By: John Elliott



In Delhi after a series of foreign trips, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has trying to plug some of the gaps that have emerged in his and his government’s performance in recent months.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Pakistan government have played ball with potential deals and talks, but Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia have been unwilling to let their Congress Party co-operate in parliament despite the damage that they are doing to the Indian economy.

There has been considerable criticism that the implementation of Modi’s foreign policy has not matched the razzmatazz of his many high profile visits abroad. In particular, announcements of deals that now total over US$100 billion have not made much progress, and his approach to relations with Pakistan has had little coherence.

Both these issues have been at least partially addressed in the last week or two. Shinzo Abe has just been visiting India for a constructive high profile visit, and relations with Pakistan have been eased.

Abe’s talks with Modi on Dec. 12 produced a string of deals carrying, unsurprisingly, a billion dollar tag – this time US$35 billion, the same figure that was attached to announcements (some different, some the same) when Modi visited Japan in September last year.

Judging by their body language (above), there is greater warmth and understanding between these two prime ministers than between Modi and other world leaders, apart possibly from President Obama. Certainly the warmth looks more spontaneous than the reserved smiles that Modi had in the UK for David Cameron last month.

Real progress has been made with Japan after five years of negotiations on a civil nuclear deal that would allow Japanese companies to build nuclear plant rectors in India and also to make parts for US and French (GE, Westinghouse and Areva) companies’ Indian projects.

Japan has in the past been wary because India has nuclear weapons, and the proposed deal will now have to go through various legal and possibly difficult parliamentary procedures in Tokyo, as well as finalization of technical details. But the progress is significant, not least because it emphasizes co-operation between two countries that regard China as a sometimes-hostile neighbor.

Japan has also beaten China on co-operation with India for the development of high speed “bullet” trains, which significantly comes just after China defeated Japan on a similar project in Indonesia. It has agreed to make a $12 billion 50-year loan at just 0.1% interest for a high speed train to be completed (supposedly) in seven years between Ahmedabad in Modi’s home state of Gujarat and Mumbai. This forms part of a plan for bullet trains connecting the major metros.