- Mr. Modi won the election on a platform of development. Is heon the right track? Yes, he is. His priorities are clear. They have been spelt out properly. Ninety-nine per cent of his time during the campaign was devoted to development. He did not talk about religion or anything else. If you go by [...]

Sunday Times 2

Modi’s India seeks special relationship with Lanka

Top advisor says China must not use close ties with Colombo to create geopolitical tension

- Mr. Modi won the election on a platform of development. Is heon the right track?

Yes, he is. His priorities are clear. They have been spelt out properly. Ninety-nine per cent of his time during the campaign was devoted to development. He did not talk about religion or anything else. If you go by his speeches, which were available online, development was his plank of coming to power. Since he took over, he has been doing one thing. I don’t think any other prime minister would have done this. He spends half a day or sometimes full day with the ministries to give them priorities. What they should do to make their programmes result-oriented. His complete focus is on development.

This focus is also clear in the budget, despite the type of legacy this government has inherited. There are huge fiscal, trade, current account, and revenue deficits. The budget, while trying to address these issues, also focuses on investment in infrastructure.
One of the first decisions of Mr. Modi’s Cabinet was to make a window for the Chinese to make investments in India’s industrial parks. Separately and parallely we are trying to get the Japanese to make investments in the infrastructure development in India. As you know China and Japan together have US$ 7 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. Their ability to invest that money anywhere is limited because the US is not expanding, Europe is in trouble and South East Asia cannot take such a big amount of investment and, for that matter, even Latin America or Africa. So the only country which can have potential to absorb such big investments is India. In the next five years, we want US$ 1 trillion of investments in infrastructure development alone. That is a huge opportunity not only for these countries but also their companies to build airports, sea ports, roads and railways. This is a fantastic win-win situation. Mr. Modi is already working on it.

Another important development is the BRICS bank. Mr. Modi personally took the leadership and this is a 200 billion dollar project. The first president of this bank is an Indian. Mr. Modi is not talking about development alone. He is talking about improving the power sector, waterways and roads. His is a full development-oriented government. He does not make a big noise about it. We will construct 40 kms of roads every day. He says, ‘don’t announce, just implement. Your deeds will speak louder than the words’.

- Mr. Modi has been supported by corporate India. Can he govern India without getting involved in their surreptitious schemes or corrupt deals?

Corruption is an issue we need to address. There are two sides to it. Unless two hands meet, corruption cannot take place. One side is the government and the other side is the business community. One way of dealing with the issue is not to change the business community. Change the business culture through government action. If we make the process transparent, the chances of corruption will be curbed. I think the action should begin with the government itself. Change policy to become transparent. This is what Mr. Modi is trying to do.

- Mr. Modi’s foreign policy: Will there be a return to the Gujral doctrine, which was considerate with regard to India’s small neigbours?

Dr. Suresh Prabhu: China should not scare its neighbours. Pic by M.D. Nissanka

Mr. Modi’s first action even before he became the prime minister was to invite the neighbours. It was a clear message about what he believes in. Therefore there is no need for him to articulate a doctrine. It is indoctrinated in his action. Also invited for the swearing-in ceremony was Mauritius. Why is Mauritius important? There is a big Indian diaspora and Modi’s action indicated that he cared for them wherever they lived.

So the message was that irrespective of their size, we believe in our neighbours. His first foreign visit was not to the US, China or Japan, but to Bhutan, a tiny country with less than one million people. Why did he do that? It is to prove something which he said in his speeches there. It was like B to B — like ties between business to business, it is Bhutan to Bharat. And that means he believes that size does not matter and that economic potential of a country is not what influences us but our relationship with that country.

- What is the new Govt.’s take on the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC)? Will there be a solution to the Kashmir issue which is seen as the single most pressing crisis blocking the progress of SAARC?

Let us talk about SAARC first. One of Mr. Modi’s first actions as Science and Technology Minister was to attend the launch of a satellite. At this launch, he said the satellite’s purpose was to make it beneficial to all SAARC countries. I don’t think any Indian leader has said such a thing before and this is not something SAARC countries had demanded. India is in the elite club of those who have the capability of launching satellites. We should make our research available to our own neighbours free of charge so that it could help them in areas such as weather forecasting and natural resource management. So, inviting SAARC leaders for the swearing-in was not just a symbolic gesture. His subsequent action at the launch showed that he meant it.

On Pakistan we are very clear. India and Pakistan must have good relations. No doubt about it. There should not be preconditions. But attempts to improve relations get derailed because of the actions of Pakistan. We have been saying for a long time that Pakistan’s soil is being used to launch attacks on India. Pakistan denied it but now Pakistan itself has launched a big campaign against terrorists.Pakistan’s prime minister is saying there are foreign terrorists on Pakistani soil. They are from Uzbekistan and other places. China also says now what India has been saying. China says that some of the terrorists that create troubles in China’s minority provinces are coming from Pakistan. Afghanistan also says the terrorists are coming from Pakistan. This is what Russia is also saying: Chechens are being supported from Pakistani soil. Forget other countries, Pakistan itself says the same thing and that is why its army has launched a big campaign against terrorists in Waziristan.

So Pakistan and India are suffering from the same problem. We should work together to eliminate this menace of terrorism which is consuming Pakistan itself. We strongly feel that Pakistan must remain a strong state and should not fail. We don’t want that. All the four provinces of Pakistan — Sind, Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — should remain together. We are more than happy to work for it. We don’t believe that Pakistan is India’s enemy, but we believe that certain elements are using Pakistan’s soil to disturb this process.

