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India election

Modi's 'deal diplomacy' to see a revival after landslide victory

Signs emerge of possible talks between India and Pakistan as election heat cools

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, in 2018. Modi has traveled abroad quite often compared with his predecessors.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second term will see his deal diplomacy back in action, as he faces a balancing act between raising India's status as the leader of South Asia and securing economic agreements with geopolitical rival China.

Modi is not expected to form a new government until at least the coming week at the earliest, but his diplomacy is already under way, starting with Pakistan.

On Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan posted a tweet congratulating Modi for his party's general election victory. "Look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia," Khan wrote on Twitter.

Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-led India have been in bitter confrontation amid their latest round of military clashes. In February, 40 Indian paramilitary personnel were killed in the Indian-controlled Kashmir region in a suicide bombing by a Muslim extremist. In response, India launched an airstrike in Pakistan close to the border with Kashmir, of which both nations claim territorial rights.

Modi has since refused to respond to Khan's call for dialogue, and he has not responded to Khan's congratulatory tweet.

But there are signs that dialogue might resume. Over the past week, the two countries' foreign ministers held informal talks on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization held in Kyrgyzstan. Some view it as laying the groundwork for a Modi-Khan summit during an expected meeting of the leaders of the SCO member countries in June.

During his first administration, Modi put much time and energy into diplomacy. He visited foreign countries 93 times in his first term, 1.3 times the number visited by his predecessor, Manmohan Singh during his 10 years in office.

Modi often is described as a deal maker. A bilateral deal with Japan in 2015 is a case in point. He secured an agreement from Tokyo on civilian nuclear power technology in return for India agreeing to use Japan's bullet train technology for its first high-speed rail project.

During a summit with Russia in 2018, Modi agreed to purchase Russia's S-400 air defense system. Washington became unnerved and pressed New Delhi to reconsider, but India held its ground by offering to back the U.S. on its sanctions against Iran.

Rajiv Bhatia, distinguished fellow of the Foreign Policy Studies Programme at Mumbai-based think tank Gateway House, said that Modi's diplomacy has "new elements of novelty" compared with his predecessors. It is fundamentally based on "the view... that India [is in a] natural place to deal with the great powers of the planet."

Modi understands that India needs to balance its quest for political power with its need to secure investment and technology transfers from more-developed countries, such as China. India's per capita income still stagnates at around $2,200 a year.

His balancing act was in full display on Thursday when the Indian government responded to a flurry of congratulatory calls and letters from countries around the world.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was among the first of international leaders who reached out to Modi to congratulate him on his victory. Japan also is likely to be the first country that Modi will visit in his second term to attend a Group of 20 summit in Osaka in late June.

But it was a congratulatory letter from Chinese President Xi Jinping that India's Ministry of External Affairs first published on its website.

Nikkei staff writer Mitsuru Obe in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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