Narendra Modi takes oath as India’s 15th prime minister on Monday and the entire neighbourhood is invited. The PM-designate, in a bold move, on Wednesday sent out invitations to leaders of the Saarc regional grouping, including Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
HT was first to report Wednesday that Sharif was on the guest list, though confirmation on whether he will attend is awaited. Sharif was among the first global leaders to call Modi to congratulate him after Friday’s poll results. Asked if he would be coming to India, a Pakistan high commission spokesperson told HT, “We received the invite only in the evening.”
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is expected to make it. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is scheduled to visit Tokyo from May 24, will send speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury in her place but her son Sajeeb Wazed Joy may also attend, sources said.
Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala have indicated they may come while Bhutan may be represented either by its king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck or prime minister Tshering Tobgay, sources said.
Rounding up the invitations, India has requested the presence of Maldives’ President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom too.
“This is the first time India has invited all Saarc (South Asi-an Association for Regional Cooperation, which also includes India) members to attend a swearing-in ceremony of the prime minister,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.
Foreign secretary Sujatha Singh was busy in the afternoon writing — on behalf of Modi — to her counterparts in the Saarc countries and extending invitations to their leaders to the ceremony on May 26.
During the informal contacts, the leaders were also told Modi would like to have short meetings with them after the swearing-in.
Modi’s move signals many things. Sharif had invited Manmohan Singh to his swearing-in ceremony last year but the UPA 2 government had sent India’s high commissioner in Islamabad instead.
Thereafter, ties between the two neighbours remained stagnant due to the impression that the government in Delhi was fast running out of mandate and only the next regime would have the political capital to expend on such a tricky issue. Now, with the change of guard, it is up to Sharif to play ball and be at Monday’s ceremony in the forecourt of Rashtrapathi Bhavan.
With the invitations, Modi has signaled the primacy of neighbourhood in his foreign policy that is focused on regional integration and peace in India’s backyard.
“This is an excellent move by the PM-designate.
It conveys to all neighbours that we have a stake in your peace and development and you have a stake in ours. South Asia, home to 1.6 billion people, remains one of the least integrated regions in the world, which has to be changed by all means,” Hardeep Puri, seasoned career diplomat and BJP member, told HT.
“This will further foster socio-economic integration within the region where India is set to play a major role,” said Vikramjit Sahney, president of the Saarc Chamber of Commerce and Industry (India).