Modi is a hands-on leader, always seen to be personally in charge, whether at home or abroad. His latest brisk foray into the world was once more a high energy affair that had him crisscrossing back and forth and putting a personal stamp on his policy initiatives. His extended and very busy visit abroad saw him engage in a number of significant bilateral meetings, after which he took his place on the multilateral stage where he joined the weighty countries of the G-20, there to exchange views about major problems of global economic and political management.
In addition, room was found wherever he went for meetings with the NRIs, ever growing in number and influence. Such a flurry of activity has become a familiar part of the Modi style of functioning and was very much in evidence during his recent journeys. Within this whirlpool of action some events stood out with special clarity.
Among these was the visit to Israel, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister. The relationship between the two countries has taken decades to mature: though India recognized Israel from the start when it came into existence under UN endorsement, relations remained in a low key, with Israel's numerous problems within its neighbourhood acting as a deterrent, and India's active promotion of non-alignment to which the bulk of the developing world subscribed becoming another barrier. India's traditional closeness to the Arab world, with which Israel at that time had very troubled relations, also came in the way.
It was many years before events in the Middle East took a different turn and permitted India-Israel relations to develop, after which the two countries found scope for meaningful cooperation, especially in economic matters. Israel has developed high-tech capacity in several areas where their interaction has been especially successful, as in agriculture and water management. Indian companies have actively sought partnerships with Israeli counterparts, to substantial mutual benefit.
Defence supply is another major area of mutual interest, with Israel able to supply many items required by India's defence forces, and an active relationship has developed between the two sides. It can be expected that Mr Modi's visit will open the way to enlarged cooperation.
However, while there is much to draw the two countries closer, there are issues where the two countries do not see eye to eye. India has always supported the rights of Palestine and has favoured a two-state solution that assures Palestinian rights under their own administration. This has wide international support but Israel is disinclined to accept. Such differences were not highlighted during the Modi visit but they exist nonetheless and act as a limiting factor in the further political convergence of the two parties.
The big multilateral event of Modi's journey was the G-20 meeting in Germany that brought together many of the most prominent among the leaders of the world. It is an annual consultation that has become a key event on the international calendar and is always well attended, which is the measure of its value.
This time there were no burning international matters, no global crisis on which the leaders had to seek a consensus, no international issues demanding urgent attention. But if not much was said about major global issues and policies, the personalities on view were of exceptional interest, with US President Trump very much to the fore.
His views on global priorities relating to trade, climate, immigration, to name a few, have taken matters in new directions that challenge established processes of collective action, and he has made no bones about coming out against those who he believes are acting in a manner contrary to the interests of his country. Climate issues have been dismissed for what Trump sees as patently unfair burdens imposed on the USA, and India is among those accused of obtaining unwarranted benefits. Most notably, Trump's administration has exchanged sharp accusations with Putin's Russia and the two leaders met in Germany at a time of uncertainty about the shape their relations could take.
However, when they met fears of sharp exchanges were belied, and rather than engaging in polemics they had a long and apparently productive meeting in the margins of the Summit. Nor was it just a momentary goodwill gesture, for their face-to-face encounter led to agreement on a measure of cooperation in Syria.
Other initiatives did not, however, work out as Trump may have desired. One of his urgent concerns relates to North Korea, whose missile programme can be a threat even as far afield as Alaska in the USA. Trump expects China, North Korea's sole ally, to place curbs and help compel North Korea to climb down. The initial responses are not encouraging, so a fresh problem is taking shape in the Far East. At the Summit, India's PM took the opportunity to renew his demand for stronger collective action to curb terrorism.
This is his constant theme, and his steady advocacy has begun to have an effect, judging from the resolutions adopted in various multilateral forums, including the G-20 Summit. But such resolutions are not easily put into effect, so it will have to be seen how far the recent decisions will be translated into action.
However, India's efforts have support across the spectrum and it can hope that the existing consensus will be further strengthened through its efforts. The G-20 Summit came at a time of unexpected strain in the region of the Himalayan trijunction of India-Bhutan-China. Differences in boundary claims and threatening gestures on the ground have created tensions that could escalate.
Relations between India and China have been affected and both sides have dug in to assert their claims. In the circumstances, neither seemed initially ready to seek a separate bilateral meeting at the G-20 though both leaders were scheduled to be present. In the event, however, PM Modi and President Xi Jinping, in a show of moderation, met each other to exchange a warm handshake and to spend a few minutes together in private discourse.
The three-way confrontation in the border area is not over, but as a result of the encounter of the two leaders there is better hope of the situation calming down. At the Summit, Modi played an active part in conference diplomacy. He also took the opportunity, as his meeting with President Xi showed, to address matters of bilateral interest, including differences that need attention. He also participated in the meeting of leaders of BRICS which was convened on the occasion. All in all, his visit to Germany was a useful exercise in Summit diplomacy.
The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary
Copyright © 2016 The Statesman Limited. All Rights Reserved.