A lighthearted but deeply meaningful exchange between PM Narendra Modi and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in has served as the most succinct and effective response to those who are fond of criticising the former's frequent visits abroad.
It may only be a short and sweet correspondence on a social media platform, but in the days of world leaders eschewing diplomacy to tweet attacks and insults at each other's countries, the President of Korea praising a jacket that PM Modi's gifted him and the Prime Minister's delighted response hailing the bond between the two nations is as refreshing as at least a few global summits put together.
The exchange not only represents a robust relationship between the two leaders but also ensures that India under the Modi government has showcased the wealth of soft power that the country has deep amended for decades. The Twitter exchange also moved away from the colonial tradition of formal exchanges and closed-door hush-hush diplomatic meetings. The fact that the two leaders took to social media to make public a rather warm and seemingly personally-moulded relationship broadcast the muscularity in the bond between the two countries.
There is rarely a foreign visit that the Prime Minister makes during which some Opposition member or the other doesn't criticise him. Rahul Gandhi even tried to stitch an entire narrative out of it, juxtaposing the Doklam standoff with the Prime Minister visiting China for what the Congress President said was an "agenda-less" (as per the Congress president) visit, and criticising PM Modi for trying to establish a personal rapport with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Shining through the hollowness of Rahul Gandhi's claim is the fact that China in 2017 recorded almost 42 per cent of investment proposed into India.
Strategically, still, China is only one country. The trouble really begins when a now well-established of formula of deriding the Prime Minister for going abroad is applied to each and every visit.
Over the last year, opponents have taken to making comparisons between Narendra Modi and his two immediate predecessors, former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, regarding the number of countries each of them visited during their terms, the number of days spent abroad, and, above all else, the expenditure (never really accounting for inflation either!) incurred in these visits.
The implied logic is essentially tantamount to 'Foreign visit == vacation'. However, there is another school of thought, which is also quite stubborn in its belief, that PM Modi's visits to other countries have served to increase India's profile at the global stage like few before him. Whether he's addressing Indian diaspora in the host country, taking a train ride with the Prime Minister of Japan, popularizing the slogan of 'Make In India', visiting the Dead Sea with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, being gifted a cycle by the head of state of the Netherlands, or, for that matter, engaging in 'hugplomacy' with US President Donald Trump, India's Prime Minister ends up making friends, influencing people and making an impression.
Sure, this time around it was the President of Korea who was visiting, but we saw just last week how Japan's Shinzo Abe also received a set of specially made ceramics. Will he be the next to tweet warmly? (Oh wait, he has already!)
What the Prime Minister's critics must be able to stomach is the following: The fact that a growing relationship with world leaders which is publicly acknowledged by them only adds to India's hefty voice and position as a Grade A Equal player at the high table; the fact that in the first half of 2018, India attracted USD 22 Billion in FDI inflows -- a feat not achievable without the Prime Minister's personal outreach and intervention; and the fact that without Prime Minister Narendra Modi's personal connect with world leaders a SAARC boycott of Pakistan in 2016, an America's withdrawal of financial aid on the ground of terror and a Japan bilateral statement mounting pressure on Islamabad on terror would not have been in the realms.