The UN’s criticism of Kazakhstan’s curbs on most freedoms didn’t discomfit Mr Modi.
Seventy years after Independence India remains a superpower in waiting. The Prime Minister’s Office highlighted the Trump administration’s 68-page National Security Strategy looking forward to “India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defence partner”. The PMO didn’t say needy Indians grab the largest number of American H-1B visas. Like the British politician who wanted Africans as brothers, not brothers-in-law, Mr Trump moved to cut the influx of high-tech Indian workers by issuing fewer visas, doubling visa fees, imposing an employment ceiling and other restrictions.
Britain was similarly ambivalent. India was one of the first countries Theresa May visited in 2016 after the Brexit vote, draping herself in a silk and zari saree for Bengaluru’s Someshwara Temple. Indians were more interested in visas than trade. Adam Smith’s nation of shopkeepers wouldn’t trade visas for exports. Ignoring the carrot of a 33 per cent rise in sales under a new India-UK trade agreement, Ms May lived up to the reputation she had earned during her six years as UK home secretary of being a toughie on South Asian visitors. The Post-Study Work Visa for Indian students seeking practical experience after qualifying in Britain wasn’t revived. Chinese nationals were given two-year multiple-entry visas for longer visits at no extra charge.
London’s Pakistan-origin mayor qualified as an honorary Indian. He thought Britain should apologise for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Ms May, however, didn’t. Kulbhushan Jadhav’s wife and mother visited him in jail. The death sentence stood. Vijay Mallya, wanted in India for alleged tax evasion, money laundering and fraud, refused to leave London. He cited Rajan Pillai, the Singapore-based biscuit king found dead in his Tihar Jail cell. Even Russian prisons were a “lot better”, said his British lawyer. Adani Australia was accused of damaging the environment. Denied concessional bank loans and refused Chinese financing, Gautam Adani cancelled a $2.6 billion mining contract in Australia.
Travel boomed. Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma were married in Italy. Nitin Gadkari attended the Indian Journalists Association dinner in London. Fourteen countries welcomed Narendra Modi. Germany clarified that Prince Harry was not marrying Angela Merkel but an unknown Meghan Markle. Sri Lanka didn’t offer a peacekeeping force for Kashmir. Mr Modi didn’t advise Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on suppressing Catalan secessionists. He signed seven agreements instead. Eleven were signed with Spain’s much smaller neighbour but visiting Portugal was ghar wapsi in reverse. Time was when Lisbon called Goa a Portuguese province. Now, its PIO Prime Minister makes Portugal an Indian province.
Mr Modi ignored Rakhine when visiting Myanmar. He ignored Palestine when he became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu, however, didn’t cancel his threatened return visit when India voted against Mr Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Israel’s ambassador in New Delhi explained that Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump were above the UN. The UN’s criticism of Kazakhstan’s curbs on most freedoms didn’t discomfit Mr Modi. Kazakhstan is India’s main uranium supplier. ArcelorMittal Temirtau is Kazakhstan’s main steel producer. Mr Modi’s two-day visit saw India promoted to full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Moscow’s blossoming ties with Pakistan prompted no suspicion of Russian intervention in Gujarat’s polling to make Ahmed Patel chief minister!
No bricks were thrown over Doklam at the Brics summit in China. Nor over China encircling India with initiatives in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Bhutan remained the missing link. Nepal elected a Prime Minister who had cut his political teeth in West Bengal chanting “China’s Chairman is Our Chairman”. Like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Nepal rushed to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative. India didn’t. Michael Pillsbury, director of the Hudson Institute’s Centre on Chinese Strategy, told US Congressmen Mr Modi was “the only statesman in the world who stood up to” Beijing. The BRI, a network of infrastructure projects including the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor through Indian territory that Pakistan occupies, violates Indian sovereignty, he said.
China again blocked Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar being branded a global terrorist. The US expressed concern at Jamaat-ud-Dawa emir Hafiz Saeed’s plan to contest Pakistan’s 2018 elections. Released from house arrest, Hafiz, mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, said “Pakistan must pressure China, Russia and other countries to stop India from committing terrorism in Pakistan”. Russia taunted the United States for not pressuring China to allow India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. China’s non-participation enabled India to join the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies. India, the world’s seventh-largest economy with the world’s third-largest military by personnel strength and fifth-largest defence budget, applied to the Australia Group on the nonproliferation of chemical and biological weapons. It is waiting to join the Un Security Council and the G-7 club of major industrialised economies. Too many qualified Indians are trying to escape to the United States and Britain for India to be respected as a global force.
Oscar Wilde thought the youth of America was its oldest tradition. “It has been going on now for 300 years,” he wrote. India’s destiny seems to be regarded as perpetually emerging. As Narendra Modi’s aides prepare for next year’s prime ministerial jaunts to Abu Dhabi, Argentina, China, Singapore, South Africa and Sri Lanka for starters, Indians might feel justified in wondering whether India will remain an emerging country exporting skilled manpower for the next 300 years.