New Delhi: Nice things are happening on the foreign affairs front which should benefit the country’s growth and development and advance the interests of the South Asia region entirely. India and Pakistan are re-engaged. It started from their Prime Ministers meeting in Paris and their NSAs subsequently coming together in Bangkok for a quiet, off-media tete-a-tete. This is how mature nations deal with bilateral relations. Following Bangkok, the Indian Foreign Minister visited Pakistan and contributed with meaningful inter-nation trade suggestions at a meeting dedicated to returning peace to Afghanistan. This was capped with the Indian Vice President ceremonially commencing the TAPI project with Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the Indian Defence Minister had constructive meetings with his US counterpart. Indo-US strategic relations are moving to a new higher plane. There is greater understanding in the US about India’s reservations about interoperability. The understanding extends to acknowledging India’s special role to bringing peace in the region with Pakistan’s self-destructive behaviour on one side and China on the other challenging the existing world order. Finally, there was the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit. He is a personal friend of the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. On his visit, the Japanese PM presented bullet train technology at handsome terms, further committed his country to Modi’s Make in India initiative, and the two nations initialled a MoU for civilian nuclear cooperation. When eventually signed, it would kick-start American reactor sales under the Indo-US nuclear accord.

Spectacular achievements on the whole, and in a span of just two weeks: Credit is due to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Before the BJP starts chest-thumping, it should pause and consider something. While credit is indeed due to PM Modi for these things, it is also part of his job. A Prime Minister has to lead as much as a Supreme Court judge has to dispense justice. Too long in this country, people have not been doing the jobs they were elected or selected for. The Prime Minister is doing his job. It is another matter that he is doing it well. He has to do much more. He cannot rest. He has to overcome the backwardness of sixty years in as short a time as possible. This is why he was elected to lead the country in 2014.

Effective leadership was missing previously. This being the case, great powers were either neglecting India or taking advantage of the drift. The TAPI project has been in the works for years. It was proposed as an alternative to the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline when US sanctions against nuclearizing Iran were tightening. TAPI has a still older provenance in the Bill Clinton administration’s attempts to pipe Central Asian hydrocarbon to southern Asia. It got Pakistan to create the Taliban to obtain transit peace in Afghanistan. A weak Indian leadership would have advantaged a hubristic Pakistani regime to sabotage TAPI or skew the terms. On the other hand, a strong Modi leadership throws open new paths of growth and development, and Pakistan sees opportunities there. Hence TAPI.

India’s current heightened engagements with the US and Japan are also a function of the PM’s dynamic leadership. While the former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was correctly adamant about the Indo-US nuclear deal, and got it through after pressuring the Congress party, he was too exhausted with the fighting to win direct benefits for the country in terms of vast accretions of nuclear power. To Manmohan Singh’s credit, the country gained the waivers to import all-important nuclear fuel for running reactors. But the foreign reactor industry did not gain a foothold which should have bound India closer to the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and related blocs and regimes. Japan’s in-principle affirmation of civilian nuclear cooperation with India promises to open doors, and this is the result of Modi’s strong leadership. If strong leadership should have come before 2014, the country would have benefitted sooner.

Overseas outcomes are directly related to domestic strength. The reverse is not true. In post-war history, Margaret Thatcher is perhaps an exception. The Falklands War gave her an opportunity to showcase strong leadership. It won her another term. Rajiv Gandhi failed in the same tactics with the Sri Lankan ethnic war. Prime Minister Modi is looking, however, at a different sort of overseas outcome: One that will enable the country to grow and develop faster. His strong leadership, therefore, is directed at benign foreign objectives. If India grows and develops, the tide will rise for South Asia as a whole, and lift all boats. Seen from that perspective, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not just batting for the country but the entire South Asia region. This is exactly the role destined for an Indian Prime Minister, and Narendra Modi is stepping up to it.

Editor’s Note: 1. Railway land is national property and squatting is impermissible. At the same time, evictions must be enforced humanely, especially in Delhi’s cold weather, where in one such operation, a child died. The Railways and the local Delhi government should settle the matter of evictions expeditiously and without political grandstanding. For the country to grow and develop, the railway system has to be massively expanded and upgraded. All political parties must be alive to this imperative and act reasonably and responsibly, and this includes the squatter issue countrywide.

2. The bullet train philosophy would make more sense applied predominantly to freight movement, which needs to be faster, and less polluting. It would reduce the dependence on uneconomical and environmentally unfriendly surface goods transport. Meanwhile, passenger railway traffic needs increasingly to be shifted to air services mode, with more upcountry airports expanded and opened, and new towns planned around them. The Narendra Modi government has the correct objective of making every Indian fly, and railway and flight services must synergize on this aim.