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Trips to Pak, China borders on Modi menu

New Delhi, May 21: The defence establishment is understood to have been sounded for a visit by Narendra Modi to the borders with Pakistan and China shortly after the Prime Minister-elect takes office on Monday.

Internal and border security ranks high on Modi’s agenda and was a constant theme in the BJP leader’s campaign during the electioneering. But on Modi’s request, the government is also making an overture to neighbours by inviting the heads of state and governments of Saarc member nations, including Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif, to his swearing-in ceremony.

If the invitation to the ceremony is an intention of friendly ties, the visits to the borders, possibly within a fortnight of Modi taking charge, would be intended to convey twin messages:

To the neighbouring countries: cross-border transgressions — such as the killing of Indian soldiers or the nibbling of Indian territory — would be less tolerable in the new dispensation

To his own constituency including the RSS and the Sangh Parivar: the new administration would take a muscular approach on border violations.

During the election campaign, the BJP stated repeatedly that the Manmohan Singh government was weak-kneed in its responses to the killings and mutilations of Indian soldiers.

In the first week of January last year, two soldiers of the Indian Army were said to have been mutilated by the Pakistani Army’s Border Action Team (BAT) at the Line of Control in Jammu. Subsequently, defence minister A.K. Antony was said to have distorted the army’s version of events in a statement in Parliament, an issue that the BJP alleged was a sign of weakness.

In the past year, the Indian government was also said to have compromised with China after its troops entered Indian territory and camped in the Depsang Plains in Ladakh.

The Indian Army chief, General Bikram Singh, had said that an “appropriate response” at the local level had been delivered to Pakistan. For the frontier with China, New Delhi and Beijing signed a new agreement that both hope will deal with such disputes more cleanly.

Plans for Modi’s visit to the western border after taking over as Prime Minister were being made even has Islamabad quietly rolled out a proposal for the Indian leader to visit Pakistan.

One Pakistani diplomat said this week that “Modi has won on the issue of economic development and till we can develop regional inter-dependencies, that will be difficult.”

Manmohan Singh, known to have been very keen to visit Pakistan, could not make the trip in the 10 years of his reign. Every effort from his PMO was thwarted by the fallout after terror attacks or border disputes.

“We understand that both sides may have to shed maximalist positions,” the Pakistani diplomat said. “While the new Prime Minister comes from the right wing of Indian politics, it is also difficult for us to negotiate with a leader who is perceived not to have received the support of Indian minorities,” he said.