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Prime Minister Narendra Modi puts his stamp on foreign policy

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When Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned from the BRICS summit in Brazil last month, he instructed his officials that there would be no luxurious five-star hotel stays for the night.

From slashing down his official delegation to half to experimenting with out of-the-box measures, especially in India's neighbourhood, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slowly, but surely, putting his own distinctive stamp on India's foreign policy.
As he embarks on a two-day visit to Nepal on Sunday (August 3), the second country in India's neighbourhood since he took power about two months ago, Modi is showing that he is the boss - both in style and substance - in the conduct as well as outreach in India's all-important periphery.
A glance at the list of all those travelling with him to Nepal, for instance, and comparing the size of the official delegation to that former prime minister Manmohan Singh carried with him to Myanmar, for example, is instructive.
Modi's official delegation, including security, personal physician, officials as well as the media (agencies like PTI, UNI, ANI and Photo Division), consists of exactly 50 people.
When Manmohan Singh travelled to Naypitaw, the capital of Myanmar, also for two days in March, he took with him 90 people. This included then external affairs minister Salman Khurshid, 7 private secretaries, two cooks, and 34 media.
On Modi's plane, which, incidentally, is a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), there is no external affairs minister - Sushma Swaraj has just returned from a very successful visit to Kathmandu, where she paved the way for what promises to be a very important trip by the prime minister, the first in 17 years - nor is there a cook. The security contingent is halved to 13; in Manmohan Singh's delegation there were 21 security officers.
Clearly, the new man in Race Course Road has decided that austerity is the new name of the game. India, a developing country, cannot afford to throw hard-earned monies on luxuries it can ill afford. Moreover, it makes India look flashy and arrogant and persuades it to behave like a bossy "big brother" across South Asia.
Swaraj, in fact, was asked this exact question in Kathmandu recently, which is whether India would continue to behave like such a "big brother?" She answered eloquently, "We will not be a big brother, but an elder brother."
But Modi is determined to break from much that went before. During Vajpayee's era, foreign visits used to be leisurely jaunts. Even Manmohan Singh's travels sometimes turned into junkets, often with junior IAS officers, especially those working in the PMO, clambering onboard. But when Modi returned from the BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) summit in Brazil last month, and was forced to break journey for a refuelling stop in Frankfurt, he instructed his officials that there would be no luxurious five-star hotel stays for the night. The plane took three hours to refuel, during which time Modi and a couple of other officials went to a hotel where the prime minister showered and changed and spoke on the phone to German chancellor Angela Merkel. The rest of the delegation stayed in the VIP Lounge at the airport and worked on their laptops, putting together a presentation on the outcome of the BRICS summit.
In the Manmohan Singh era, government sources said, there was never a debriefing after a visit - although the former PM was known for his sharp questioning when he was briefed by offricials before he embarked on a visit abroad.
Modi, on the other hand, has ordered that every visit is followed by a debriefing so that all parts of the government is aware of what was achieved - and what wasnt.
Certainly, in Nepal's case where he is going tomorrow for two days, Modi's huge task has been made substantively easier by Swaraj's meetings with the Nepali leadership across the political spectrum - from the ruling alliance of the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) to the Maoists in opposition to the Madhesi parties.
Modi is expected to announce a substantial line of credit to Nepal, approximately $1 billion dollars, and pursue a power trading agreement with Kathmandu.
This is the second time in the last 5 years that India has given such large credit to a country in the neighbourhood - the UPA offered Bangladesh a $1 billion line in 2010 soon after Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina came to power.
The big difference is that the credit to Dhaka was tied, which meant that Indian companies had to be given the orders by the Bangladeshi government.
In Nepal's case, Modi is experimenting with a very modern initiative which allows Kathmandu to do what it likes with the money that India lends to it. This means that if Nepal wants to use the $1 billion to make roads in the Terai or a hydropower plant in the hill country, it is entirely up to that government. Certainly, Indian monitoring of the credit line will exist and monies will be given out dependent on the Nepali side completing the task it has set out for itself at every stage.
It is increasingly becoming apparent that Modi wants to control the variables around him. For example, when officials mulled over the gifts that the Indian prime minister should present his counterpart in Nepal, Modi is said to have asked for a copy of 'Samvidhan,' the 11-hour docu-drama that Shyam Benegal has specially created for Rajya Sabha TV, on the making of India's Constitution.
It is believed that Modi will gift one copy to the Nepali prime minister Sushil Koirala and another to the Constituent Assembly. Perhaps that is also Modi's way of telling Nepal that it must quickly get its act together and make a new Constitution.

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