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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 41, October 4, 2014

PM in New York and Washington

Monday 6 October 2014, by SC


In his tongue-in-cheek description of the PM, BJP patriarch L.K. Advani (who has been left out in the cold by his former protege now running the country) recently observed that Narendra Modi “is a great event-manager”. A remarkable showman or an impressive event-manager, Modi used his gifted rhetorical and oratorical skills to enthrall the packed audience of primarily Gujarati NRIs at the Madison Square Garden in New York on September 28. That indeed was the high point of his trip to the US, while his speech at the UN General Assembly and his talks with US President Barack Obama in Washington assumed secondary importance.

In a way Modi’s extempore address before a receptive crowd at the MSG that frequently broke into rapturous cheers and applause was a thanksgiving speech because he knew quite well that without the NRIs’ generous assistance in every sense his and his party’s sweeping victory at the hustings in May this year would not have been possible. In other words, he was speaking to the converted and he did not disappoint them in the least. And the event turned out to be unique—no other Indian head of government from Jawaharlal Nehru downwards had been accorded such a rousing reception by the Indian Americans in the US. This was the event that was meticulously planned out by the BJP—the Overseas Friends of the BJP in the US played the key role but the actual organiser was someone sitting in India, that is, Modi’s Man Friday currently heading the party as its President, Amit Shah.

True, Modi did bring the NRI house down at the MSG, as was noted by The Indian Express. But then it was a pro-BJP (rather pro-Modi) crowd that the PM was addressing. This could not be compared to former US Presudent Bill Clinton’s highly persuasive address to the joint session of our Parliament during his visit to this country in March 2000 more than 14 years ago (wherein Clinton, facing a largely skeptical audience of MPs, had repeatedly referred to Nehru while expressing himself).

It was a speech seldom heard from the highest echelons of power in the US (and certainly not from his successor in office, George W. Bush). In fact it was one of the most cerebral addresses one has come across anywhere. So it would be definitely incorrect to speak of Modi’s “rabble-rousing” exercise at the MSG against the backdrop of Clinton’s address at Parliament House (following which one was witness to the unseemly spectacle of our honourable MPs falling over each other to shake hands with the US head of state) just as it would be patently unfair to compare Modi with Clinton for their intellectual levels are beyond any comparison (though both have come up the hard way in public life).

However, Modi’s speech at the UN General Assembly was quite different as it was innovative and spelt out a broad foreign policy vision basing his ideas on multilatarel engagement instead of being drawn into a verbal brawl with Pakistan whose head of government, Nawaz Sharif, had delivered a sharply anti-Indian speech a day earlier.

But then in his talks with Barack Obama no substantive result was achieved as the joint statement issued at the end of that meeting clearly testified. Nevertheless, there was one positive development: India under Modi declined to join the international coalition against the ISIS despite a specific US request to that effect. And as for the Modi-Obama joint editorial in the Washington Post (appearing on September 30), there were several factual mistakes (unwittingly or deliberately overlooked by the Indian officials to placate Washington)—for example, the IITs were not a product of Indo-US collaboration (if at all, these owed considerably to vital tchnological assistance from the erstwhile Soviet Union, especially the IIT in Mumbai) nor was the latest Mangalyaan mission to Mars an outcome of cooperation between New Delhi and Washington—it was a wholly indigenous enterprise illustrative of our coveted self-reliance as amplified by none other than Modi himself while complimenting the space scientists on the mission’s success. One sentence in the joint editorial also merited an explanation: “We remain committed to the larger effort to integrate South Asia and connect it with markets and people in Central and Southeast Asia.”

Overall the visit was doubtless useful. But how productive it was only time will tell.

October 1 S.C.

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