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Modi's Swearing-in: Decoding the Message Conveyed by Foreign Leaders' Attendance

© AFP 2023 MONEY SHARMAIndia’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Narendra Modi (R) takes the oath of office for a third term as the country's Prime Minister during the oath-taking ceremony administered by President Droupadi Murmu (2L) at presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on June 9, 2024.
India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Narendra Modi (R) takes the oath of office for a third term as the country's Prime Minister during the oath-taking ceremony administered by President Droupadi Murmu (2L) at presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on June 9, 2024. - Sputnik India, 1920, 10.06.2024
PM Modi told the foreign leaders at his oath-taking ceremony on Sunday that India would "continue to work for the peace, progress and prosperity of the region in close partnership with the countries", even as it pursues its goal of Viksit Bharat by 2047.
India's three-time Prime Minister Narendra Modi has continued with his tradition of inviting neighbourhood leaders to his swearing-in ceremony, as leaders from seven South Asian and Indian Ocean countries participated as guests at the high-profile event at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sunday evening.
The foreign heads of state at the oath-taking event included Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu, Seychelles Vice-President Ahmed Afif, Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay.

Presence of Foreign Leaders Shows India's 'Continued Commitment' to Neighbourhood: Ex-Envoy

The tradition of inviting foreign leaders to the oath-taking was surely started by Prime Minister Modi in 2014, when he first assumed India's highest executive office, Former Indian Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, currently a Distinguished Fellow at New Delhi-based think tank Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), noted during a conversation with Sputnik India.
"The presence of leaders from Neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), including Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles, corroborates India's continued commitment to our Neighbourhood First policy and the SAGAR initiative," Trigunayat emphasised.
Notably, this is the first time in the last 10 years that Seychelles has been invited to Modi's swearing-in ceremony, which observers believe was a testament to the Indian Ocean nation's growing role in Indian Navy's Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) programme under the SAGAR vision.
Meanwhile, statements by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) also said that the presence of the leaders re-affirmed India's "commitment" to the 'Neighbourhood First’ policy and SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) Vision.
According to an MEA statement, Modi called for deepening people-to-people ties and connectivity in the region.
He also told his foreign guests that New Delhi would continue to "amplify the voice" of the Global South, like it had done during its successful G20 presidency last year.

India's Ties with its Neighbours Under Modi

Enhanced connectivity, increasing cross-border trade and people-to-people links, being a net security and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) provider in the region, financial integration, energy security, maintaining regional economic stability and maritime domain awareness (MDA) have been the key features of India's policy towards its neighbours under Prime Minister Modi, according to official documents and experts.

In March 2015, Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to pay a bilateral visit to Seychelles after a gap of 34 years, Mauritius after 10 years and Sri Lanka after 28 years. In Mauritius, the PM spelled out his SAGAR vision for the first time.
In February this year, Modi and Jugnauth virtually inaugurated a new airstrip and a jetty funded by New Delhi on the Agalega Island in the Indian Ocean.
However, for Maldives and Bangladesh, India has remained one of the biggest development partners, while for landlocked Nepal and Bhutan, the state is a crucial gateway for trading with other countries due to geographical proximity of India's eastern seaboard with these nations.
Meantime, under Modi, India and Bhutan signed a pact to develop the neighbouring country's first railway lines, namely Kokrajhar-Gelephu link and the Banarhat-Samtse rail link. Similarly, New Delhi has intensified efforts to enhance rail linkages with Nepal and Bangladesh.
Significantly, in recent years, India has led efforts to link the power grids of the above countries to carry out power trade among the four nations.
As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, Indian economic assistance of $4 billion to Colombo in the wake of an unprecedented economic crisis in 2022 has surpassed the anticipated loan under an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

What's the Message Sent out By Modi's Swearing-in Ceremony?

According to Commodore (retired) Seshadri Vasan, the Director General of Chennai Centre for Chinese Studies (C3S) and the Regional Director of National Maritime Foundation (NMF), the presence of neighbourhood and Indian Ocean countries at Modi's oath-taking had multiple "strategic messages" for the world.

"It is indicative of the continuous foreign policy towards the land and maritime neighbours," Vasan, an Indian Navy veteran and one of country's leading observers of New Delhi's diplomacy in the Indian Ocean Region told Sputnik India.

He stressed that India's national interest dictates maintaining a "close relationship" with all these countries, as India's primacy in the region is due to its geography, close historical, cultural and people-to-people links.
However, the ex-Navy officer highlighted that New Delhi's role in the region faced a "quotient of challenge" due to China's expanding footprint.
He noted that all the foreign leaders invited to Modi's swearing-in ceremony, barring the exception of Bhutan, had signed on to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Since 2022, China has been organising the annual China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation in Kunming, reflecting its greater focus on the Indian Ocean littoral states.

"India understands the stakes involved, as highlighted by government statements from time-to-time. India would very much like to maintain its role as the net security provider and a major development and economic partner to all the countries in the region. India wouldn't like to cede ground to China, or any other external power for that matter. At present, Indian policymakers see China as an immediate challenge to its strategic primacy in the Indian Ocean and South Asian region," the ex-Navy veteran stated.

Importantly, Vasan stated that none of the South Asian or Indian Ocean states wanted to pick a side between India and China.
"For all these smaller nations, balancing their national interests is sort of an existential issue. These all are developing nations which have been affected by Covid-related disruptions, the spillovers of Ukraine conflict and Gaza. All these countries, much like other nations in Global South, would require funds from external sources," Vasan stated.
To buttress the argument, Vasan remarked that even Muizzu, perceived by many Indian experts to be "pro-China", had chose to attend Modi’s oath-taking, indicating that he would like to "keep his options open".
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Quad leaders summit at Kantei Palace, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Tokyo. - Sputnik India, 1920, 29.06.2023
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