Truth is, Narendra Modi failed at BRICS, embarrassed India

He erred on three major counts.

 |  5-minute read |   18-10-2016
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If words and phrases, repartee and rhetoric were to win the day, India’s campaign on terrorism against Pakistan would have achieved its desired result.

India ripped apart Pakistan with smart ripostes such as “host to Ivy League of terrorism” at the UN last month. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi deployed the same tactics at BRICS summit in Goa to tear into Pakistan. Calling Pakistan the “mothership of terrorism linked to terror modules across the world” sounded impressive for sound bite journalism.

But Modi appears to have left BRICS leaders unimpressed. As the dust settles on the Goa summit, the government’s orchestration of using the BRICS platform to isolate Pakistan has failed. Moreover, Modi’s loud claim of success has turned out to be embarrassing for the country. 

Modi erred on three major counts. Firstly, he overplayed the terrorism issue. At almost every session, he single-mindedly pursued his Pakistan agenda, derailing BRICS’s own agenda in the process. 

Secondly, he made the mistake of treating the five-nation grouping of BRICS as a debating club like the UN, which it is not. Soft, smart diplomacy ceded space to overt, unilateral pursuit of Pakistan-centric agenda that was outside the brief of BRICS.

Thirdly and most importantly, Modi not only failed to read the mind of the Chinese but also misread the mood of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The result was expected. The Goa Declaration did talk of the menace of terrorism stalking the world in general terms. It addressed the global concern over terrorism, the battle being fought over it in Syria and other West Asian countries. But it omitted mentioning Pakistan, the “mothership”, in any manner whatsoever.  

Syria got mentioned because Russia wanted it. Pakistan was omitted because China opposed it. In more than a 100 points of the declaration, 109 paragraphs to be precise, Modi failed to have Pakistan named either in the context of cross-border terrorism or as a state sponsoring terrorism to further his political heft. 

modiembed-new_101816062259.jpg Xi Jinping snubbed India by talking about addressing the “symptoms and root causes” of terrorism. (Photo credit: India Today) 

Even the LeT and JeM, designated as terrorist organisations by the UN, didn’t find mention in the teeth of Chinese opposition. Ironically, Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and Jabhat Al Nusra, also designated terrorist outfits like the LeT and JeM by the UN, figured in the declaration. That’s because Russia had its way and China acted in coordination with Russia.

China came out all guns blazing in favour of Pakistan and played spoilsport at the summit and later in Beijing.

In response to Modi’s “mothership of terrorism” remark, the spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry Hua Chunying bluntly told journalists in Beijing that China was opposed to linking “any country or religion" with terror. On the contrary, China asked the world to acknowledge Pakistan’s “great sacrifices” in combating terrorism. 

Xi at the meet snubbed India by talking about addressing “symptoms and root causes” of terrorism. That’s precisely the language Pakistan has been using in reference to Kashmir.

The BRICS fiasco is the result of unimaginative and immature diplomacy. Perhaps, it’s more a result of Modi’s love for big-stage power play that accords primacy to optics rather than substance and subtle pursuit of national interests.

BRICS has turned out to be as dead and irrelevant a platform as SAARC. The South Asian platform had at least one thing in common among all members - geographical proximity that binds the people of the subcontinent together.  BRICS members are neither bound by geography, nor culture.

BRICS was born with the ambition to emerge as an alternative to the IMF, World Bank-led system that protects and advances the interests of the developed world.

As the trade and economic fulcrum began to shift from the developed to the developing world, the notion of emerging markets as pivotal to the new economic order took shape.

But it didn’t take too long for the rising balloon of emerging economies to burst. India is the only one flaunting rising GDP growth, though a jobless one.   

China is slowing with a five-times larger economy than India, Brazil is in recession, South Africa is struggling with economic and political crises and Russia is hobbled by US-EU sanctions and low energy prices.

Except the New Development Bank that BRICS members set up with headquarters in Shanghai and KV Kamath of India as its first president, there is nothing that this grouping can showcase as achievement in almost a decade of its existence.

A proposal was mooted at Goa to set up a credit rating agency to challenge western agencies such as S&P, Moody’s and Fitch. But no decision was taken.

One is surprised how Modi forgot BRICS is all about economy and trade, investment and infrastructure. The other issues are peripheral to its member countries.

How come Modi forgot that Brazil and South Africa face no challenges of terrorism? Russia and China have their own terror-specific challenges but they feel that Pakistan can be their partner, not adversary, in meeting the challenges.

India must take the outcome of the BRICS summit in Goa as a wake-up call. China has begun flexing its muscle against India and in favour of ally Pakistan more brazenly than in the past. Russia is well past the "bhai-bhai" stage of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

In any case, why should Modi expect Putin to offer unqualified support on geostrategic issues at a time when India has closely allied with the US?

Also read: Why BRICS summit 2016 is a game-changer for India-Russia ties


Ashok K Singh Ashok K Singh @kashoksingh

He is a journalist, writer and commentator.

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