- What about Kashmir?

There have been elections in Kashmir. It has an accession treaty with India and we have a framework there. We have been holding elections in Kashmir regularly. We need to find a way to fulfil the Kashmiri people’s aspirations of ensuring that democratic processes are followed on either side of Kashmir — there is a Pakistan occupied Kashmir. We should do that and have a complete democratic process and listen to the Kashmir people. The state of Kashmir should not be allowed to be used as a pawn for a proxy war.

- You talk about democracy. Does this mean that you support the plebiscite which the UN wants held?

There is no plebiscite issue here. We hold elections in Kashmir. That is what a plebiscite is. More than 60 per cent of Kashmiris turned out at the May elections, a turnout, which is far bigger than the figure recorded in some other states in India. This is testimony that the Kashmiris believe in the Indian constitution.

- India is a member of BRICS which recently had a successful meeting in Brazil. Will BRICS be the new counterforce in world politics?

One hundred per cent! We do not believe that there should be a unipolar or bipolar world. We believe in a multipolar world. We strongly believe that just as we practise multiparty democracy in our country, there should be different opinions in the world. So there should be a multipolar world. If there is a multipolar world, there is little space for one country to dominate, whether it is the United States, Russia or China. It should be a world in which all should have their representation. So BRICS is a good development. It comprises five major economies which represent almost half of the world’s population in five different regions of the world. We should also welcome and allow similar multipolar groupings.

- Are you concerned about the rise of China as a world military power and the Chinese Navy’s expansion into the Indian Ocean?

We welcome China’s rise which is unprecedented. Within 36 years, China has multiplied its economy 60 times. This has not happened in world history before. China has become the second largest economy in the world and may become the largest soon. It is a model for any developing country to follow. But China should not use its economic clout to become militarily strong. China should not do anything to scare its neighbours, whether it is Japan, India, or its Southeast Asian neighbours. This is an important responsibility on the Chinese. That is what Deng Xiaoping told China’s leadership that peaceful rise and coexistence should be the main principles. I think the new leadership will make this advice the guiding policy and not create military tension in other countries. China must settle its border dispute with India soon. We are concerned about it. Since the 1962 war, China has been occupying India’s territory and it still claims rights over one of our states — Arunachel Pradesh.

I personally feel India and China could work together and should work together. Even Japan and China should work together. China should rise but not rise in a way that will create tension with its neighbours. China’s dream should not become a nightmare for its neighbours.

- Is India concerned about China’s presence in Sri Lanka as an economic partner?

We have no problem with that. We want Sri Lanka to progress and the help can come from China, India or anywhere. But we feel China should not use its economic investment in Sri Lanka to create some geopolitical tension in the region. They must make economic development – absolutely no problem.

- How does the Modi Government see the poaching issue in the Palk Strait? The Indian Government has admitted that Kachchativu belongs to Sri Lanka – so the waters around it also must. Is the new Government a government that believes in doing what is moral or doing what is opportunist as the Congress Government did?

Sri Lanka is an important partner for India. We don’t consider Sri Lanka only as a market for India. We consider Sri Lanka as a close, emotionally attached, historically connected and civilisationally similar country for India. So for India, Sri Lanka is more than a neighbour. We will do everything possible to further strengthen our relations with Sri Lanka. We had some unfortunate incidents in which a part of Sri Lankan population and their connections with Tamil Nadu had created some sort of tension. I think it can be addressed in a way that satisfies all Sri Lankans including the minority Tamils. It should also be addressed in a way that it will create global acceptance that Sri Lanka is doing a fair job. Tamil Nadu is an important state in India and Tamil culture is rich and historic. Obviously there is a linkage historically and the Tamils came from India many centuries ago.

We note that Sri Lanka is making some progress by holding elections in the north. We should try to move a step further and create an atmosphere that past problems will not come to the fore. It will help India’s foreign policy also and it will help Sri Lanka also. It will also help Sri Lanka to occupy its rightful place in the global arena. I think the Sri Lankan president and the government are mature enough to take this process forward.

- Can India’s states, for instance Tamil Nadu, dictate foreign policy to the Modi Government?

India’s foreign policy is decided in New Delhi, no doubt. You cannot say foreign policy is the domain of a few external affairs ministry officials. It is a reflection of the popular mood. The foreign policy of any country is an extension of the domestic concerns. So if we address the domestic concerns of the people then obviously foreign policy will be pursued in a professional manner.

- What about the poaching issue?

There are of course two sides. Sri Lanka’s fishermen are also coming to the Indian side. We should try to demarcate that border properly and make sure that poaching does not happen. I think this is a matter for coastguards from either side working closely with each other to help fishermen to know the boundary. They sometimes don’t know whether they are in Indian waters or Sri Lankan waters. These fishermen are not coming for any motive other than economic purpose. Fishermen on both sides are poor people. They are not equipped with GPS devices and I think the navy and the coastguards of both countries should work with them.

- What is India’s policy with regard to the international war crimes probe that Sri Lanka is saddled with?

This has been an annual ritualistic process in Geneva. The Indian Government has taken a stance and last time India abstained. India and Sri Lanka should work together to develop the region properly and address human rights concerns in a way that does not create any issues in the minds of Sri Lankans and Indians.

- What about the full implementation of 13th amendment, which was a product of India?

Sri Lanka is one country and within the constitutional framework of Sri Lanka, devolution is always a good idea. The Indian Constitution’s 73rd and 74th amendments give powers to the state governments. It is always good for any government to have regional aspirations ruling their own destiny.

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