New Delhi, Foreign policy was a surprising miss in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech on Saturday, and that too from a leader who has visited over 25 countries in just 14 months.
In Modi’s nearly 83-minute speech, there was none of the customary mention of India’s neighbours, especially Pakistan, or even a reference to terrorism.
The miss was widely noticed as Modi had met his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif just over a month ago in Ufa, Russia, in a landmark move to ease tensions between the two neighbours.
The National Security Advisors – India’s Ajit Doval and Pakistan’s Sartaj Aziz – are set to meet here on August.
In contrast, President Pranab Mukherjee, in his Independence Day eve speech on Friday, gave a veiled warning to Pakistan when he referred to terrorists from “across the border”.
He said India had a policy of “zero tolerance” to terrorism and any attempt to “create mayhem will be dealt with a strong hand”.
In 2013, Modi, as the Gujarat chief minister, used the Independence Day stage to attack then prime minister Manmohan Singh for not giving any assurance to the nation on tackling Pakistan in his Red Fort speech.
At that time, Modi’s speech taunting Manmohan Singh got wide play.
Although Modi gave Pakistan a wide berth, the external affairs ministry on Friday evening took on Pakistan after its envoy here referred to Jammu and Kashmir in his country’s independence day speech.
Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said that “the only struggle in Jammu and Kashmir is against Pakistani-sponsored terrorism. This will be the subject of the upcoming NSA level talks”.
The Pakistani envoy, Abdul Basit, had said that Islamabad won’t abandon the “legitimate struggle for freedom” in Kashmir.
In his maiden Independence Day speech in 2014, Modi spoke about India’s foreign policy, how he believed it could be multi-dimensional and how together with SAARC neighbours India could launch a fight against poverty and South Asia could emerge as a power in the world.
Modi has visited more than 25 countries, usually clubbing three countries in one tour. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar has praised India’s foreign policy under Modi as pro-active and marked by “greater confidence, more initiative and stronger determination”.
Modi visited countries never visited by any prime minister, like Mongolia, and some where an Indian prime minister had not set foot for decades. He goes on Sunday to the United Arab Emirates, where Indira Gandhi was the last prime minister to visit in 1981.
At the end of the first year in office, on May 26, the hectic diplomatic calendar had notched up 162 diplomatic engagements with 101 countries between Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh.
For a prime minister known to virtually run the foreign office, his silence on foreign policy was a surprise to many.