New Delhi: Within weeks, Narendra Modi would have met each of the two dictators who rule Russia and China twice over. These are four meetings too many. Moreover, they wouldn’t have come to see him. He would have made the journeys. It establishes inequity and power asymmetries straightaway. There is something beyond this. Familiarity breeds contempt. Modi wouldn’t know that of course. Teleprompters and their newest equivalents do not provide proverbs off the shelf.

What has Narendra Modi really achieved with all the air miles he has accumulated since May 2014 at your expense and mine? Hard to say. Before he lavished attention on Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, he was courting Nawaz Sharief. Not content to invite him to his swearing in, he made an impromptu appearance at a Nawaz family wedding angering Pakistan’s military establishment and leaving foreign policy observers in this country puzzled. What was Modi up to? Whatever Modi and Nawaz Sharief discussed, it did not inspire the algebra between India and Pakistan. Rather, relations have plummeted. When India is not hyping “surgical strikes”, the artilleries of both sides have pummelled citizens and taken bilateral relations to a no-war, no-peace zone. Meanwhile, Pakistani terrorism and local insurgency have gripped Kashmir with the fiery heat of midsummer.

India’s relations with the United States under Modi have also shown irreversible decline although they scarcely yet match the acrimony with Pakistan. Narendra Modi was thoroughly unprepared for Donald Trump’s victory, the ministry of external affairs having concluded that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in for the White House. The prime minister cannot be the country’s chief salesman when markets are down and there is really nothing to sell. There was a short-lived magic that Modi had won the biggest election of Modern history. The phenomenon impressed Barak Obama but not the person who emerged from it. Anyhow, by the time of Trump, Emanuel Macron was a bigger phenomenon, and he has infinitely more to recommend. Trump suffered Modi till such time as he turned the fires of economic nationalism on him. He mocked him on Harley Davidson before Congress. If the Indian diplomatic establishment had preceded Modi in engaging the Trump administration with limited success, there was a likely fallback of a summit to rescue relations. By pushing ahead of the establishment, Modi made sure future options with the United States were closed. Analysts and journalists are writing obituaries of Indo-US relations. Who brought on this denouement from the Indian side? Everyone knows.

With the Modi formula (such as there is one) failing with the United States, there has been an almost reflexive and abject wooing of Russia and an attempted reset with China. Major Powers have long memories and are typically distrustful and even scornful of peripatetic heads of government. Neville Chamberlain was received with barely concealed contempt by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini of the Fascist brotherhood in his frenetic missions of appeasement. Mussolini’s son-in-law used Chamberlain as a model to portray Great Britain as a decadent society on its last legs. The son-in-law met a gruesome end but it does not minimize Chamberlain’s fall from grace. The diplomatic establishment is present and purposed to insulate the head of government from collapsing or tetchy bilateral relations. The foreign minister leads the efforts of the diplomatic establishment. But Modi has made the foreign minister redundant and personalized India’s geopolitics. In itself, this is dangerous. Perils apart, Narendra Modi has not succeeded in style either. Serious countries do not conduct foreign policy in this manner.

If Modi had been sensible, well-read and put a premium on substance, he would have concluded four years ago, if not earlier, that India’s geopolitical options were severely curtailed. There was simply no alternative to Jawaharlal Nehru’s Non-Alignment. It had to be updated to reflect the end of the Cold War and to be joined to 1991 reforms dynamics to set the country on a new course. Instead, Narendra Modi opted for a highly visible and personalized diplomacy imbued with scant intelligence and containing few levers. India is back to the same position as before because it never left it in the first place notwithstanding Modi’s jet-setting -- with one difference, however. By overexposure, Narendra Modi has lowered India.

It takes you back to the mariner, who called, ‘But how can she sail with no wind in her sails and no tide?’

Editor’s Note: Pranab Mukherjee has made a colossal fool of himself attending an RSS event and saying what he did. By accepting the invitation to speak in Nagpur, he trapped himself. His daughter caught his blunder early. In the end though, Pranab Mukherjee will bring no value to the RSS. He is a spent force. Meanwhile, there is no RSS makeover happening and it is not in the habit of looking at mirrors. The morphing of Mukherjee’s photograph giving the fascist salute is par for the course. No one should be really surprised at the ways of the religious Right.