Policy makeover? PM may skip NAM meet in Venezuela

NEW DELHI: Bang in the middle of speculation that India’s foreign policy is undergoing a makeover, government sources said PM Narendra Modi was unlikely to attend the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Venezuela next month.

Sources said the Centre has not confirmed Modi’s participation weeks after having received the invite. On Thursday, Venezuelan foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez will arrive in India to extend another invitation. She will be accompanied by Venezuela’s oil minister. The last time an Indian PM skipped NAM, which counts Jawaharlal Nehru as its founding father, was in 1979 when Charan Singh was the caretaker PM.
In fact, the 1979 summit in Havana was the only occasion in the movement’s 55-year history that an Indian PM did not show up.
NAM was founded in 1961 in Belgrade and was intended to be a grouping of countries not aligned with the two major powers — the US and the erstwhile USSR — whose rivalry divided the world into two combating blocs. The group lost much of its relevance after the disintegration of the USSR and the unravelling of the communist bloc.
The 17th edition of NAM summit is scheduled to take place on September 17-18 at Venezuela’s Margarita Island. When contacted by TOI, Venezuela’s ambassador to India Augusto Montiel said New Delhi had indicated to Venezuela that there would be a “high-level participation” from India.
“India and Venezuela have a common position on multilateral issues. We are confident of holding a very successful NAM summit,” said Montiel. This is the first time a NAM summit is being held after Modi took over as PM. The summit, in fact, was originally supposed to be held last year, but got delayed because Venezuela which is facing an economic crisis – not least because of falling oil prices – did not seem prepared to host it.
While the government is likely to send foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, if not Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Modi’s absence will not just be felt at NAM, but it will also be subjected to intense scrutiny by those closely following India’s foreign policy under him.
Modi’s absence would also mark a departure from the previous NDA government under AB Vajpayee. Vajpayee, attended both NAM summits —Durban in 1998 and Kuala Lumpur in 2003 — during his tenure as PM.
The idea that the US is India’s most significant strategic partner is seen as central to Modi government’s scheme of things in pursuing India’s national interests.
In these circumstances, many may find it understandable that the government has chosen to downgrade its engagement with NAM, seen by some as a platform for anti-Americanism.
Venezuela’s own relationship with the US has reached its nadir with President Obama last month extending sanctions on Venezuela for human rights abuses and also, earlier this year, renewing the decree calling Venezuela a security threat to the US. Some may also see in Modi’s absence another attempt to undermine one of Nehru’s most enduring international legacies.
Successive Indians PMs though, including Vajpayee, have not shied away from paying their obeisance before what was conceived as an alliance of independent states seeking to override any influence US and erstwhile USSR might have exercised over them.