New Delhi, July 19: Did India lose its Nelson Mandela moment in July? Even as South Africa, the hosts to the 10th summit of the BRICS grouping starting July 25, and former US president Barack Obama commemorated the iconic anti-colonial leader on his birth centenary this month, India remained conspicuous by its absence despite being a key member of the bloc.
Xi Jinping undertook a mega tour of Africa
China was also not sitting back as its president, Xi Jinping, undertook a mega journey of Africa after a brief stop in the UAE that includes Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius - to cement Beijing's role as one of the closest economic and diplomatic allies of the continent. China is Africa's biggest trading partner at the moment, having a bilateral trade worth $220 billion recorded in 2014, CNN said citing official statistics. The leadership in Beijing has maintained its policy of making regular visits to Africa to nurture the ties. When Xi became the president of China for the first time, he had chosen the continent for his first foreign trip.
BRICS summit 2018 is not just another political assembly
The coinciding of the 10th summit of the BRICS with Mandela's birth centenary makes the occasion special for a number of reasons. It doesn't limit the significance of the summit just as a political gathering or a club for alternative economics and diplomatic alliances but also makes it an occasion of continental celebrations.
Why India didn't play a proactive role on this occasion?
It was surprising to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi not rushing to Africa at this moment with the messages of Mandela, a person who had a deep love for India and was even conferred Bharat Ratna in 1990 and Gandhi Peace Prize in 2001, besides Mahatma Gandhi who himself had close ties with South Africa.
If Xi was using China's hard power by means of politics and economics to fathom Beijing's deep relations with Africa at the moment, it was also an idea opportunity for Modi to use India's renowned soft power to do the same. It is not to say that India would have competed with China's strong clout in Africa equally but at least the effort would have been there.
Even Obama invoked Mahatma Gandhi in his Nelson speech
Even Obama invoked the Mahatma during his major speech delivered in Johannesburg to honour Mandela on his centenary. Why was Modi or any of his top emissary absent on such a major occasion?
India always helped South Africa's international 'readmission' efforts
India has reached out to South Africa on occasions that helped it return to the international community in the early 1990s. Be it the arrival of 'Gandhi of Africa' Mandela to India after his decades-old imprisonment or the South African cricket team here to resume the country's glorious cricketing journey and also India's reciprocation by sending its team to South Africa in 1992, New Delhi scored major diplomatic points by facilitating the rainbow nation on the international stage.
Next year marks Gandhi's 150th birth anniversary; India could have flagged it off in Johannesburg
Nothing of that sort was visible when South Africa remembered Madiba on his 100th birth anniversary. The year 2019 will mark the 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma himself. India could have flagged off the journey leading to the noble occasion next year through a pro-active engagement with Mandela's birth centenary celebrations and also cemented its ties with crucial states of Africa in a bid to compete with the Chinese.
Is South Block aware of the missed opportunity?