When the BJP's Narendra Modi invited leaders of all nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) grouping for his oath-taking ceremony, the foreign media and international leaders hailed it as a move that could pave the way for reforms as far as India's relationship with its neighbours was concerned. While some called it a move that was meant to improve 'trade ties' as Modi focuses on pro-development and business agenda, others called it a strategic move to bring in peace talks.
The Narendra Modi-led government aims to work on increasing imports from SAARC member-states to narrow the large trade surplus in India's favour.
Modi's invitation to SAARC nation leaders for the ceremony has given a fresh lease of life to India's ties with the seven nation regional grouping.
After Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accepted Modi's invite, the commerce department has been hoping that the visit will lead to normalisation of trade ties between the two countries. The main hopes include the acceptance of India's long-pending demand of a non-discriminatory market access (NDMA).
The BJP's manifesto for the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections spoke of strengthening regional forums like SAARC and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and keeping true to it, Modi's invitation was sent to include these leaders following the protocols.
Seven Heads of Government from SAARC countries are in Delhi to attend Modi's swearing in ceremony, which is set to take place at a grand function in the forecourt of the majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday evening.
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai will make a courtesy call to Modi on Tuesday morning at 9.30 am, while his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom is likely to meet Modi at 10.05 am. Following him will be Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who will pay a courtesy call to Modi at 10.30 in the morning. Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay is scheduled to meet Modi at 10.55 am, while his Mauritian counterpart Navinchandra Ramgoolam will hold parleys with Modi at 11.20 am. Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala is set to meet Modi at 11.45 am.
All eyes would be on Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who will hold meeting with Modi at 12.10 in the afternoon. Bangladesh Parliament Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury will meet Modi at 12.45.
dna spoke to some youngsters from SAARC nations and here's what they had to say:
Abdul Hadi Dareez from Afghanistan, Marketing and Media Manager, Afghanistan Cricket Board:
On Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai being invited: The invitation means a lot for us. India is one the strategic partners of Afghanistan and can play a huge role towards rehabilitation, peace and stability in Afghanistan. The invitation means the friendship of India even after the change of government continues with our country.
How will it develop India-Afghanistan ties: I think Modi's invitation itself indicates they want to continue and strengthen the current fellowship even more. Modi seems a better leader and more serious towards building strong relations with Afghanistan. Even both the candidates of the presidential race in Afghanistan want strong relations with India. Being a strong economy in the region, increasing the trade and even military contracts will be beneficial for everyone, the both countries and the region as well.
How will Afghanistan support this alliance? The political atmosphere is under clouds in Afghanistan. The new president and government is yet to be elected (elections to be held on 15th June) and the nation is in confusion. But one thing is quiet clear whoever becomes the head of new government will continues the current friendship with India and will work to build it stronger.
What is your opinion of the India-Afghanistan relationship, and how can both countries work together? Both countries can work together for peace and stability within their territories. This goes for all the other nations as well. For example, the Tamil Nadu movement is over, so India and Sri Lanka should forget the arguments and doubts of the recent past and build a new era.
What do you think about a Narendra Modi-led government and its impact on Afghanistan? Being a strong competitor with Pakistan, India has always had an impact on Afghanistan. Modi, being more serious in this regard, will have to pay more attention to Afghan-India relations.
Tanvir Zaman from Bangaldesh
On Bangaldesh PM Sheikh Hasina being invited: It doesn't mean anything special for Bangladesh. Being a neighbour of india, I would be shocked if Bangladesh wasn't invited. For India, it's a gesture of goodwill inviting everyone. At the same time, I think this might just be a Modi show that he wants everyone to watch so no one underestimates his authority.
How will it develop India-Bangladesh ties? To be brutally honest, India has very little care about the well being of Bangladesh. Yes, the relationship is at its warmest point but let's be honest, Bangladesh cannot afford to strain ties with anyone. Whether Modi or Gandhi, whoever comes to power, they would look after India's benefits. So it doesn't really matter who's in power in Delhi, it's all the same for Bangladesh.
How will Bangladesh support this alliance? Bangladesh is at a point where you as a citizen have no real power. The Hasina government has created a situation where people are truly scared of speaking their mind, fearing kidnaps and murders and what not. Had there been a fair election last January, Awami league would have seen a much worse loss than congress.
What is your opinion about India-Bangladesh relationship and how can both the countries work together? I think India needs to give Bangladesh the same respect they give to Pakistan or China. We are not a doormat. Yes, we are tiny and poor and we need to depend on you for many things. But because Bangladesh depends on India, India should do the right things when it comes to politics or resources that would benefit Bangladesh and not serve the purposes of India.
What do you think about a Narendra Modi-led government and its impact on Bangladesh? Modi government worries me. It's not because I think he's any less capable, but the simple notion of non-secular politics in 2014 worries the heck out of me. Especially in a country with the second largest Muslim population, Modi needs to be a lot more flexible and, dare I say, secular. No one wants to see 2002 repeating itself.
