Home / Opinion / Online-views /  Understanding the Modi way of doing things

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi confounded foreign policy pundits by abandoning the principle of strategic restraint and authorizing an audacious military strike across the Line of Control (LoC) to destroy 40 terror training camps located in Pakistan.

In the process, he reset the existing paradigm of dealing with a hostile neighbour whose USP is the sorry fact that it is one of the terror factories of the world.

Several countries in the past have used the wares to settle scores with their geopolitical rivals (such as the fostering of the Taliban to checkmate the then Soviet Union in its ambitions in Afghanistan) and encouraged Pakistan in its ways.

In return, these countries have looked the other way (or like China, brazenly intervened to prevent multilateral action against key terrorists based in the country) as Pakistan went about dealing a thousand cuts to India to realize its obsession: Kashmir.

It is too early to say how the new paradigm will evolve as all the players review the new play on the chessboard of geopolitics.

But the actions of the Prime Minister demonstrate a clear pattern, which, if traced, can help us understand, for want of better words, the “Modi way".

And the driving self-belief of the PM is that the price of inaction far outweighs the risks and fallout of action.

Whether it be managing the consensus in getting the Constitutional amendment bill passed to facilitate the roll-out of the goods and services tax (GST) or, more recently, in the case of Pakistan, the Prime Minister seems to have a game plan.

It is essentially a strategy of giving a long rope to his opponents, even while he stays on the message.

At the opportune moment, if required and despite the underlying risks, he snaps the rope.

It worked in politically isolating the Congress party on GST and then, last week, Pakistan found itself in a lonely place when India exercised its right to retribution in the aftermath of the terror attacks on the Uri army base in Kashmir.

Beginning 2014, since he assumed office in the aftermath of the historic 16th general election, Modi made his approach on South Asia very clear.

Cognizant of the fact that India has more to lose with a disturbed neighbourhood, Modi relentlessly pursued the impossible: peace with Pakistan (a country with which India has officially gone to war thrice).

Accordingly, he, in an unprecedented action, invited the heads of South Asian countries over for the inaugural of his government.

Surely, he knew the odds were stacked against any reconciliation, not just because of the bitter past between the two countries but also because keeping the conflict alive is critical to the legitimacy of the Pakistan army (which for all effective purposes holds the veto vote in the country).

But he was seemingly undeterred.

In fact, Modi, in a surprise move, seemingly on the spur of the moment, stopped over in Lahore on his way back from Afghanistan to engage with his counterpart Nawaz Sharif.

Cynics, rightly so in retrospect, dismissed the ability of the out-of-the-box initiative to generate any returns.

But, as in politics, in diplomacy, too, what matters is not what you do, but what you are seen to be doing.

Alongside his public outreach to Pakistan, Modi made it a point to share his desire for peace unambiguously at various global forums—though his political critics argued that the PM was only racking up frequent flyer miles—earning crucial social capital for himself and India.

So, by the time he decided to use the stick to deal with Pakistan’s unrepentant support to cross-border terror, India had for the moment succeeded in isolating its neighbour.

Barring China, which receives pay in mercantile gains for itself, every other major country tacitly endorsed India’s right to retaliate with surgical strikes—including the US, which in the past has been quick to caution India against any adventurism.

This time, short of endorsing the surgical strikes, it officially rebuked Pakistan for failing to curb United Nations-designated terrorist groups located in the country.

It is clear then that Modi is redrawing the rules of the game. At the least, it is forcing a change in status quo. That is a good beginning.

Anil Padmanabhan is executive editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.

His Twitter handle is @capitalcalculus.

Comments are welcome at

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