Big visits and sweet deals

Big visits and sweet deals

In the past six odd months a series of leaders from advanced economies—David Cameron, Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and now Wen Jiabao—have made visits to New Delhi. These visits have been interpreted as something of an “arrival" for India on the international stage.

That is a misleading interpretation. All these leaders came to Indian shores to boost bilateral ties. There’s no doubt about that. But that is only a very partial reason: all of them came to seek business from India and got it in ample measure. Obama walked away with deals worth $10 billion. Sarkozy’s presence along with the chief of the French company Areva told its own tale. Now Wen is here with probably the single biggest trade delegation that has accompanied a Chinese premier to India.

All of them paid lip service to Indian “concerns": How India deserves a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council; all showed an admonishing hand to Pakistan, lectured Islamabad on good behaviour with a neighbour and then walked away with sweet deals.

India is unlikely to have made substantial headway in achieving these goals, whatever the ministry of external affairs may say.

What is undeniable is that all the important countries in the world know how Indian leaders love flattery. It works well for them: big business for sweet words.

There is no doubt that India, too, is gaining something in the bargain. Nuclear technology and military hardware being two key items gained. What India is not gaining is a measure of progress on its political goals.

The truth here is that perhaps this is the first time in our history since independence that we have what the world seeks and not the other way round. How this is to be used to the country’s advantage is something our leaders have had no experience of, so far. The question is will they learn what needs to be learnt?

The question is not a mere academic one. To give one example, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev begins his India visit next week. Apart from the usual deals that we cut with Russia, which are often in India’s favour, the question is how this visit is going to be used to further India’s global agenda and not mere bilateral ties, which in any case are strong. Our leaders need to devote some time to this subject.

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