s defeat over Rahul Gandhi was, and the root causes behind it. As Modi gets ready to become inaugurated this coming Monday, however, the topic has moved quickly from domestic concerns to international ones — just what might India’s foreign policy look like under Modi?

One telling indicator is that Modi has extended an inauguration invitation to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The Guardian reports on its significance:

“The invite poses a dilemma for Sharif, who leads the conservative pro-business Pakistan Muslim League, as many in the country and elsewhere in the Muslim world see the 63-year-old Modi as a hardline Hindu nationalist who harbours sectarian prejudices.

“Aziz Ahmed Khan, a retired diplomat who served as Pakistan’s high commissioner to Delhi, said Modi had been ‘really very shrewd’ with an invitation that the government will find it hard to respond to.

“‘On the one hand it’s a good gesture that should be taken as a sign of peacemaking by Modi, but at the same time the baggage that he carries makes it very difficult for the government. There is a widespread belief in Pakistan that he was behind the massacres in Gujarat.'”

Meanwhile, the US has announced it won’t be sending a representative to attend Modi’s swearing in ceremony. US-India relations have been especially frosty since the December scandal involving the Indian consular worker in New York, Devyani Khobragade, who was charged with visa fraud. The country also famously denied Modi a visa in 2005 for his alleged role in riots that took place in the state of Gujarat in 2002, where he was chief minister. The riots killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.

Now that Modi is prime minister, however, his relationship with the US will undoubtedly change; it’s inevitable that a visa is on the horizon. “The president invited Narendra Modi to visit Washington at a mutually agreeable time to further strengthen our bilateral relationship,” Reuters reported.

The US and Pakistan, as well as China, are the top three countries where Modi’s style of governance will be put to the test, argues Jason Burke of the Guardian — whether he’ll be the “job-creating, wealth-building pragmatist or the ideologue.”
Other journalists are speculating at the order at which Modi greeted and/or was greeted by other world leaders, to see where his international focus might be as India’s new leader. Nida Najar of the New York Times’ India Ink blog aggregated some tweets, arranged in the order at which they were tweeted, to extract some information:

First up was Britain:

Then Canada and Nepal:

Not to mention Russia:

And let’s not forget Japan. It’s the country Modi visited most during his time as chief minister, and it appears the relationship from the other side is viewed just as preciously. Modi’s Twitter account is one of just three accounts Japan’s prime minister follows on Twitter.

Modi then went on to communicate with President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, President François Hollande of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain, Najar writes. They all congratulated Modi on his victory, but the delay in mentioning the United States was noticeable. “As the list of nations grew throughout the India day, the leader of the biggest Western power, President Obama, began to look more and more like the kid who was picked last for teams during recess,” Najar writes. An interaction online finally took place after Modi thanked leaders in Fiji and New Zealand:

Much attention is also on India’s relations with its neighbors, especially in light of Friday’s attack on an Indian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan. Four armed gunmen stormed into the complex and were eventually killed, officials said. Modi quickly tweeted a response:

Reuters reports that attacks on Indian targets in Afghanistan are part of a larger trend. The Indian newswire IANS also reports that Shaida M. Abdali, the Afghan Ambassador to India, viewed it as a terror attack. “There is no doubt that it is a terror attack, an attack on the friendship of India and Afghanistan,” Mr. Abdali said in an interview with Times Now TV channel in New Delhi. “This attack can only embolden our determination that we will keep this friendship at all costs,” he said.

Many Afghans have fled to India as refugees in the past. “According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as of January 2013, there were 10,046 Afghan refugees and 958 Afghan asylum seekers living in India,” Betwa Sharma reported for the New York Times late last year. India has also invested more than $2 billion in projects in Afghanistan, including roads and power structure, AP reports.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be among the 3,000 dignitaries attending Modi’s inauguration ceremony on Monday.

This piece was originally published on May 24, 2014, on Link TV’s World News website.

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