Opinion Op Ed 01 Oct 2019 Hard-selling India t ...
The writer is a former ambassador

Hard-selling India to the world: A week in PM’s life

Published Oct 1, 2019, 7:51 am IST
Updated Oct 1, 2019, 7:51 am IST
Modi’s keynote speech at the Global Business Forum in New York was a masterclass.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: AP)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: AP)

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s detractors will sound hoarse in criticising him for not having objected when the irrepressible US President Donald Trump called him the “Father of India” at the joint press meeting after their bilateral meeting and find fault with him for having breached the international convention of maintaining neutrality in the domestic politics of a foreign country by raising the slogan: “Abki Baar Trump Sarkar” at the “Howdy, Modi” event in the presence of several Democrat congressmen, the fact remains, never has any Indian PM made such a strong ,multi-pronged and well thought-out pitch to sell Brand India on the world stage. Undoubtedly, he is the most imaginative and media savvy brand ambassador of India!

Mr Trump couldn’t comprehend what was going in the NRG Stadium. Mr Modi was the hero of the “Howdy, Modi” show — Mr Trump, at best, performed a parallel role! After paying hyperbolic compliments to Mr Trump, Mr Modi threw the googly: the abrogation of Article 370. Mr Trump sat nonchalant. This was widely interpreted as an American endorsement of India’s claim that it was an internal matter. Mr Modi was scathing in denouncing Pakistan for nurturing and promoting terrorism, without naming it. After ensuring Mr Trump’s acquiescence on these two issues, he gave him the present he was waiting for — public endorsement for a second term in the presence of thousands of Indian-Americans who might not have voted for him in 2017.

 

At the joint press conference, it seemed as if Mr Trump hadn’t got over the after-effects of the hypnotic atmosphere of “Howdy, Modi”. He came out as incoherent and confused — described Mr Modi as the Indian version of Elvis Presley and credited him, to the chagrin of his detractors, for uniting a torn India and called him, “Father of India”, setting off a huge controversy in India.

On the issue of mediation on the Kashmir issue, Mr Trump was doing a tightrope walk — telling the Pakistani PM that he was ready to mediate if both he and Mr Modi wanted it. But when sitting with Mr Modi, claimed that he and Imran Khan will get along well when they get to know each other. He said, “Fellas, work it out.” He felt Mr Modi was capable of handling Pakistan-based terror threats. A White House statement issued later claimed Mr Trump had urged Mr Modi to “improve ties with Pakistan and fulfil his promise to better the lives of Kashmiri people.” Obviously, the US hasn’t dropped these issues.

Both the leaders expressed optimism about reaching an excellent trade deal soon — apparently the delegations of two sides were engaged in serious negotiations. While the contours of a deal are not known, data localisation, e-commerce, ITC, solar panels, stents, knee implants and other pharmacy items, high tariffs and IPR, partial or full restoration of GSP, withdrawal of duty on American almonds, apples, pork and problems faced by Indian IT and pharma companies in the US might figure in the discussions. In 2018, India-US trade in goods and services stood at $142.1 billion; Indian exports accounting for $83.2 billion and US exports valued at $58.9 billion, thus resulting in a trade deficit of $24.2 billion for America. Mr Modi claimed that the MoU signed by Petronet LNG in Houston with Tellurian Inc for investment of $2.5 billion will generate business of $60 billion in the coming years and create 50,000 jobs. Mr Trump appreciated this investment pledge and also the announcement of investment of $500 million by JWS in the steel sector. He was upbeat about the expanding US defence exports, which have reached $18 billion in the last decade and are expected to go up.

Since the COP 21 Paris Agreement on Climate Change in November 2015, Mr Modi has emerged as a most forceful advocate of environmental protection. At the Climate Action Summit in New York, Mr Modi sounded a note of urgency for action like the 16-year-old Swedish environment activist, Greta Thunberg, “If we have to tackle the climate crisis, what we are doing today is not enough. We need a global behavioural change.” In the unexpected presence of Mr Trump, Mr Modi listed concrete actions taken by his government: hoping to reach the target of 40 per cent power generation from non-fossil fuels soon (India will produce 175 GW from renewable sources by 2022), banning single-use plastic, providing 150 million free gas connections, building 100 million toilets, promoting water conservation and rainwater harvesting and reducing the intensity of carbon emissions. Calling the Swachchh Bharat campaign an example of “cooperative federalism”, he claimed that it has become a people’s movement.

On the heels of the UNEP’s Champion of the Earth Award for his Solar Alliance initiative and Seoul Peace Prize for fighting corruption and reducing economic disparities, Mr Modi was given the “Global Goalkeeper Award” by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for building toilets and creating sanitation facilities.
Gifting 195 solar panels for the creation of the Gandhi Solar Park on the roof of the conference centre of the UN, commemorating Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, was a smart and imaginative move. It attracted huge publicity and generated global goodwill and cost just $1 million! Similarly, offering a credit line of $150 million to the group of Pacific island nations for solar and renewable energy related projects is a wise investment in building friendships.

Mr Modi’s keynote speech at the Global Business Forum in New York was a masterclass. His pointed; focused and persuasive case for investment in India couldn’t have been bettered even by the likes of Ratan Tata or Mukesh Ambani! Besides stressing democracy, demography, demand and decisiveness, he also flagged political stability, bold leadership, an independent judiciary, a transparent and predictable taxation regime with one of the lowest corporate taxes, an aspirational market and his government’s determination to do away with more regulations and make India a $5 trillion economy by 2022. He mentioned infrastructure, urban development, and defence production, start-ups, healthcare, food processing as areas of huge potential for foreign development.

The Indian PM’s speech at the UNGA was crisp, yet comprehensive; it invoked Lord Buddha, Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi, underlined India’s concepts of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, jagat kalyan and bhagidari and made a fervent appeal for world peace and harmony.

Terming terrorism as “one of the biggest challenges” for “the entire world and humanity”, he considered it “absolutely imperative that the world unites against terrorism.”

Listing several pro-poor and inclusive decisions of his government, he stressed urgent need of action on climate change and flagged India’s initiative for the formation of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI).
Highlighting the sacrifices of India’s peacekeeping missions, he touched the issue of UNSC expansion.

Urging global cooperation for addressing today’s challenges, he positioned himself as a staunch champion of globalisation, multilateralism and compassionate internationalism, in contrast to Mr Trump’s emphasis on nationalist policies. One wonders if Mr Modi hasn’t become one of the most influential global leaders of his time!

Delivered in a dignified, composed and persuasive manner, it was the speech of a world statesman, arguably Mr Modi’s best outside India.

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