Mahatma Gandhi is okay, but India and South Africa have other issues to address

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It seems Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to South Africa could be overshadowed by the Mahatma Gandhi factor as a lot of paralleles are being drawn between the two leaders from Gujarat. The temptation may be more because of Modi's eagerness to prove himself to be the real inheritor of the Mahatma's legacy. Hence, it will not be an over statement to say that Modi's two-day state visit to South Africa will see more of the Mahatma's memories coming alive to define the occasions.

But the two countries have much more than just the Gandhi connection to address today. In this era, it is neither the apartheid which is at play in relation to South Africa nor the Congress, which has dealt with South Africa more in the past, is in power in New Delhi. Hence for both countries, there is something new to offer to boost their relation from this point on.

 

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As Modi has stressed in the past, the people-to-people connection matters a lot in foreign policy now and more so between India and South Africa since South Africans of Indian origin number around 12 lakh, making them the largest lot of Indian population in Africa and outside India. Thus, when Modi continues with his party's known policy of engaging with the diaspora when touring abroad, it becomes a significant instrument of foreign policy in South Africa.

Modi visited the eastern coastal countries of Africa 

Politically, too, Modi's South Africa visit is significant for it lays down the broad framework of what India intends to do while setting the agenda in external affairs. The PM has made a number of visits abroad in two years since taking charge (he has visited the US four times during this time) but Africa was largely untouched except the visit to Sheychelles and Mauritius, the two island countries in the Indian Ocean, in March last year.

But now, Modi has visited four states on the eastern coasts of the African continent located on the Indian Ocean to enhance its maritime and security coopeartion vis-a-vis China which has shown considerable will to take a strategic lead over India in its den. From the 'Neighbourhood First' and 'Act East' policies, India is now shifting gears towards a 'Strong South' so that its lag with the Chinese who started much earlier to make inroads in Africa doesn't widen.

Economically, India has a lot of miles to cover to catch up with China 

Economically, India has seen China's huge trade and development activities across Africa (it held the Focac or Forum on China-Africa Co-operation Summit last December) and the massive financial commitment Beijing has made in the continent. India also held the India-Africa Summit in New Delhi last year where it hosted 45 heads of state from Africa to highlight India's relation with the continent and its intention to support the African Unity's Agenda 2063.

India and the African countries too have needs that they can mutually fulfil and the former's burgeoning middle class gives the African states the perfect opportunity for the latter's goods. India is already the sixth largest trading partner of South Africa and the two sides will look to take the relation forward.

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