A Warm Welcome For Narendra Modi, Ctd

A reader writes:

The United States should feel some pressure to enhance relations with India and Prime Minister Modi. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited India this month andUS-INDIA-DIPLOMACY-MODIsigned signed three pacts meant to boost trade and investment between the two nations. Setting aside the economic impact, the visit indicated a significant trend in two ways: It was the first time India has welcomed a Chinese head of state with a public reception since the Sino-Indian War in 1962. The leaders were said to have had an easy chemistry and seem to be looking to ease border tensions through the pragmatism of economic trade. The other aspect worth noting is that the trade pacts weren’t signed in Delhi, setting aside the tradition of making international agreements in the capital. Prime Minister Modi’s tenure as Chief Minister of the western state of Gujarat saw rapid industrial growth. He clearly was aiming to highlight the impressive development the region has made since 2001.

The Obama Administration’s outreach toward the new Prime Minister has been circumspect. There was an understandable caution given Modi’s unabashed Hindu nationalism and the Gujarat religious riots in 2002. However, a détente between India and China would certainly complicate Obama’s “Asian Pivot”. The diplomatic dance over waivers on the Iranian sanctions certainly hasn’t helped matters. The “champagne and roses” probably aren’t a bad idea.

On a shamelessly self-promoting note, I recently covered these matters in their relation to the burgeoning Asian space race. There has been a good deal of discussion about India’s recent success with the Mars Orbiter, Mangalyaan. India is the only country to have delivered on its first Mars mission. There is undeniable prestige that comes with besting China and Japan in the race to Mars. However, this has overshadowed another important development from President Xi Jinping’s trip to India: There was an agreement to forge a closer bond regarding space activities. If this does indeed come to fruition, there would be tremendous consequences for the commercial space industry and for the geopolitical balance in Asia.

But Shikha Dalmia is worried about the fate of Indians under Modi:

The Obama administration has been working to normalize relations with Modi – as it must and should – now that he is the duly elected leader of the world’s most populous democracy. As such, the White House singled him out for a dinner with the president (although Modi declared that he won’t eat anything because he’s observing a nine-day religious fast, a flamboyant display of his fabled austerity).

But such quiet gestures were not enough for Modi who has the autocrat’s instinct to be the star attraction. His gaudy displays – literally unprecedented for visiting leaders – are not merely unbecoming. They are also deeply disturbing, because they highlight Modi’s need for self-aggrandizement. That does not bode well for the massive economic decentralization – the hands-off approach – that he himself touted as essential for offering a decent standard of living to all Indians. Maybe he’ll learn to keep a lid on this tendency as he grows in office. Right now, however, it seems to pervade his economic decisions, making even many of his cheerleaders nervous about his ability to lead India’s socialist, centrally planned economy to a free-market one.

Pankaj Mishra also views the prime minister with concern:

One of Modi’s political feats is to have tapped into the complex insecurities of rising Indians with his potpourri of fantasies tinged with defiant, if under-educated, Hindu nationalism. Thus, climate change, on which India rejects all compromise, can be tackled with the help of yoga, as he put it in his speech at the United Nations, and India, which was a “golden bird” before being enslaved for a thousand years by foreigners (read Muslims and the British), will regain its glory with “make in India” manufacturing. …

It’s not too early to worry about the pernicious fallout from the ambition to turn India into a golden bird in double-quick time. For Modi’s plan to redeem India’s thousand years of slavery through labor-intensive manufacturing may be about as realizable in these days of increasing automation as Mao Zedong’s project of overtaking America’s industrial production by making steel in backyard furnaces. Scapegoats are already being sought in India just three months after Modi’s ascent. A member of Modi’s own coalition protested last week that while “discrimination and the distrust of the Muslim were covert” in the past, “now the gloves are off and the hatred is in-your-face.”

But Reihan Salam isn’t counting Modi out. He focuses on how Modi “attracted 19,000 cheering fans to a rally in Madison Square Garden on Sunday”:

There are no guarantees that Modi’s strategy will work. To become a manufacturing powerhouse, India will have to reform its ridiculously stringent labor laws, which are very much the third rail of Indian politics, and spend vast sums of money on roads and power plants and all of the other basics of industrialization. This will be an issue, as the Indian bureaucracy is famously terrible at spending money wisely.

If Modi succeeds, however, India will do more than alleviate poverty, important though that is. It will become the “big, powerful country” of Naipaul’s dreams—the kind of place that can afford to ignore Pakistan, its hostile, dysfunctional neighbor, and that won’t get pushed around by China. So you can see why Modi attracted support not just from India’s urban middle class, but also from hundreds of thousands of people of Indian descent in countries around the world, including the United States: He is promising that all of these people will be able to walk a little taller in a world that has long dismissed India as a land of “hunger and snakes.”

