Narendra Modi and the art of Twiplomacy
Prime Minister-elect responds to world leaders’ congratulatory messages on social network Twitter
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New Delhi: India’s Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi has successfully shrugged off the tag of an international pariah to become one of the most feted leaders of the world—if the congratulatory messages and phone calls from world leaders are anything to go by.
Since Friday, when the results of the April-May general election showed that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won a majority on its own with 282 seats in the 543-member lower House of Parliament, there has been a steady stream of calls with invitations to visit from heads of state or government.
Modi, who will be sworn in as Prime Minister on 26 May, has responded to most of his interlocutors—going by the posts on his official page on Twitter.
“In our conversation, @BarackObama & I talked about further strengthening India-USA strategic partnership that will help both nations,” Modi’s post read. After refusing Modi a visa in 2005, Washington on Friday announced it was revoking the ban—almost coinciding with a call put through to Modi by US President Barack Obama. Modi was refused a US visa—and regarded as a pariah by many European nations—for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots in which hundreds of people, mostly Muslims, were killed. Modi’s detractors accuse him of turning a blind eye to the riots, but an Indian court last year absolved him of blame.
To US secretary of state John Kerry’s congratulatory message, Modi’s response was: “Thank you Mr. Kerry. We will strengthen relations between our 2 vibrant democracies in the years to come.”
Ties between the world’s oldest and largest democracies have warmed considerably in the past decade-and-a-half. But of late, relations seem to have hit a rough patch with trade disputes and other issues souring the atmosphere.
Among others who congratulated Modi were South African President Jacob Zuma, who was himself re-elected earlier this month. “I thank President Zuma for his wishes & congratulate him on his re-election as President of South Africa. @SAPresident,” read Modi’s Twitter post.
Other leaders Modi thanked via Twitter included British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. Modi also acknowledged a message from the Dalai Lama.
Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said that it was the magnitude of the victory posted by the BJP that “has made the world sit up and take notice”.
“The interest in India among the international community has been due to its economic potential and Modi’s victory has ignited hopes of India’s economic revival and therefore everyone wants to strike a new partnership with Modi and India,” he said.
In his pre-poll rallies, Modi stressed on development and promised to put India’s faltering economic growth back on a high growth path.
In his message to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Modi described Singapore as a “valued friend” and hoped to build stronger ties with the city-state.
Among India’s immediate neighbours, Modi expressed his thanks to congratulatory messages from Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Nepalese leaders, besides the former president of Maldives Mohamed Nasheed.
Modi’s more expansive responses, however, seemed reserved for Prime Minister Abe of Japan and President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
“My gratitude to Prime Minister @AbeShinzo for extending his good wishes. Strong relations with Japan is beneficial for both our nations. Personally, I have a wonderful experience of working with Japan as CM. I am sure we will take India-Japan ties to newer heights,” Modi said.
Japan was one of the few countries Modi visited in 2012 when shunned by Western nations.
According to Ryohei Kasai, research fellow at the Center for South Asian Studies, Gifu Women’s University, Japan, “There is a growing interest in Modi in Japan with much anticipation that he will reshape India by revitalizing its economy and better governance.
“I believe Japan has an excellent relationship with him. Not only have successive Japanese ambassadors to India been regular guests in ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ investors’ summit (organized biennially) but Japanese private companies also made a big amount of investment in the state,” Kasai said in emailed remarks.
In response to Putin’s message, Modi said he was “looking forward to making our relations with Russia even stronger in the years to come. India-Russia friendship has stood the test of time. We will further strengthen our relations in a wide range of fields”.
According to Mansingh, “It is natural that Modi feels affinity with some leaders who are strong leaders, proudly nationalistic, trying to fix the economy with firm measures.”
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