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'Modi is nobody's fool'

Last updated on: May 20, 2014 11:50 IST

'He recognises that China has a sort of quality that attracts and repels. It attracts in terms of its performance and it shows in a sense a mirror image to India of what it could be if everything went right in terms of economic performance.'

Dr Ashley J Tellis, senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and head of its South Asia programme, believes that as prime minister, Narendra Modi's policy toward Pakistan would be either in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee tradition or aq status quo.

Dr Tellis, a former Bush administration official who was intimately involved in negotiating the US-India civilian nuclear deal, has just finished editing a Carnegie publication titled Getting India Back of Track: An Action Agenda for Reform, scheduled to be released in June.

"He (Modi) has really been extremely cautious in expressing any views on that subject and so the real question hinges on does Modi see himself as the legatee of the Vajpayee tradition, which is an effort to reach out to India's neighbours in order to create that stable environment for India," he speculated, or, "Will Modi kind of move in a new direction where he is content to leave the environment to manage itself."

For all the prognostications of the pundits and commentators in Delhi and Washington or anywhere else, he said, "I don't think anyone has the answer to those questions, But those are essentially the two choices that I see him confronted by as he makes history."

Dr Tellis -- who has written extensively on China in addition to South Asian security, defence and strategic issues -- also discussed the new Indian government's attitude with regard to China: "Modi is nobody's fool. He recognises that China has a sort of quality that attracts and repels. It attracts in terms of its performance and it shows in a sense a mirror image to India of what it could be if everything went right in terms of economic performance."

But, he said, Modi was also cognisant of and "recognises that China's behaviour, especially in recent years, has been troubling for China's neighbours, including India... and he will be extremely cautious in how he relates to China.'

Modi, Dr Tellis said, would have to move expeditiously to surround himself with bureaucrats with foreign policy expertise in the region and with regard to the US and the West, in addition to those particularly who can get the economy back on track, because "Modi will recognise very quickly that there's no way he can administer India simply by using his friends alone. India is too big and too complicated..."

"An interesting question is, does Mr Modi have 25 close friends who would be comfortable with populating the ministerial positions in the Cabinet. The answer is no, and so, whether he likes it or not, he will have to very soon have to go beyond his own inner circle and populate important positions in the Indian government with people who he has a tenuous relationship with."

Image: Then prime minister A B Vajpayee with Narendra Modi.

Aziz Haniffa/Rediff.com in Washington, DC