(Photo: A crowd of US-based supporters await the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India for a community reception September 28, 2014 at Madison Square Garden in New York. By Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

A Warm Welcome For Narendra Modi


The prime minister of India, who was once denied entry to the United States for apparently turning a blind eye to deadly anti-Muslim riots during his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat, will be meeting with President Obama at the White House tonight. Somini Sengupta considers the significance of Modi’s visit:

Mr. Modi is visiting at a time when India and the United States are each seeking big things from the other. Theirs was supposed to be what Mr. Obama once called the defining “partnership” of the 21st century. The relationship has withered since then, though, and both Washington and Delhi are trying urgently now to repair it, showering each other with the diplomatic equivalent of Champagne and roses during Mr. Modi’s five-day visit to America.

He has met with two mayors and three governors, and more than two dozen members of Congress attended his event at [Madison Square] Garden. He is scheduled to meet on Monday with 11 chief executives from companies like Boeing, Google and Goldman Sachs, and then to speak at the Council on Foreign Relations. An intimate dinner is planned with Mr. Obama on Monday (though Mr. Modi’s aides have let it be known that he is fasting for a Hindu festival called Navratri), as well as lunch on Tuesday at the State Department and tea with Speaker John A. Boehner. His itinerary also includes a meeting with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Raghav Bahl argues that “Modi’s rapid transformation from persona non grata to esteemed White House guest signals a momentous shift, not only in India’s prospects but also in its relationship with the United States”:

Despite India’s long-time policy of non-alignment, Washington has fitfully pursued a closer strategic partnership with Delhi over the past decade. China’s runaway rise and the scourge of large-scale Islamic terrorism have pushed the United States and India into unprecedented strategic cooperation, erasing years of political differences, mistrust, and miscommunication. An economically robust India could muster the confidence and gravitas to become the assertive strategic ally the U.S. has always hoped for. When CNN’s Fareed Zakaria asked Modi, in his first post-election interview, whether such a relationship was possible, the prime minister responded firmly: “I have a one-word answer: Yes.”

Adam Lerner believes that Modi “could turn out to be a tremendous boon to Washington, so long as the relationship doesn’t turn sour”:

Should India emerge from the inflation and slowed growth of the past few years and become an Asian dynamo, its success will inherently promote the oft-stated American goal of a vibrant, growing and democratic continent. In the long run, the biggest threat to unfriendly regimes in the region is not the U.S. military—it is a democratic, secular and growing India, embodying fully the ideals that framed the country’s independence in 1947. Modi provides a fresh start for Indians after the last administration’s corruption and indecision. So long as he avoids the sort of counterproductive Hindu nationalism that many fear is in his bones, there is reason to be optimistic that Modi could help fulfill this promise.

However, Rebecca Leber notes that the US and India may find themselves butting heads on climate change:

When President Barack Obama said “nobody gets a pass” on fighting climate change in a speech last week, he might as well have been speaking directly to India. India’s willingness to reduce greenhouse gases is a major wild card in negotiations for a global climate treaty next year. It’s difficult to imagine a meaningful agreement that doesn’t include some kind of commitment from what is, after all, the country with the second largest population in the world. But Indian officials haven’t been very enthusiastic about the prospect. Just a day after Obama spoke, India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar told the New York Times“What cuts? That’s for more developed countries.”

Addressing those differences will be a major topic of discussion on Monday, when Obama and newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hold their first-ever meeting in Washington. It’s easy to see why India’s emissions are so important. India is already the world’s fourth-biggest polluter — after China, and the U.S., and European Union combined.

Meanwhile, William J. Antholis puts Modi’s visit to the US in the context of his four-month “diplomatic whirlwind”:

First, he invited leaders from neighboring Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to his inauguration – amidst tense relations with all three.  He then set off to a summit with Japan’s Shinzo Abe and hosted a state visit by Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Mr. Modi seemed intentionally to be setting the stage for his two most important summits – welcoming China’s Xi Jinping to India last week, and then travelling to the United States this week to attend the UN General Assembly meetings and then meet with President Obama.

Across the country – north, south, east and west – his election has uncorked an intoxicating optimism. His summer of summitry has been popular because trade and economics have been his core message. In my own recent trip across India in early September — traversing six cities in 12 days – I met with government officials, BJP and Congress Party members, business leaders, journalists, policy analysts, academics and students. Even Mr. Modi’s opponents concede that the nation’s mood is changed, and many are willing to help seize the moment to advance India’s future, at home and abroad.

In contrast, Hartosh Singh Bal isn’t so taken by Modi:

In India, there is already evidence that his political honeymoon is over. One of the few polling agencies to monitor voter sentiment in the country continuously, Cvoter, has aggregated the answer over time to the question: “Which party can best manage/handle problems facing our country today?” Since Modi was sworn in as India’s prime minister in late May, the levels of trust in his ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) have declined rapidly to where they were a month before the elections, and the BJP—after a national victory that ensured one-party parliamentary rule in India for the first time since 1984—has lost a series of important local elections. The party appears to have misread the votes it got in May as support for its far-right nationalistic tendencies, rather than its economic priorities.

(Photo: A crowd of US-based supporters await the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India for a community reception September 28, 2014 at Madison Square Garden in New York. By Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)