A Book Review by Vincent P Joseph
‘Modiplomacy Through a Shakespearean Prism’ (Konark Pages 242, Rs. 800) a contemporary diplomatic history of India by former Ambassador and writer T.P.Sreenivasan, is a work of classical proportions. With great analytic precision, the author presents the diplomatic efforts of Narendra Modi during his first term as the Prime Minister of India. The changing patterns of Modiplomacy in the last five years are reconstructed on the template of a classic five act Shakespearean Play. The author analyses the initial "feel good factor" of Modiplomacy, its complications and frustrations in the later period and the unprecedented success in the last phase.
The images of Narendra Modi, created by his fans and foes, should be kept aside before reading this profoundly important book. Modi is no doubt a magician with public diplomacy. But in real diplomacy he handled the business with honesty, courage, and intellectual rigor. It is not flawless too. His neighbourhood policy and Modi-Sharif honeymoon were romantic rather than practical in the beginning. The author critically observes that the end of the First Act of the play was disappointing. At the same time Modiplomacy was triumphant in transforming India-American relations in a positive way. The unprecedented rock star reception accorded to Modi at the Madison Square Garden set a new momentum in the idea of “extended India” and India-US relations.
The Act II of Modiplomacy starts with a game changing visit to India by the then US President Barack Obama. From the inertia and flaws in the beginning, Modiplomacy now entered into the super highway of victory. The author’s analysis is right to the core in this regard. He explains: “The Indian Government’s biggest success in the realm of foreign policy and national security in 2015 was its ability to keep its interlocutors on tenterhooks…From Pakistan to United States, from Africa to ASEAN, there was an expectation that the new dispensation in New-Delhi meant business and there could not be business as usual with the Modi Government. This sense of drive and purpose is what India had been lacking in the recent past”.
In the Act III, we see a new symphony in India-US relations. The rise of Donald Trump and his notoriously unpredictable policy position compelled Modi to reshape the pattern of India-US relations.
The Act IV exposes ‘The denouement of the Modi drama by the middle of 2018, when the Trump Presidency began to unravel and Modi realised that he could not rely on the US to guarantee security and development for India’. This turbulent sea was crossed successfully with internal cohesiveness and political will.
The author analyses meticulously the strengths and weaknesses of Modiplomacy and opines that ‘The emergence of Narendra Modi as the leader of the biggest democracy presents an opportunity for India to build a string of friendships with common aspirations for beneficial cooperation ...The dangers of a tight embrace with the US were all too evident in Modi’s first term. China has made no concessions on any of the problems that have plagued bilateral relations since the sixties. Russia’s steadfastness also cannot be taken for granted. Steering clear of these inherent hazards even while cooperating with them and finding a niche for India in the emerging multi polar world should be the objective of Modiplomacy 2.0”
T.P.Sreenivasan has introduced a new style in writing contemporary diplomatic history. He is fascinated by Modi, at the same time his analysis of Modiplomacy is objective. In a very insightful, informative and inspiring manner he presents his thoughts on Modiplomacy through a Shakespearean prism. This scholarly book is coloured with analogies from Hindu mythology to Shakespearean drama. The anecdotes are interesting and form part of the cogent analysis of the diplomatic ventures. As a fascinating story of contemporary diplomatic history Modiplomacy stands extraordinary with brilliant, objective and professional assessment and innovative narrative style.
(Vincent Joseph is a Professor of History, now serving as Controller of Examinations of the Kannur University. He is the author of several books on the Middle East.)