Modi's US visit was more about winning over lobbyists than pandering to political elite

K Yatish Rajawat October 03, 2014 14:32:22 IST
Modi's US visit was more about winning over lobbyists than pandering to political elite

Several analysts looking at Narendra Modi's visit had mostly written it off even before it started. Primarily, because his agenda was so different. He had almost no entourage of ministers with him, without which it is difficult to extrapolate what he would achieve. In a way Modi changed the carefully laid down script of discussion that the US wanted from this meeting.

Now that the visit is over and the talking heads on television, of which this time I was also a part, have had their say. It is time to take a much more nuanced view of the visit. Before the visit there were several articles that laid down the agenda he should follow. Unfortunately and most of this agenda was dictated by foreign think tanks who were pushing their fund meisters agenda. Even the mandarins in MEA had their own agenda, but it is clear that Modi wanted a populist agenda. He likes to give speeches. It is his way of engaging with people, he likes meeting people one on one. Therefore, what followed was Madison Garden and several one on one meetings not necessarily with the political elite.

A big economy, an unipolar force in international affairs, US has occupied disproportionate share of its influence among Indian politicos. However, US status as a Superpower is shrinking as it withdraws from trouble spots and refuses to engage on the ground. Its withdrawal from Afghanistan is almost complete.

In thelast ten years several people including our former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his trusted advisor Montek Singh Ahluwalia were heavily influenced by the US. If you have spent your youth trying to decipher how an economy works, it is difficult not to take the learning and apply it in all that you do. This is what happened with Manmohan and Montek. They were heavily influenced in their thought and action with what the US did. This gave US an unfair advantage dictating the policies and principles India followed.

Modi carries no baggage of western thought and maybe understands little of its glory in public policy. He is inimical to the very thought of western civilization. This makes him a little like Bobby Fischer, the legend of the Chess world. His US trip has to be looked as the famous Nh5 move that Fisher made in his 1972 match against Boris Spassky. Moving the knight to a corner of the board is considered as a rookie mistake and Fisher played that against Spassky. A move so silly that it is called ' a knight on the rim is a dim' move. But he went on to win the game as it provided a positional advantage that was not immediately visible. That was and is the difference between Fischer and every other grandmaster- he could see the end game in a different manner.

Modi's US visit is a Nh5 if our mandarins can build on the positional advantaged that he has created. Modi has used his demagogue oratory skills to revive the patriotism in NRIs. A very strong community that can use their money, skills and even connections to push US government towards a more friendly policy vis a vis India. Obama may talk about the 'need for all of us to work together' but the US does not work together, it works only in its own interest. And these interest are defined and developed by the lobbies in US.

Modi has charged up one lobby of NRIs and if it starts taking an active interest in micro policy issues of US foreign policies India would be better. The strongest lobbying force in US is the Jewish community.It is rich and controls the financial engine. The Jewish community works very actively in providing support and succor to the Israeli government and its relations with US government. Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister who actually met the members of the Jewish community in US. A fact not noticed or reported by the Indian media. The importance of this meeting cannot be overemphasized as Modi likes to learn from every meeting.

What he has learnt from the Jewish community or its abilities to lobby effectively we do not know but a move has been played. How this position is built upon by the Indian NRI community time will tell.

There is another facet of the visit the nuance of which has been missed in the cacophony of loud expectations and instant gratification. The obsession with instant gratification now percolated down to dial a quote experts and columnists expecting the moon. This is not what Modi's trip was about. As President Roosevelt famously told an industrialist, 'I am convinced of your argument now go out and bring pressure on me.' Modi knows that US companies and its CEOs are the strongest lobbyist so he met the ones which have a stake in India.

Everything else during this visit was a side show, meeting Obama can surely be classified as one. Nothing fruitful came out of it, Indian IT industry wanted a better visa regime for its employees which Modi raised but nothing came out of it.

The bilateral investment treaty could not be concluded as the Commerce Minister was not along on this trip. India-US joint statement listed some notable additions like the focus on D-company and Jaish -e-Mohammed, plus it mentioned the South China sea in the passing. The bilateral civil nuclear treaty has not resulted in a single nuclear plant or supply, though PM Manmohan had pitched it as the most important deed. This brings us back to the point thatin theUS things move only if concentrated lobbies keeps pushing the political system but only time will tell if the new approach adopted by Modi will work in improving the relationship between the two countries.

Yatish Rajawat is a senior journalist based in Delhi. He tweets at @yatishrajawat and can be reached there.

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