Friday, July 17, 2009

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, July 13, 2009

RECOGNITION is something that all politicians crave for. Our prime ministers are no different and believe that the wider the recognition and acceptability, the better. In their first two years in office, they focus mostly on matters at home, but later on develop a desire to become global figures. If the number of foreign tours lined up in the next few months is anything to go by, Manmohan Singh seems determined to encash on his reputation as a renowned economist to acquire the status of a global leader.

In his first five year term, he made 35 trips abroad, exactly as many as Atal Bihari Vajpayee did in his six years in Race Course Road, visited every continent and spent 151 days away from our shores. That's equivalent to spending a whole month abroad every year. At the rate he is travelling, he is destined to break the record set by Rajiv Gandhi who went on 46 official visits abroad during his five years in office. In less than 50 days of his second term the PM has already been to Russia and last week was in Italy.

Today, he sets off for Paris where he will be the chief guest at the National Day celebrations and then go on to Egypt for the Non Aligned Summit. And in the coming months, he will criss- cross the globe to discuss global warming and economic recovery at several bilateral meetings and is also scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly in September. His spin doctors had tried in the past to catapult him to the international stage but their efforts then were in vain as his political acceptability levels at home were seen to be below par.

But since May, when he became the first non- Gandhi and only the second Congress leader to win a second consecutive mandate, his ratings have soared on the home front and internationally. It will be a while before he strikes up the kind of rapport that Nehru had with leaders like Marshall Tito of the former Yugoslavia or Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt; that Indira had with Fidel Castro or Rajiv shared with Ronald Reagan and Deng Xiaoping.

But from his crowded schedule, it would seem the PM is well on his way to making many friends at the high table. According to sources in the foreign office, over 50 invitations from various heads of governments are pending with the Prime Minister's Office. If his travels during his first term are any indication, he is likely to accept invitations for multilateral events where he would be able to deal with many leaders at one go. Manmohan would be a permanent and prominent participant in most of these meetings where economics and not politics will dominate.

With the world getting highly polarised along economic lines, India is expected to play an important role. India is now a permanent member of the G20 and an invitee to the G8/ G14 and the forthcoming NAM session will throw some light on the chances of India's ambitious bid for the UN Security Council seat.

All this suits him fine because Manmohan Singh is fully aware that the political space in the Congress will be occupied for the time being by Sonia Gandhi and then by Rahul. That the Manmohan PMO would play a more active transnational role was clear from the appointment of the low profile S. M. Krishna earlier as minister and Nirupama Rao as foreign secretary.

On the international stage he may well rise to the great heights that Nehru and Indira Gandhi and Vajpayee attained because in these days of global economic woes, his reputation as an economist makes him a much sought after man whose sage advice will be tapped by leaders from around the world. The world will soon discover what we in India took a long time to do: that the good doctor is less about style and more about substance.

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