Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives to address the Indian community at SAP Center, in San Jose, Calif., Sept. 27. (Press Trust of India)
Britain MP Keith Vaz’s remark, “Modi is a rockstar among international politicians,” holds true and on his second visit to the United States, the India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was accorded a perfect rock star welcome as much as he charmed and enchanted the millions who thronged to take a glimpse or listen in to him.
Despite his visit being timed with China’s Xi Jinping and, a little earlier with that of Pope Francis, Prime Minister Modi clearly stole the show on his six-day visit that ended Sept. 28.
Marketing his showmanship, tech-savvy, and pro-development image that gelled well with his overt display of India’s hard and soft power he drove the point home that the U.S. is willing to engage with India as a partner and not a rival, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.
The trip “created several outcomes and opportunities” in Modi’s own words and on the first day Modi addressed a UN Sustainable Development Summit when he presented India’s intentions to submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions on Oct. 2, Gandhi Jayanti (Mahatma’s Gandhi’s Birth Anniversary).
With China having announced its intentions to cap emissions India is under pressure to act accordingly.
Later he participated in a Summit on peacekeeping hosted by President Barack Obama where they stood on common grounds on interest in peace and prosperity in Asia and India sought U.S. support for its membership of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
What followed was the signing of seven MoUs aimed at boosting start ups and then more high level interactions with leaders of the business, capitalist, political and media world in which discussions flowed along lines of entrepreneurship and innovation for mutual benefit of the top two democracies.
In the West Coast leg of the visit, first one in three decades for any Indian PM on the West coast, high impact programs and meetings packed Modi’s schedule.
In the visit to town hall at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Modi reminisced his humble beginnings and the hardships his mother endured to rear the family as a single parent, all of which amply endeared him to the audience.
Later he touched the head quarters of Google, Tesla Motors, and then the SAP Center where more than 18,000 strong congregation chanted “Modi Modi” to enjoy an hour-long extempore, oratorical session of a leader who on social media boasts of 87 percent approval rating in India and is second only to Obama in terms of popularity as a world leader.
The most glittering of all ceremonies turned out to be the “Digital India” dinner, attended by IT Czars — Bill Gates, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayan, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Qualcomm Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Facebook Founder & CEO Mark Zuckerberg to name a few – where Prime Minister Modi praised the U.S.-India partnership in Internet technology and made a pitch for his pet initiative, Digital India and in return promised data privacy and security, cyber security and intellectual property rights to the tech investors.
The digital push set the tone for building business synergy in the creation of a platform that aims to impact the lives of the weakest, farthest and poorest in the South Asian country and Google promised to help expand public Wi-Fi spots at 500 railway stations across India, Qualcomm, a chip maker, pledged an investment of $150 million in Indian start ups and Microsoft committed to take lost cost broadband technology to some 500,000 villages across India.
For beginners Digital India encapsulates a cyber-ocean of opportunities for the citizens by creation of electronic infrastructure to services, from manufacture of products to human resources development, from support governments to enabling citizens and promoting digital literacy and thereby creating 1.8 million jobs.
An important component of it is to obviate the need for paper documents for official use via a digital locker for every citizen, installation of eBiz portal for approvals for businesses, promotion of digital literacy, introduction of new applications and IT for smart cities, community service centers for villages and towns, and connecting farmers to markets.
Modi’s moot point of reiteration was, “We will promote manufacture of quality and affordable products in India. That is part of our vision of Make in India, Digital India and Design in India.”
Remarkably the rest of the visit was shorn of any concrete pronouncements, and climate change dominated the talks while strategic discussions touched the ways to move forward in areas like counterterrorism, maritime security, the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea besides economy, investment and technology.
On Sept. 26 when India hosted the G4 Summit in New York, Modi raised India’s considered views on the important issue of reform of the 193 member UN and expansion of the UNSC to include Japan, India, Brazil and Germany “within a fixed time frame” to make it more legitimate, effective and representative.
A month earlier the outgoing 69th UN General Assembly resolved to initiate text-based negotiations on the issue.
Finally the last day of the visit marked the meetings of Modi with Obama, British PM David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande and bilaterals with Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
While assessing the trip one can safely say that it comes at an opportune moment when the Indian elephant can overtake the Chinese dragon as the Chinese economy has stumbled badly and American investors, who had once become wary of conducting business with India in the last lap of previous regime, are now looking at India as the next big growth destination.
Yet, in this story there is a fair share of concern revolving around India’s red tapism, corruption and heavy taxation system, all of which have contributed to India’s 142 position among 189 others in the World Bank report that ranks countries on ease of doing business.
As the tenth largest trading partner and 18th largest export market for the U.S., India’s business environment does pose both prospects and challenges.
Definitely expectations from Modi’s government to deliver on these fronts are high but considering the majority it enjoys it can remove these tangles and employ the force-multiplier of diaspora-capital in accelerating India’s diplomacy to harness digital revolution, create more employment and boost domestic technical and manufacturing capabilities.
In this respect improved American perceptions of India that have been generated from Modi’s sustained efforts are a real value addition to the Indo-U.S. partnership and India’s desire to upgrade its mercantile dividends.