Narendra Modi in the US: No gala events planned, PM's fifth visit likely to be all business

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US is likely to be a business-like visit. It will not include a gala diaspora event of the sort that has been a regular feature of Modi’s visits to foreign countries. Engaging with the diaspora has been one of the key elements of Modi’s foreign policy.

In his first two years in office, nearly all of Modi’s visits to foreign countries had included big diaspora functions, whether it was to the US, UK, Australia or the UAE. These events included huge gatherings at the Madison Square Garden and Wembley Stadium or much smaller meetings in a town hall, depending on the size of the diaspora in the country the prime minister was visiting. The Indian diaspora, on its part also responded to Modi with enthusiasm, flocking in large numbers to greet the prime minister.

In the initial days of planning for Modi’s US visit ahead of his first meeting with US president Donald Trump, there had been some preliminary discussion on holding a diaspora event in Houston. A delegation of NRIs from Houston had visited the Prime Minister’s Office in Delhi and invited Modi to hold a diaspora event in the city. Houston is one of the largest cities in the US and has a large NRI community. After New York and California, Texas has the largest Indian diaspora in the country. But, as the plans for the US visit firmed up, the proposal for a large NRI event in Houston was eventually dropped.

File image of Narendra Modi. AP

File image of Narendra Modi. AP

There has been a change in the mood with respect to immigration in western countries, including the US and UK where it has figured in the respective election campaigns. The debate in the US against immigration and the moves to curtail the H1B visas, used largely by Indian IT companies and Indian professionals, has been a cause for considerable concern in India. The two issues are expected to be figure in the discussions between the Indian and American delegations.

However, the PMO and the BJP’s overseas cell are going ahead with plans for a diaspora event in Israel when Modi visits the country in early July. Israel has a different approach to immigration; it welcomes all persons of Jewish descent. Indians migrating to Israel are not like Indian emigrants to other countries, they are of Jewish descent. The 80,000-strong Indian Jewish community comprises Bene Israel from Maharashtra, Cochin Jews, Baghdadi Jews (from Kolkata) and a small number from Manipur’s Manashe tribe. There is also a small community of Indian expatriates working as IT professionals in multinational companies, healthcare and as diamond traders — diamond trading accounts for a large part of India-Israel trade.

The Houston diaspora event was dropped as it became clear that the US visit would be more in the nature of a working visit with the main purpose of establishing personal contact with Trump and understanding his world view. Modi has energised India-US relations, taking them to a new level with his eight meetings with former US president Barack Obama. In his discussions with Trump, Modi will seek to insulate India-US ties from the unpredictability that Trump has introduced in American foreign policy. Trump is not known for sticking to a script, even one crafted by his closest advisors and has upturned US relations with friends and foes alike in his interactions with foreign leaders.

India has been on the Trump administration’s mind for two issues: H1B visas and the Paris climate change agreement that Trump revoked, famously complaining that India had got 'billions and billions of dollars' in foreign aid from the US. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was forced to give a terse denial. There is, however a convergence of views on the issue of terrorism on which Trump has taken a strident stand.

Fortunately, India is not a top focus country for Trump, although he gave time for his Indian collaborators in the Trump Towers projects in India to visit him in the White House. Trump also acknowledged the support of the Republican Hindu Coalition and its leader, Indian-American entrepreneur Salabh Kumar for his election campaign.

The White House spokesperson has listed "fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth and reforms and expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region" as common priorities for the two countries. The Indian side hopes the meeting will "provide a new direction for deeper bilateral engagement".

Modi is likely to address a small group of prominent Indians at a reception hosted by the Indian Ambassador to the US in Washington. A large diaspora event would have been a distraction under these circumstances. More so when there exists a latent sense of unease among Indians in America over the insults and violence individual Indians have suffered in the recent months following the increase in anti-immigration sentiment over the course of the presidential election campaign.

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2017 14:06 PM

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