When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels abroad, he does things on a rather grand scale.
In the past year, Modi has addressed huge crowds in New York’s Madison Square Garden and Sydney’s Allphones Arena — a testament to the vast Indian diaspora. He is scheduled to give a speech at the SAP Center in San Jose on Sunday and at Wembley Stadium in London in November.
At first, his rock star-like foreign visits served as a welcome break, especially after the robotic and relatively timid visits abroad of his predecessor, Manmohan Singh.
But are Modi’s sojourns abroad yielding real results?
Not if you look at India's neighbors such as Nepal and Pakistan.
Just a year after Modi’s high-profile visit to Nepal — where he performed an elaborate prayer ritual at a Hindu temple, gifted sandalwood worth $600,000 to the temple, offered a $1 billion line of credit and addressed the country’s constituent assembly — comes the news that Nepal ignored many of New Delhi’s inputs in writing its new constitution.
When the Hindu-majority Himalayan neighbor passed a new, secular constitution on Sunday after 10 years of debate, New Delhi was visibly upset. Instead of welcoming the historic development and congratulating its neighbor, New Delhi merely “noted” it in a terse statement.
This came even after Modi’s emissary dashed to Kathmandu last week to urge politicians there to alter some of the provisions of the new constitution. Two communities in Nepal considered ethnically close to Indians have said that the new provincial boundaries laid out in the charter may result in their political isolation. Violent protests have raged in some parts of Nepal this week.
“Make seven changes to your Constitution: India tells Nepal,” read a headline in the Indian Express newspaper on Wednesday.
In Nepal, citizens began a #BackOffIndia campaign on Twitter to protest India’s intrusion.
— Bibek Koirala (@tr0jan_h0rse) September 23, 2015
In India, many began asking whether Modi’s diplomacy is working.
Even small countries Nepal & Myanmar hv got upset with modi. Nepal has snubbed modi, implemented its new constitution. #ModiForeignJunkets
— Vinod Mehta (@DrunkVinodMehta) September 23, 2015
PM Modi must not make a virtue of "first ever visit by Indian PM" to various countries. He will avoid Nepal-type foreign policy accidents! — M K Venu (@mkvenu1) September 22, 2015
Still, in almost all popularity polls, Modi’s foreign-policy initiatives continue to score high. A Pew survey released last week said that more than seven in 10 respondents expressed confidence in Modi’s handling of international relations. In August, the government informed Parliament that India received more than $19 billion worth of foreign investment from the 12 countries that Modi had visited in the past year.
Ties with Pakistan remain prickly, however. When Modi was sworn into office in May 2014, he invited leaders of India's neighbors to the ceremony. It was heralded by foreign-policy analysts as a new phase in India’s engagement with its neighbors. Modi bonded with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over cricket, and the two leaders exchanged gifts of mangoes, a shawl and a sari. They met warmly in Ufa, Russia, in July but made no breakthrough. Scheduled talks between officials were canceled, and frequent shootings across the border have led to a war of words between the two nations.
Ufa circus moral for Modi: grandstanding, playing2gallery diplomacy won't work with Pak. Need quiet back-channel to lay ground, fix hawks.
— Y P Rajesh (@yprajesh) August 22, 2015