The repeated instances of attacks on African nationals in various parts of India in the recent past do not augur well for the renewed vigour with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reset his foreign policy.
The latest incident of murder of a Congolese national and other "attacks and harassment" of African students in different corners of the country has invited sharp reaction from the African diplomatic community and it has decided to boycott the Africa Day celebrations in protest.
Only making promises not enough
Although the Indian government has been assuring that the safety of the Africans in India will be looked into, but it seems the promises are now failing to convince the foreigners.
The Modi government has sought to woo the 54-nation African continent and encourages more students from Africa to study in India. But the ground experience is proving to be contradictory for the Africans, thanks to the climate of fear and insecurity.
Softer skills of managing people-to-people contact also matter besides hard goals
The story is not meeting a happy ending because the Modi government seems to be not interested in addressing the softer skills of foreign policy. It is true that New Delhi has shown renewed interest in Africa for economic and geopolitical gains.
One of the major objective of India while it reaches out to Africa is to compete with China in the race to tap the vast resources of that continent. India's relation with Africa has grown manifold since the early 2000s, including the tenfold growth of the bilateral trade to over $70 billion in less than 10 years.
Modi's foreign policy is more based on muscular nationalism
But there is more to the muscular nationalism than the Modi government is espousing in its foreign affairs conduct. It's not wrong for the Modi regime to assert its presence across the globe but it is equally important that it addresses the soft aspects of ensuring security of foreign nationals residing in India.
The Modi government may want to erase the name of Jawaharlal Nehru from the history of the country's foreign policy but as we saw in the India-Africa Foreign Summit held in October last year that still a number of African leaders remember India's first prime minister as the architect of India-Africa partnership.
Jawaharlal Nehru's legacy is still remembered because he stressed inclusive principles
And they do it because of Nehru's legacy as a democrat who emphasised on international cooperation and by that---one also means besides economic cooperation, ending racial discrimination, protecting human rights and accommodating cultural differences.
Though the nature of relationship between India and Africa has diversified since the anti-imperial vision of the Bandung Conference of 1955, but there are more challenges to this relationship---a major one being racial attacks.
India's hard foreign policy designs in Africa have not delivered on the promises and the Modi government is perhaps putting all its focus on seeing the grand projects through to boost India Inc. but the lack of an equally important engagement with the protection of life of the nationals from Africa could jeopardise the entire plan.
In foreign policy, people-to-people contact is as important as formal state-to-state dealings. Nehru had envisioned this need. Can Modi also?