After successfully helping lay the ground for big Prime Ministerial visits to US and Australia, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav flew to Colombo on Monday, ten days before PM Narendra Modi is set to make his maiden visit there. His departure happened a few hours after he met visiting Nepali former Prime Minister, Baburam Bhattarai.
According to three top diplomatic officials, Madhav's 'visits, engagements and inputs' have come to be recognised as key variables in foreign policy formulation. But beyond the individuals, it is a story of party-government synergy on foreign policy.
This is a far cry from the differences between the party and government under UPA on a range of issues. Congress was reluctant to invest political capital on the nuclear deal while PM Manmohan Singh was keen; the party was unsure about Singh's peace overtures to Pakistan; and with Colombo, the government would have preferred engaging more closely with the regime there but the party was worried about implications in Tamil Nadu.
But such differences seem missing in the current configuration, also because as one leader said, the 'power structure' is clear. "Modi depends on various channels for information. Once he is convinced, the policy line is set. And then all instruments - be it the party or government - have to implement it " said an official who has interacted with the PM.
Madhav, as the RSS face in New Delhi for many years, was well networked with the international community. He also had good links with diaspora organisations and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh- NRIs constitute a big element of the Sangh support base. It is this advantage Madhav is leveraging now.
The Sangh affiliates are widely credited in successfully organising the Madison Square public event for Modi in New York during his September visit. Madhav had made preparatory visits, and then stayed on for the event. Madhav also helped create the ground for the Indian community get together in Sydney with PM. He has also led track 2 delegations to China recently, a little before President Xi Jinping's visit.
He is recognised as the party's key pointsman on Nepal, which Modi has visited twice. When a little known BJP functionary Renu Devi, ten days ago, made a statement in Kathmandu against federalism, the embassy of India and then BJP - in a statement signed by Madhav - said it was not the official line of the government. A BJP official says, "Madhavji briefs the PM and his line is the authoritative line."
Modi embarks on an ambitious Indian Ocean yatra soon. In Colombo, which Madhav visited as a part of a BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad led delegation in 2013, Modi is set to signal his support for the new government. He is expected to encourage the efforts of President Mathripala Sirisena to reach out to Tamil minorities, as well as ask the umbrella ruling alliance to work together. Madhav, as a representative of the party with roots in the Sangh, will prepare the ground for this messaging and also a possible public event.