The frequency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits abroad has been one of the defining marks of his tenure. In 2014, Mr. Modi visited 9 countries in 7 months (1.2 countries a month), and doubled that rate in 2015, visiting 28 countries in 12 months (2.3 per month).
So, where will he head in 2016, and what is likely to drive those visits? More importantly, will he travel more than he has travelled in the past 19 months? Senior officials who spoke to The Hindu say ‘no.’ “This will be a year of incoming rather than outgoing visits,” one official explained “We will not see a repeat of the past two years now, the PM has indicated.”
Instead, he will hit the floor running with incoming visits, some from countries keen to invite the Indian PM, and others returning his visit. French President Francois Hollande will be the big visitor in January, when he comes to be the chief guest for the Republic Day Parade. President Hollande is the fifth French president to grace the event, and is expected to announce several significant bilateral deals on defence, nuclear, and homeland security issues when he arrives.
Another visit that will be looked out for is one by Nepal’s new Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli. There is some hope that Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina could also visit in the first quarter of the year, to return Mr. Modi’s visit in June last year, as well as to attend an international women’s conference.
As The Hindu reported, visits are expected from leaders of Israel and Palestine. After President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to both countries in 2014, it is their turn to come to Delhi, and officials say Mr. Modi will subsequently visit the region “later in the year”. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had announced Mr. Modi would be going to Israel during her press conference on May 31st last year, and the visit has been speculated about ever since.
String of big visits
Despite the string of big visits expected later in the year as well, Mr. Modi will undertake some travel, according to officials. Some of the visits are long overdue, including to Maldives, which was cancelled at the last minute in March 2014 because of political clashes in Male. Since then, New Delhi has worked hard to restore ties with President Yameen’s government, and is hopeful of seeing some steps towards a reconciliation with the political opposition led by former President Nasheed, before Mr. Modi makes his visit there. Maldives is the only SAARC country Mr. Modi has not visited yet, and is understood to be keen to go.
His visit to Brussels for the EU summit, which was cancelled last year over major differences on the FTA negotiations is likely to be scheduled in February 2016.
Another visit on the anvil is to Saudi Arabia. “This is one of the most important G-20 member countries that Mr. Modi has not been able to visit yet,” an official said.
Saudi Arabia hosts the biggest Indian expatriate community worldwide, numbering about 3 million, and while it is the biggest contributor of remittances, the frequent cases of mistreatment of Indians there has often strained ties. With the appointment of India’s new envoy to Riyadh, Mumbai police commissioner Ahmed Javed, who will take over after his retirement at the end of January, hopes have been raised again that PM Modi will visit Saudi Arabia shortly. BJP officials often associated with organising diaspora events during the Prime Minister’s visit would not comment on whether there would be a major event in Saudi Arabia of the kind seen in UAE.
However, they pointed out that in the past two years Mr. Modi has visited nearly all countries that have large diasporic populations, from Australia to the US. “The only two places left are East Africa and the West Indies,” a party official told The Hindu .
Apart from the State visits, Prime Minister Modi is already committed to a list of multilateral summits in various places:
In March, he is expected to attend the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, which will be one of President Obama’s last big conferences.
In the summer of 2016, he will travel to Uzbekistan for the SCO summit, where India and Pakistan are expected to be inducted as members of the grouping.
In early September, he will travel to the Chinese city of Hangzhou for the G-20 summit, possibly to the UN for the annual summit in late September, and to Pakistan in November for the SAARC summit.
It is still unclear whether the he will attend the Non Aligned Summit in Caracas, Venezuela later this year. What is clear however, that regardless of his reported desire to travel less, the Prime Minister’s travel planner for the year is already filling up quickly.