Colombo, September 15 (NIA): Like India’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is also skipping the 17 th. Non-Aligned Movement’s summit being held in Margerita Island in Venezuela from September 13 to 18.
Sirisena will be represented by his Special Envoy Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training. Samarasinghe will represent Sri Lanka also at the ministerial segment to be held from September 15 to 16. The summit is being held under the theme “Peace, Sovereignty and Solidarity for Development”. Venezuela is the new Chair of NAM, taking over from Iran.
According to informed sources, President Sirisena had decided quite some time ago that he would not be attending the NAM summit as it immediately precedes the UN General Assembly session which he is keen on attending. If he attended both, he would have to be away from Sri Lanka for ten days or more, which, he felt, he could not afford.
The other factor is the decreasing relevance of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in South Asian and Third World politics, with most countries here being aligned with the US, Russia or China.
The security situation in Venezuela is also worrying. Recently, the UK had issued a travel warning which noted that there could be political protests, which could become violent with little notice.
However, Sri Lankan nationalists feel that Sirisena should not sideline NAM as Sri Lanka is one of its earliest members and had hosted a summit in 1976. NAM typically represents the voice of Asia, Africa and South America -the Developing World, as it were. Sirisena could use NAM, which embraces 120 countries, second only to the UN, to spread its message on equitable economic development,post ethnic reconciliation and constitutional reform. But then, like India, Sri Lanka is now in the US orbit and sees NAM as being less relevant for the satisfaction of its immediate needs.
Why Is Modi Skipping?
Arun Mohan Sukumar of the Observer Research Foundation, writing in the Indian website The Wire on Prime Minister Modi’s skipping the summit says that it reflects poorly on his ability to utilize strategic levers that have served the country well in the past and continue to have relevance even today.
“Some analysts may see the decision to give the meeting in Margarita, Venezuela a miss as driven by an aversion to the bloc’s perceived anti-West posturing. Were that the case, however, the Ministry of External Affairs would not have embarked on an energetic and highly successful outreach endeavor to the BRICS countries, that began with India assuming the presidency of the five-nation grouping this year. Could it be, however, that NAM is too closely identified with the Congress for the prime minister to want to engage with it?” Sukumar asks.
“Modi’s sights are set not on the many Congress Prime Ministers who flew to NAM summits out of some sense of obligation to the legacy of the party’s first family, but on Jawaharlal Nehru himself. If Nehru was the architect of independent India’s external relations with the world, he also steered the country away from great power politics, positioning New Delhi as an interested observer.”
“Modi appears personally committed to re-orienting India’s foreign policy in the 21st century, driven squarely by its engagement with major powers, be it the United States, Russia, Iran or China. This is a commendable objective – perhaps even commensurate to India’s rise globally – but there is no reason that India’s participation in the NAM summit at the highest level has to be a casualty of cross-party differences,” Sukumar argues.
“Perhaps the backdrop of this year’s summit has the MEA concerned about NAM. There is some irony in proclaiming solidarity with the developing world even as the host country, Venezuela, suffers from a debilitating economic crisis. Second, the host country usually holds the pen and circulates a ‘zero draft’ in advance for inputs from member countries. The Venezuelan draft may have rhetoric that India would find difficult to temper, although this is a problem that India has already managed once in 2012 during Iran’s presidency of NAM under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” Sukumar says.
But iInstead of staying away, the Prime Minister should have used the latest summit to turn around India’s recent history of largely symbolic and vacuous engagement with the NAM into real benefits,” he suggests.
NAM and China’s Emergence
Sukumar posits that the Non Aligned Movement is a multilateral institution that still holds promise for Indian diplomacy.
“If NAM has stuttered from summit to summit since the end of the Cold War, it is for want of an updated raison d’être. While previous conversations revolved around the political affiliations of NAM members, India can invoke the current global scenario to make the case for the bloc’s economic non-alignment. Several African, Latin American and Central Asian countries in the movement are set to be recipients of Chinese investment, either through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or the One Belt, One Road project. The concern that they will abandon existing multilateral institutions and norms once they receive Chinese assistance – what the Indian foreign ministry has itself referred to as “hard-wiring” by Beijing – can be countered by securing their economic ‘neutrality’.”
“Few other global institutions can do this today. G7 and G20 members, battling their own economic crises, are in no position to counter China’s influence through aid and assistance in Africa. The US’s ill-advised military interventions in West Asia have limited its room for maneuvering in the region. As for Latin America, a few leftist governments may have bit the dust but right-wing leaders in the continent are not exactly lining up to curry favor with the US. The fact remains that the US is headed towards a period of relative isolationism, which opens the room for China to influence existing regional and multilateral configurations,” Sukumar notes.