Like other institutions in India, the Presidency is also changing — diplomatically speaking. President Ram Nath Kovind, who completed two years in office recently, left for State visits to three countries on Sunday. With this seven-day trip, Kovind would have visited 23 countries so far.
His hectic diplomatic schedule in 24 months compares with 24 countries which his immediate predecessor Pranab Mukherjee visited in five years. Prior to that, Pratibha Patil visited 23 countries during her entire tenure as President.Such increase in presidential travel overseas is a decision taken after carefully considering, among other things, that China has a President, a Vice President and a Prime Minister to mount the People’s Republic’s diplomatic initiatives worldwide. Both China and India have foreign ministers, of course, to do this job on a daily basis. So far, India had only its Prime Minister to do the diplomatic job which three senior leaders were doing in China. For 69 years, the President and the Vice President were considered ceremonial office-holders who undertook goody-goody visits abroad, high on protocol but often low on substance.
With an exponential expansion of India’s diplomatic calendar, this placed excessive demands on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who tried in his first term to balance his government’s foreign affairs’ agenda and its domestic line-up of programmes. His second term will, therefore, see more foreign visits by the President and the Vice President. Both of them have already stepped up and shared greater, substantive diplomatic responsibilities in their two years in office.