Media analysts seemed to have entirely missed the significance of Prime Minister Mr. Modi’s decision to invite the heads of all SAARC nations to his swearing in ceremony on 26 May. Imprisoned by their myopic obsession with Pakistan they went on and on about how this move will affect Indo-Pak relations.
I have news for them. This invitation has nothing to do with Pakistan. It has everything to do with the South Asian region.
By inviting Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan heads of state Mr. Modi has not only taken an unprecedented step to emotionally bond with them through including them in an Indian political event; he has defined the boundaries of South Asia’s common cultural identity.
China, also a neighbour, has not been invited. Mr. Modi has laid the psychological foundation for a future South Asian Union. Hopefully other SAARC nations will reciprocate with similar invitations.
It remains to be seen whether Pakistan Prime Minister Mr. Nawaz Sharif will attend or send a representative. But he has already made clear that he looks forward to resumption of the peace process. He is beset by domestic difficulties created by hardcore elements which might inhibit him. But if he personally does attend it will be a huge boost to Mr. Modi’s initiative.
When Mr. Modi was the Gujarat Chief Minister this writer criticized his approach towards China. After becoming a prime ministerial candidate Mr. Modi reversed his approach. By reaching out to Japan in a big way he has signaled that he will promote a new balance of power in Asia. By reaching out to SAARC nations through his latest invitations he has signaled his desire to consolidate the South Asian region. The eventual emergence of a South Asian Community if it is achieved will provide a bulwark to the region against undue interference in the affairs of its member states by any outside power. It will help enable India to achieve a just and honourable peace settlement with China.
Beijing has problems with Taiwan, Tibet and Xingjian. India has leaned backward to be cooperative with China in dealing with these problems. In return China has been meddling in the affairs of SAARC nations in a manner that encouraged them to be hostile to India. India’s own pitifully inadequate policies towards its SAARC neighbours greatly facilitated this process. Hopefully, Mr. Modi will reverse this trend. If China succeeds in consolidating its own legitimate sphere of influence and stops a hegemonic approach towards its neighbours there is every hope of creating meaningful and historic relations with China to herald an Asian century.
All this of course belongs to the distant future. Many hurdles will have to be crossed before achieving results. As Mao Zedong once said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. Mr. Modi has as yet taken a very, very small half step in the right direction. For that he deserves praise.