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BRP Bhaskar: Modi’s American conquest
October 07, 2014
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

More than 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar wrote to the Roman Senate from the city of Zela: veni, vidi, vici, meaning I came, I saw, I conquered. Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to evoke the same triumphal note when he said at the end of five hectic days in the US that his visit had been a great success.

Modi, who led his Bharatiya Janata Party to a sensational victory in the national elections last May, had met leaders of several countries, including China’s Xi Jinping and Japan’s Shinzo Abe, before going to the US to address the UN General Assembly in New York and hold talks with President Barack Obama. 

He had been to the US previously to spread the Hindutva gospel among the rich and powerful Indian Americans but this visit was special not only because he was now the Prime Minister but also because he had been denied entry into the US since 2005 on account of the communal riots which occurred in Gujarat while he was the Chief Minister.

The highlight of the visit was a spectacular rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden which demonstrated yet again the event management skills he and his team had displayed during the parliamentary elections. The Indian community, a sizable section of which has found in the Hindutva ideology a psychological ballast, turned out in large numbers to greet Modi. Outside the rally venue, another section of the community staged a protest against the 2002 riots.

Officials of the two countries worked hard to project the Modi visit as a landmark in Indo-US relations. Ahead of his arrival, they produced a newspaper article which the Washington Post published on its Op-Ed page under a joint Modi-Obama byline. This was followed by a vision statement in which the two countries committed to expand and deepen their strategic partnership and march forward shoulder to shoulder. After the leaders’ meeting came a long joint statement. No one can wade through these documents without being impressed by the uncanny ability of officials of the world’s largest democracies to say so little in so many words.

The 3,490-word joint statement opened with the leaders’ extolling of the broad strategic and global partnership between the US and India which, it said, would continue to generate greater prosperity and security for their citizens and the world. For the most part, it reiterated past commitments. It also mentioned reinvigoration or extension of some existing programmes.

The term ‘strategic partnership,’ which recurs in all the documents, is comparatively new to the Indian public since the country had avoided such relationships in the heyday of Non-Alignment. India started entering into such relationships only after the turn of the century. It now has about 30 strategic partners, including the US, Russia, China and Japan. China has about 50 of them, including the US and Russia. The US has still more.

Beginning with Jawaharlal Nehru most Indian prime ministers undertook pilgrimages to the US but the platitudes over shared democratic values did not translate into technology transfers which India was looking for. As the US failed to respond India turned to the former Soviet Union and to Europe for assistance to set up steel mills and the Indian Institutes of Technology.

Obama’s endorsement of India’s claim for membership of the missile control and nuclear regimes and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s offer to work with the Indian Space Research Organisation are a result not of love for Modi’s India but of grudging appreciation of the progress the country has achieved without US help. What concrete steps will follow remains to be seen.

Modi made no commitment on the Indian nuclear liability law which US equipment suppliers dread but Obama got him to accept a reference to the South China Sea while mentioning threats to freedom of navigation. Obama agreed with Modi on the need for joint and concerted efforts to dismantle the safe havens of terrorist groups.

The Wall Street Journal said the Modi show was “long on pageantry and short on substance”. But the national media went the whole hog on the veni, vedi, vici theme, enabling Modi to claim on Sunday in a campaign speech in Maharashtra, where Assembly elections are due, that the world was now listening to India. His conquest, however, was limited to the pro-Hindutva NRIs.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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