Prime Min­is­ter Modi in USA

SP's MAI - - SPECIAL FEATURE - [ By Gen­eral V.P. Ma­lik (Retd) ] The writer is a for­mer Chief of the Army Staff

Never be­fore have there been such me­dia hype, and mil­lions’ ex­pec­ta­tions and hopes, when an In­dian Prime Min­is­ter has vis­ited the United States. Let me note the ma­jor take­aways from Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s roller-coaster visit be­fore go­ing into the sub­stan­tive is­sues that were dis­cussed in Wash­ing­ton DC.

The first and fore­most is the Modi per­sona. To the global lead­ers watch­ing him, he came across as a con­fi­dent, self-as­sured po­lit­i­cal states­man, steeped in the In­dian val­ues, who had a vi­sion of In­dia, its re­gion, and the world at large: some­one who would need to be watched in fu­ture. To the young, he was a rock-star; friendly, en­er­getic and down to earth, who showed no signs of a gen­er­a­tion gap. To most Americans, he came across as a charis­matic leader and to some as an enigma. How could he speak to and con­nect so well with his au­di­ence? Can he de­liver what he promised so em­phat­i­cally?

Modi’s most cap­ti­vat­ing im­age was on the ro­tat­ing plat­form in the mid­dle of the Madi­son Square Gar­den. His ex­tem­pore speech in Hindi, in which he is in­com­pa­ra­ble, was lapped up by the In­dian di­as­pora, which is amongst the wealth­i­est, best ed­u­cated and in­flu­en­tial in the United States. His au­di­ence wore ‘I love my In­dia’ on the sleeve and cheered ev­ery sen­tence that he spoke.

Modi, de­prived of a US visa for 10 years, told the rap­tur­ous crowd that ‘Per­sons of In­dian Ori­gin’ Card Hold­ers would get life-long visas. Non-res­i­dent In­di­ans, stay­ing for long in In­dia, would not have to visit the po­lice sta­tion for re­port­ing/reg­is­tra­tion. By the time the Madi­son Square Gar­den spec­ta­cle ended, he had be­come an icon; some­one who would en­able them to re­mem­ber and talk about their eth­nic roots with pride. With his walk and talk, and daz­zling per­for­mance, per­haps the Bol­ly­wood ex­pres­sion ‘Modi chha gaya’ would not be out of place.

The sec­ond is of a new im­age of In­dia. Modi’s most con­sis­tent mes­sage was that he was lead­ing a dif­fer­ent In­dia—young and vi­brant; full of prom­ise and op­por­tu­ni­ties. As he said in good hu­mour, In­dia was no longer a snake charm­ers’ coun­try but one that makes the world go round with a (com­puter) ‘mouse’. Although the In­dian bu­reau­cratic red tape is yet to be cut open, its en­ergy was back. In­dia un­der his gov­ern­ment looked for­ward to work­ing in step with the rest of the pro­gres­sive world.

And third, per­haps the most im­por­tant, is of be­ing able to or­gan­ise and mo­bilise a strong pro-In­dia lobby in the United States. The strength and feel­ings of the In­dian-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity—for a change it was less provin­cial or lin­guis­tic but more na­tional—was ev­i­dent. The In­dian-Amer­i­can lobby along with more than 40 US law­mak­ers present in the Madi­son Square Gar­den can be ex­pected to evolve into some­thing like the Jewish lobby to in­flu­ence In­dia re­lated poli­cies in the US.

As Modi Gov­ern­ment in In­dia has been in ex­is­tence only for four months, most an­a­lysts did not ex­pect any break­throughs in the tan­gled is­sues of In­dia-US re­la­tions. While a large num­ber of spe­cific is­sues such as the im­passe at the WTO, civil nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion, cli­mate change, high tech­nol­ogy and space co­op­er­a­tion, en­ergy se­cu­rity, health and so on were touched upon dur­ing of­fi­cial dis­cus­sions, and pa­pered over, the ma­jor take­aways were on counter ter­ror­ism and business.

Both the US and In­dia agreed to col­lab­o­rate on dis­man­tling the safe havens and dis­rupt­ing the fi­nan­cial net­works of Pak­istani ter­ror out­fits. They also agreed to pre­vent coun­ter­feit cur­rency, limit the use of cy­berspace by ter­ror­ists and iden­tify modal­i­ties to ex­change ter­ror­ist watch lists. In­dia was not to join any coali­tion or air strikes against ISIS ter­ror­ists in West Asia but would take all steps to pre­vent rad­i­calised peo­ple from join­ing ter­ror ac­tiv­i­ties in that re­gion.

China found men­tion in the joint state­ment for its am­bi­tions in South China Sea and ris­ing mar­itime ten­sions. The US-In­dia Frame­work for De­fence Re­la­tion­ship of 2005, which had vast scope but has not been ex­ploited ad­e­quately till date, was ex­tended by another 10 years. Fur­ther com­mit­ments were made to en­hance ex­changes of civil­ian and mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence, and con­sul­ta­tion and co­op­er­a­tion in mar­itime se­cu­rity.

As ex­pected, Modi’s ma­jor pitch, be­sides break­ing ice with US lead­er­ship, its ad­min­is­tra­tion and its peo­ple, was to roll out a red car­pet to the Amer­i­can cor­po­rate lead­ers for do­ing business in In­dia. He was can­did and ag­gres­sive. He told them, “I am business minded. No busi­ness­man is a donor. A busi­ness­man has to make prof­its. He must get a re­turn for his in­vest­ment and I am in favour of that. You will earn and my peo­ple get em­ploy­ment….. Make haste be­fore the queue to invest in In­dia gets too long.” He promised to sim­plify In­dian laws, rules and reg­u­la­tions that im­pacted busi­nesses ad­versely. His em­pha­sis was on the de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor. By the time he ended his en­gage­ment with the US-In­dia Business Coun­cil, 20 per cent of Coun­cil had iden­ti­fied up­wards of $41 bil­lion for in­vest­ment from mem­bers over the next two to three years.

The Prime Min­is­ter made it clear that while he was se­ri­ous about re­mov­ing road­blocks in the civil nu­clear en­ergy co­op­er­a­tion, the US should ad­dress In­dia’s con­cerns over food se­cu­rity at the WTO and that ac­cess of the In­dian ser­vice com­pa­nies into the US econ­omy should be made eas­ier. He also sought, and was promised; help to de­velop Al­la­habad, Ajmer and Visakha­p­at­nam as smart ci­ties.

Modi’s visit, so soon after tak­ing over as Prime Min­is­ter, has re­opened the In­dia-US re­la­tions door that was tend­ing to frus­trate and close in the UPA-II ten­ure. There is re­newed en­thu­si­asm over the vast agenda now. Typ­i­cally, he has raised ex­pec­ta­tions of his au­di­ence in the US and in In­dia to a high level. How­ever, its suc­cess will de­pend upon (a) bu­reau­cra­cies in both coun­tries not re­main­ing pris­on­ers of the past (b) greater Indo-US con­sul­ta­tion in work­ing on the right strate­gies in both cap­i­tals (c) In­dia’s do­mes­tic trans­for­ma­tion agenda which the Prime Min­is­ter has promised, and (d) forg­ing a do­mes­tic con­sen­sus over im­por­tant strate­gic is­sues which is a big prob­lem in the ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal po­lar­i­sa­tion.

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