Hit and miss: Modi’s personalised diplomacy is inclined to variable results

Sep 15, 2017
One thing that stood out during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Ahmedabad is the personal bonhomie between him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to Indian officials, even by his standards Modi took an unprecedented interest in Abe’s visit. From personally greeting Abe at the airport to choosing the restaurant for the welcome dinner, this was Modi’s trademark personal diplomacy at its best. It helps that India and Japan today share great strategic convergence, growing economic interests and solid business-to-business connections.
However, it’s also true that Modi’s personalised diplomacy hasn’t always worked. Recall that in 2014 a similar grand welcome was accorded to Chinese President Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad. Modi and Xi sitting together on a swing at the Sabarmati riverfront was the most memorable image from that visit. But that came to nought, with China blocking India at most international forums since as well as the Doklam standoff recently. In the same vein Modi’s impromptu visit to Pakistan in December 2015 to meet then Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif, at considerable personal risk, was followed immediately by the Pathankot terror strike and then by Uri. It turns out that Sharif was the wrong person to conduct personal diplomacy with as he never had the authority to change bilateral ties with India – that power lies in Rawalpindi, and not in Islamabad or Lahore.
Modi struck up a good rapport with President Barack Obama, rescuing India-US ties from the trough they had fallen into previously. And there are signs this may continue with current President Donald Trump. In conclusion, personalised diplomacy does make for good optics and generates goodwill. But for it to be truly effective, other things have to be right with the relationship. It can grease the wheels when the machine already has juice, so to speak.
Times of India, September 15, 2017

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