A review of ‘Modiplomacy Through a Shakespearean Prism’ by TP Sreenivasan (Konark Publishers, 2019)
A lasting contribution of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is that he brought foreign policy from its ivory tower to the common man. His initiatives on foreign policy attracts attention because he cares to explain them on live television in Hindi.
Words like “overcoming the hesitations of history’, “terrorism is the greatest danger the world faces” and “India gave the world the Buddha, not yuddha”, “we want climate justice” and others are clearly understood by the ordinary citizens who follow the news.
Though I read a lot of books, these are mostly related to history or biographies. I never thought that I would be reading about foreign policy and analysis of the current PM’s first term. But that is the magic of PM Modi on the common man.
People like me who were not even distantly related to politics started developing an interest in it and reading articles written by different authors. In the pursuit to read more about the PM and get a balanced view, I chanced upon ‘Modiplomacy: Through a Shakespearean Prism.’
In one of my rare forays into diplomacy, I organised a Youth Leader Program in my capacity as the Head of the India Operations of the Indo-American Center, where I heard Ambassador TP Sreenivasan on India-US relations.
I also heard from him about his new book on Modi, which would be called Modiplomacy, a coinage which I found quite intriguing - Modi + Diplomacy and I read one of the first copies, thanks to Konark Publishers.
The book covers every important aspect of foreign policy during the first term of PM Modi in a Shakespearean mould. PM Modi gained a lot of friends as well as critics all over the world during his tenure.
The five-year term observed many positive moves from Make in India to Ayushman scheme to make India shine. But it also saw tough times like demonetisation and the Uri terrorist attack. The common man was confused towards the latter half of his tenure and was unable to decide on whom to vote for in the elections in 2019.
While I was engrossed in the book, I kept comparing two views - one of the common man that I hear almost daily and the other one from the horse’s mouth! While the facts in the book may not be new to the diplomatic circle (to which the author belongs), a lot of information could be still not available in the public domain.
An average Indian citizen would remember Modi 1.0 from his oath taking ceremony to “Mann ki Baat” initiative to his US visit, visit of the US President to India, surgical strikes, promise of ‘Achhe din’, demonetisation to GST implementation. The author throws light on all these issues in his inimitable style.
PM Modi is referred to as one of the best orators that India has witnessed. I have seen people cling to their radio sets every Sunday morning to listen to “Mann ki Baat”. People revel in his speeches. Everyone enjoys listening to him. The author starts his book by saying, “Narendra Modi is nothing if not theatrical. He is his own playwright, choreographer, scriptwriter, director and actor.”
For many, his oath-taking ceremony in 2014 after he won the general elections for the 16th Lok Sabha, was seen as the start of the ‘Achhe Din’. We saw the grandeur of the ceremony but did not know what was happening behind the scenes. The author illustrates how Prime Minister Modi got a flavour of the extreme complexity of the geopolitical situation and a sense of the problems in his neighbourhood.
Even though many applauded the Prime Minister’s rock star reception at Madison Square Garden and his new equation with the then US President Barack Obama, who accepted his invitation to the Republic Day Parade, many missed the complete disarray of the SAARC Summit.
According to the author - “From choosing 26 November to commence a SAARC summit to not knowing the likely outcome of India’s initiative in a small group of countries, to not anticipating the pressure building up in favour of China’s membership, everything went wrong for India at the Kathmandu summit of SAARC in November 2014.”
The surgical strikes across the LOC (Line of Control) in Pakistan touched the right chord in Indians. The country stood in unison on the strikes. Prime Minister became the heartthrob of the nation. They perhaps even missed how the US made no allowance for the new relationship.
The author writes, “As before, the US did its tight ropewalking by condemning terrorism and asking for restraint on all sides. India’s efforts to isolate Pakistan were viewed with skepticism in Washington.”
When people were too tired of waiting for ‘Achhe Din’ and his foreign trips were questioned, he appeared on a private TV channel. His frank and forthright discussion won friends. However, the author says “he also exposed the chinks in his armor, including his lack of experience in global affairs and diplomacy.”
Demonetisation was seen by the common man as a drastic action against black money and was supported as such. They were not wary of standing in long queues at ATM for withdrawals. The country that ran on cash supported the government by using online payment apps.
Despite all efforts, demonetisation was criticized though the government appeared formidable internally. The author also explains how in the fourth year - “Too many imponderables made it difficult for India to steer clear of the turbulence on the international scene.”
The author deliberates on his challenges with long standing issues with China and Pakistan, reinventing his policies with Trump as the US President, economic crisis and much more.
The book is not a hagiography and brings a well-balanced view of Prime Minister Modi and his government’s first tenure in 5 acts - The Exposition, The Complication, The Climax, The Reversal, and The Denouement.
The author has co-related his experience in bilateral and multilateral diplomacy with the foreign policy and has brought a comprehensive picture to the reader.
A must read for a common man to understand the highs and lows, strength and weaknesses of Modi 1.0. ‘From the Journals’ at the end of the book helps the readers to explore the subject further by listing out some significant writings. A captivating foreword by Pranay Gupte and compelling previews add to the attraction of the book.
Former Ambassador TP Sreenivasan has been a prolific writer of seven books and innumerous articles in several newspapers. I have listened to him on “Videsh Vicharam” program on AsiaNet which recently completed its 600 episodes.
Modiplomacy is another feather in his cap.
(Shalini Goyal Bhalla is the Head of the India Operations of the Indo-American Centre. The views expressed here are personal.)