December 27, 2007energyForeign AffairsGujaratIndiainvestmentIranModiRussiatrade

Narendra Modi’s foreign affairs

The Gujjus of Astrakhan

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Newspaper columns this week are mostly about Narendra Modi, and mostly about domestic issues. Those interested in foreign affairs will find K P Nayar’s piece in The Telegraph of interest:

While India’s strategic community and sections of the media have been obsessed with the India-United States of America nuclear deal, it has largely escaped their attention that Modi travelled twice to Moscow to cash in on traditional Indo-Russian links, going against the recent fashion in New Delhi of running down such commercial-cum-cultural ties with Russia in an eagerness to suck up to Washington. No one should be surprised if it is Modi who has the last laugh at the Americans, who denied him a visa in a moment of extreme bad judgment and short-sightedness in Washington.

Modi was the first chief minister to grasp the potential of an agreement signed during Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi in October 2000…In November 2001, I was witness to Modi’s determined efforts in Moscow to use the visit of the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to the Kremlin to build on that umbrella agreement and push through a protocol of cooperation between Gujarat and Russia’s Astrakhan Region.

Why Astrakhan? Some two centuries ago, enterprising traders from Gujarat had established a major commercial presence in the Astrakhan region, Russia’s gateway to the Caspian, with its vast oil wealth and stocks of sturgeon. Not only did they establish their trading presence, many of the Gujarati merchants who went to Astrakhan also stayed put, married local women and made it their new home. Modi, determined to renew that old relationship, has since injected substance into Ahmedabad’s sister-city link with Astrakhan. Last year, he went to Astrakhan to renew the 2001 protocol for another five years.

The trade route that Gujarat is trying to revive, from Okha port to Astrakhan’s Olya port, could become the shortest trading route between India and Russia. It will be another irony if, in the process, the much-discussed idea of a speedier cargo route between India and Iran is also realized by the man who was refused a visa by the Americans. Iran is bound to be a player in regional trade if this route is operationalized, much to the annoyance of the US, which has constantly tried to block any enhancement of relations between New Delhi and Teheran.

Equally, it will be an irony if Modi’s economic diplomacy results in pushing China up to the rank of India’s largest trading partner, displacing the US. [Calcutta Telegraph]

Related Link: Sudha Mahalingam’s postcard from Astrakhan

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