Modi In America: Time For Reality Check – OpEd


By Rajeev Sharma

Another foreign trip of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just ended, this time to the US with a 5-hour stopover in Ireland en-route for a working visit, and this time again the same political ruckus has been triggered. In fact, the political shrill back home has been even louder.

It was his second visit to the US since he became prime minister but the difference this time from his last US visit in September 2014 was rather telling. No, there was no change from his rockstar reception, but a dispassionate and objective analyst can discern Modi reaching a plateau, if not worse.

Modi’s audience in America too comprised mostly of native Indians. It was a captive audience but it was not as euphoric as last year, though it continued to be sizeable. More significantly, a group of Patels and Sikhs protested outside the UN headquarters in New York when he was addressing a special UN summit on Sustainable Development. This was unthinkable an year ago.

The impact was visible even back home. Shiv Sena, a junior partner in the BJP-led coalition government in Maharashtra, shocked everyone on Sep. 29 by praising Modi’s predecessor and Congress leader Manmohan Singh. Modi’s just-concluded US visit ended up doing what all his previous 28 foreign trips had done, alienating the opposition furthermore. Modi will go down in history as an Indian premier who was at daggers drawn with the opposition so much so that his relationship with the opposition remains not just frigid but inimical.

During his town hall event in California, he addressed a large gathering of Indians where he went overboard in his now-familiar characteristic manner. The way he addressed the audience it was difficult to make out whether he was speaking to an American audience in America or addressing an election rally in Bihar.

He took digs at the Congress party without naming it but left none in doubt when he talked about the brother and the sister and the son-in-law making millions of dollars through corrupt means. Modi did not stop here and rhetorically asked the surcharged crowd for a certificate for himself whether he was working for the Indians honestly and tirelessly day and night and whether he was tainted after 16 months of his rule.

Phew! Is this the way an Indian prime minister speaks on foreign soil? Has any Indian prime minister spoken like this ever before? This is the question that the main opposition Congress party asked Modi and his ruling party. One can condone his mistake of pegging India’s GDP at $8trillion, though the fact is that the Indian GDP is close to only $2.5 trillion in nominal terms.

One can also gloss over the fact that American newspapers and TV channels completely ignored Modi’s US visit as they were much busy in covering the Pope and leaders like Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and David Cameron. It shows that India continues to be a bit player in the eyes of the American media, though it is unjustified. Almost a quarter century ago, then Indian PM PV Narasimha Rao had to buy advertisement space in American media to highlight the outcomes and achievements of his US visit. The media has not changed much even after Modi taking over the reins of India! In contrast, Obama hosted a banquet for Chinese President Xi Jinping twice in a few days.

The moral of the story is the same for PM Modi as it has been for over one year: He must draw the line somewhere and conduct himself like a statesman on foreign soil and not like a politician in a campaign mode.

India with 1.25 billion people and an economy of over $2trillion is no push over on the world stage but it will take quite some time for the only superpower of the world to take note of it the way the Americans have been taking note of China.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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