Venezuela is counting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attendance at this year’s Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting in September, despite reports he is unlikely to, said visiting Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez on Thursday.
“India is a founder of the Non-Aligned movement, so, for Venezuela, it would be really important to have Prime Minister Modi there. We are hopeful he will come,” Ms. Rodriguez told The Hindu , while in Delhi for one day to hand over the invitation letter from President Nicolas Maduro to the government.
“The Non-Aligned principles are today more relevant than ever. So we are sure that India will attend NAM and attend at the highest level,” the Venezuelan Foreign Minister said.
On Thursday, Ms. Rodriguez met with Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on the government’s offer of supplying Venezuela much needed pharmaceutical products in exchange for oil.
Later in the evening, she met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to discuss preparations for the summit.
Senior officials say a decision has not yet been made on who will represent India at the summit scheduled for September 17-18 in Margarita Island, Venezuela. “The External Affairs Minister underlined the importance India attaches to NAM,” said spokesperson Vikas Swarup, although Ms. Swaraj confirmed India’s participation, he said the details would be “worked out and intimated soon.”
No Indian PM apart from then caretaker Prime Minister Charan Singh in 1979 has missed a NAM summit since it was formed in 1961. Even so, there are several indications that PM Modi is disinclined to go, despite receiving the invitation several weeks ago.
To begin with, unlike his predecessors, Mr. Modi has not referenced Non-Alignment as a “core principle” of Indian foreign policy in his public addresses, speaking of NAM once only as “India’s heritage”. In 2015, when he was invited to the 60th Anniversary of the Bandung Conference, which had founded the Non Aligned Movement, Mr. Modi deputed Ms. Swaraj to travel to Jakarta instead. Officials say it is possible that Ms. Swaraj or Vice President Hamid Ansari will attend the Venezuelan summit as well.
Secondly, Venezuala is facing its worst economic crisis at present, with a negative growth rate (-8 per cent) and an inflation rate touching 500 per cent. “Given the economic, social crisis and daily protests, this would be the worst possible time for PM Modi to go or for the NAM summit to be held there,” said former Ambassador R. Vishwanathan, an expert on Latin America, who was India’s envoy to Venezuela.
On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar also hinted that the government’s policy is veering away from multilateral bodies like NAM. “Blocs and alliances are less relevant today and the world is moving towards a loosely arranged order,” he told journalists.
When asked to comment on those remarks, and whether NAM had lost its relevance, Ms. Rodriguez said, “At this time, there is one power who wants to control the whole world. They don’t respect the law, and we must fight that together in NAM,” in a clear reference to the United States who has imposed strict sanctions on Venezuela.
Opposition leaders say that if Mr. Modi skips the NAM summit, it would send out the wrong signal, pointing out that in 2012, Dr. Manmohan Singh had travelled to Iran, despite pressure from the U.S. to minimise contact with the country that had major sanctions imposed on it.
“If PM Modi doesn’t wish to honour NAM, it will just show that the government is dumping all former foreign policy in a wholesale manner,” former External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told The Hindu , adding, “But Indians have grown up on the idea of non-alignment, and it may not be as easy for him to explain this decision.”
(With inputs from Kallol Bhattacherjee)