Gyelmo Dawa, journalist from Bhutan:
On Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay being invited: Inviting Bhutanese delegation would mean the friendly relationship between the two countries would continue and remain unchanged. It is a great honour for Bhutanese representative to congratulate the new Prime Minister elect of India and also an opportunity to further strengthen our long-term friendly ties.
How will it develop India-Bhutan ties? The relationship between India and Bhutan would remain unchanged despite the change of political leaders in both the countries.
How will Bhutan support this alliance? Currently the political situation in Bhutan is stable and very promising.
What is your opinion about India-Bhutan relationship, and how can both the countries work together? India and Bhutan's friendship is strong, but India should let Bhutan prosper and help it take its own step in developing friendly ties with other countries.
What do you think about a Narendra Modi-led government and its impact on Bhutan? Narendra Modi, being a business oriented guy, would help support Bhutan in terms of business and economic development.
Imaad Majeed from Sri Lanka:
On Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa being invited? Modi's invitation to SAARC leaders has little to do with SAARC. Modi is using this opportunity, knowing that the world will be watching should Pakistan refuse to attend. Sri Lanka will attend in good spirits as New Delhi's politics are dealt with differently to Tamil Nadu's politics.
How will it develop India-Sri Lankan ties? The relationship between India and Sri Lanka will be determined by China's interest in the string of pearls. The Sri Lanka-India friendship will have little effect on neighbouring nations. Only a friendship between India and Pakistan can do that.
What is your opinion about the India-Sri Lanka relationship and how can both the countries work together? The positions of power at every level have been secured by the ruling party. Our opposition has no real power to challenge the president. The Sinhalese people have accepted Mahinda Rajapakse as their king. By swaying the Sinhalese-Buddhist sentiment, the government has given opportunity to hate-mongering groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena to come to the fore and harass minorities. Ethnic politics played by minority parties in the past have come full circle to make this worse. We are in a nepotist dynasty. The key issues that need to be worked on urgently are to do with Indian and Sri Lankan fisherman. Talks need to lead to firm actions in good spirits. The Centre should not let regional politics, i.e. Tamil Nadu, interfere with its foreign policy.
What do you think about a Narendra Modi-led government and its impact on Sri Lanka? Modi's impact on Sri Lanka will be determined by his interactions with China. Sri Lanka has already chosen its ally, knowing fully well that neither country will come to its aid, but wilfully accepting indebting loans from China.
Zainab Anam from Pakistan:
Do you think the Pakistan-India relationship will usher in a new era with leaders trying to bridge the gap and forging a mutually beneficial relationship? I’m not very hopeful, though Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a keen politician and appears to see the benefits to Pakistan in trying to normalise the relationship with India. That seems to be true for Modi as well. However, national interest can sometimes be subservient to politicians’ own interests, as has been the case in both Pakistan and India about our mutual relationship. For example, if their threats are anything to go by, Indian jihadis will become active now that Modi has been elected so spectacularly, and Pakistani hawks will feel compelled to support them. So, the road appears to me to be rocky. I hope sanity prevails among both governments.
What is the political atmosphere in Pakistan according to you? Contrary to what many in India think and what many polls seem to suggest, most Pakistanis are now not as bothered about Pakistan’s relationship with India as they are with the country’s internal problems. We have our hands full with our low-performing but high-potential economy, the energy crisis, the human rights violations particularly against minorities, alarming levels of violence in Karachi, the Taliban menace, and the Balochistan insurgency. Those issues impact our lives a lot more, and on a daily basis, and though we are divided in opinion about them, we think more about them than about relations with India. So I think, if given the choice, most Pakistanis would just want to normalise ties with India, and move past it. After all, it’s telling that those who have historically tried to whip up anti-India sentiments in Pakistan are now trying to stay relevant through the Pakistani media war.
What is your opinion about India-Pakistan relationship and how can both the countries work together? It is too dysfunctional to be defined as a relationship! One moment, it seems as if both countries have matured about their mutual interests and then the other they are leveling accusations at each other. In my opinion, we need to do away with huge, photo-op type policy interventions, like people-to-people contact, and get serious about our relationship. We know that it is not the people who want to fight. The fissures are about political and economic control of the region, and that’s what peace overtures should be focused on, things like trade, relaxed visa policies (as initiated by the previous governments), collaborative production, etc.
What do you think about a Narendra Modi-led government and its impact on Pakistan? It’s too early to say and I think that leaders’ views on critical issues tend to change after they make the transition from campaigning to governing. As a Pakistani though, I am more interested in how my government should respond to the political change in India. I think our government should focus on sending across a clear message that we hope that this election heralds a new phase in India-Pakistan ties.