NewDelhi/Nagpur: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to cut down his foreign visits in 2016, travelling abroad only when it is absolutely necessary so that he can devote more time to issues of domestic importance.
He has asked the external affairs ministry to keep his foreign engagements in 2016 to the minimum and his travel plans, as of now, is restricted to a couple of visits abroad in the first half of the year and international summits in the latter.
In the past 19 months since he rode to power, Modi has visited 33 countries and interacted with two-thirds of world’s leaders — reinvigorating India’s foreign relations. At the same time, his frequent tours abroad had drawn ridicule from the Opposition that accuses him of ignoring domestic issues.
Limiting his tours will help Modi concentrate more on the home front, particularly his government’s third Union Budget that is likely to be presented in February as well as the looming farm crisis in the country.
“PM Modi’s hectic external engagements were to dispel the notion that a former chief minister with little diplomatic experience could not make it to the high table as well as counter a campaign by pro-Congress intellectuals to deny him a visa to travel to the West because of his so-called role in the 2002 Gujarat riots,” a top Indian diplomat said.
According to the senior official, who doesn’t want his name published, the foreign travels counteracted a belief that the Prime Minister cannot handle the Indian neighborhood as he was projected by his detractors as a right-wing leader.
“From getting the SAARC leaders to attend his swearing-in on May 26, 2014, to his surprise Lahore visit on December 25, 2015, to meet Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif, Modi has been able to overcome all negative perceptions,” the diplomat said.
As for his 2016 itinerary, Saudi Arabia had offered January 15-16 as possible dates for Modi’s visit but he may travel to Riyadh in February after new Indian ambassador Ahmed Javed settles down, government sources told media.
He will travel to Brussels for the India-EU summit en route to the nuclear security conference in Washington in end-March. Till then, a number of invites have been kept in abeyance.
Modi will travel to Pakistan for the SAARC summit, tentatively scheduled for the second half of 2016.
His diplomatic advisors will continue to have brisk external engagements, though. National security adviser Ajit Doval will travel to China on January 5 for informal talks, followed by a tour of France on January 12 for a strategic dialogue.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar travels to Tokyo on January 5 for talks while counter-terrorism envoy Asif Ibrahim will be in Jordan later this month. Jaishankar will also be in Pakistan on January 15 for a foreign secretary-level dialogue between the two nations even as dates are being fixed for the second round of NSA-level talks with General Naseer Khan Janjhua in a third country.