The frequent flyer who takes India’s foreign policy nowhere
By Devirupa Mitra - NEW DELHI
Published: 17th Jun 2012 09:03:27 AM
Two months into his 80th year, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna continues with his frenetic pace of foreign travels, certainly earning the label of one of the most frequently travelled foreign ministers in recent times. But, the jury is still out if these travels have earned the bang for the buck.
The Sunday Standard compiled a list of Krishna’s travels since June 2009 from news reports, press releases and annual reports of the Ministry of External Affairs. As per the list, the newly-minted octogenarian has clocked 201 days outside India, visiting 41 countries since he assumed office on May 23, 2009.
His predecessor, Pranab Mukherjee, was known as a reluctant foreign traveller. In fact, one of the reasons given for Mukherjee moving from South Block to North Block across the road on Raisina Hill was that he could not stand the stress of the frequent travelling required on the job.
The biggest chunk of Krishna’s foreign trips has been spent in the US, with seven visits adding up to 41 days in the last two years. The longest stretch was for 12 days from September 21 to October 2, 2010, when he was in New York to attend the UN General Assembly and a slew of events relating to the alphabet soup of sidelines, including G77, NAM, BRIC, IBSA and G4.
The Manmohan Singh Government has been moving closer to the US since 2005, with the nuclear deal showcased as the showpiece of the ties. But, since the Obama administration took over, there has been a souring of the narrative in Washington, despite the successful visit of President Obama in 2010.
In between, India has been also giving a lot of attention to the UN, especially in the run-up to the elections to the UN Security Council’s non-permanent seat and then its campaign to get a permanent seat at the horseshoe table, which continues to remain a dream as of yet.
In contrast to his US trips, Krishna’s visits to neighbourhood look rather spare. Among the seven other countries in SAARC, he has made about 16 trips totalling 44 days. Among these, Krishna has travelled to Bhutan, Nepal and Afghanistan thrice each.
So far, Pakistan has been the least visited SAARC nation for Krishna, with a maiden trip of three days in July 2010. But it was a memorable one for the dramatic press conference with the then Pakistan foreign minister S M Qureshi, who seemed to compare home secretary G K Pillai with the mastermind of the 26/11 attacks, Hafiz Syed.
There has been a steady change towards positive in atmosphere of the relations, but analysts say that it is more due to Islamabad’s eagerness to keep its eastern border calm, while it grapples with a worsening relationship with the US on its western border. Krishna is set to travel to Pakistan on his second visit during July 17-18.
India’s looming northern neighbour China, however, has warranted four trips so far, with two trips already made in 2012. Krishna has spent about 13 days on Chinese territory.
The minister usually travels with his advisor, the spokesperson, senior officials from the concerned divisions.
“He travels in a special flight when he is going nearby. For example, he took a special flight to China to attend the SCO summit. But, when he travelled to Washington for the strategic dialogue last month, he took a commercial flight,” said an MEA official.
Krishna’s foreign travels had attracted controversy last year when he was spotted at Wimbledon, watching the annual tennis jamboree on July 1. Amidst the brouhaha, his office had to clarify that while the first two days were part of the official visit to the UK, he had paid for the next two days of private visit from his own wallet.
Last year, RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal had filed an application to find out details of Krishna’s London visit, but the ministry had at first refused to give the entire picture.
For the first two official days, the ministry finally gave a figure of the cost—Rs 4.3 lakh for accommodation, Rs 2.7 for airfare and another Rs 1.07 lakh for transportation. The total came to a whopping Rs 8.17 lakh.