Monday, September 29, 2014

Narendra Modi at Madison Square Garden A Feature

Modi Euphoria in New York will  Reverberate in Washington

By T.P.Sreenivasan

Support of the Indian Diaspora to India is not automatic. They can be the severest critics of India on occasions, but they gush forth with support and solidarity when India does something right. The Emergency in India and the support to the Soviet Union when it occupied Afghanistan drew condemnation from the Indian Americans, while they stood like a rock with India at the time of the nuclear tests, even though the US Government was up in arms against India. The Indian Americans largely drove the subsequent nuclear deal. So the unprecedented rock star reception accorded to Narendra Modi at the Madison Square Garden (MSG) reflects the genuine admiration and expectation on the part of the Indian Americans that he will transform India.

In the United States, the rich 1% of the population is believed to be decisive in the fortunes of the nation. The 1% Indian American population, which is not only prosperous, but also in crucial professions, has considerable influence. That explains why several Senators and Congressmen, including the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the equivalent body in the House and a Governor were at hand to greet Modi. The Indian community finances their campaigns, gives them professional services and keeps them informed of the good and bad news from India. The India Caucus in the Congress and the Friends of India in the Senate are the offshoots of the growing clout of the Indian Americans in US politics. President Barack Obama cannot but take into account the tremendous enthusiasm of the significant 1% of his people for the new leader of the largest democracy when he sits across the table with him in the White House. The very purpose of the Madison Square Garden extravaganza was exactly that. Of course, Obama had anticipated the phenomenon when he appointed Nisha Biswal, Arun Kumar and now Richard Verma to take care of crucial positions in the US administration.

The MSG event was more important for its symbolism and implications for the future than for what was said or done there. But Modi could be trusted to say the right things at the right time. He harped basically on three themes---how the overseas Indians, particularly, Indian Americans, have raised India’s standing and prestige abroad, the greatness of India, old and new and his personal promise to meet the expectations by sheer dint of hard work.

Modi’s image of the Indians of today playing with the computer mouse rather than the proverbial snake was a compliment not only to India but also the overseas Indians, who spearheaded the IT revolution in the world. He thanked the   Indian Americans for keeping awake with bated breath during the Indian elections, even though they could not participate in the vote. Many had even gone to India to provide support to him, he said.

Modi was at his best in waxing eloquent on Indian heritage and its potential. Gandhi created the freedom movement and he is determined to create a clean India movement. Indian is a young nation with an ancient history. With his penchant to create alphabetical soups for all occasions, he spoke of three Ds this time--Democracy, Demographic dividend and Demand—which would drive India. Having not taken even a “fifteen minutes vacation” since he assumed office, he would work tirelessly to keep up the promise he had given to the people.
He invited every one to participate in the Make in India program.

As expected, Modi spoke eloquently about ‘Mangalayan’, the highly successful Mars mission, which took India to the galaxy of four Mars explorers. In Gujarat, an auto rikshaw ride costs rupees ten per kilometer, but the journey to the Mars cost only rupees seven per kilometer, an argument against the charge of extravagance voiced by some. Though the Mars mission was launched before Modi’s emergence, he took the full credit for it.

Modi announced some consular concessions to overseas Indians, but not the dual citizenship, the long cherished dream of the Indian Americans. Many had expected him to announce it, going beyond the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card and the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card, put in place by previous Governments. He must have explored it and realized that dual citizenship was not feasible for various reasons, including constitutional constraints. Lifelong visa for PIO card holders is, however, an improvement. His own visa issue appeared to be behind his comment that India was offering visa on arrival to those who are reluctant to give visas to Indians.

Modi was unconcerned about
the fact that he was addressing essentially foreign nationals , who owe their allegiance to the US than to India. He also ignored the fact that many of them did not follow Hindi. In fact, some in the audience had challenged Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2000, when he spoke in Hindi at an Indian community function in Washington. When Vajpayee said that that he had spoken in Hindi even at the UN, he was told that he had the facility of simultaneous interpretation at the UN. At MSG, the mood was so exuberant that what he said was less important than the privilege of being with him.

Modi did not dwell at length on India-US relations, even though US policy makers were present, perhaps because he wanted to hold his horses till he reached Washington. But the word must have reached Obama loudly and clearly that a significant 1% of his people saw Modi as a messiah of change in India and that partnership with him will benefit the US in meeting the global challenges of the future. The euphoria of MSG will definitely reverberate in the White House and the man, who was once a Persona Non Grata in the US, will be warmly received. Obama is sure to seek his counsel on Ukraine, ISIS, South China Sea and Afghanistan and seek to resolve problems relating to the nuclear deal, defense cooperation and investment. The moribund relations between the two countries may be awakened by the songs,  dances and speeches at the Madison Square Garden.

Monday, September 15, 2014

India Dazzling Article on Qurtz September 15, 2014

India Dazzling

By T.P.Sreenivasan

India never had it so good. Even in the nostalgic days of the cold war, nonalignment did not give India the kind of space that it has in the world today. The mightiest nations of the world are lined up to seek strategic partnership with India. Offers range from hard cash to technology, from trade in consumer goods to supply and co-production of sophisticated weapons. Old and seemingly intractable problems have given way to identification of mutuality, political, economic and cultural. Tantalizing offers are being made of membership of groupings, which appeared out of bounds for India till very recently.

The United States, China, Japan and Australia have unveiled offers, considered unthinkable even a year ago. Pentagon has overtaken Foggy Bottom with offers of co-production and co-development of weapons. China, which had so far built roads only on its side of the border with India to reassert its claims on Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin, is ready to make massive investments in Indian infrastructure. Japan’s constitutional bar on arms exports and its acute allergy for everything nuclear are receding to the background and specific agreements in these areas are on the anvil. Australia, which had confronted India on nuclear matters and the Indian Ocean, has unabashedly come calling with a nuclear deal to open uranium trade with India, acknowledging India’s impeccable record in non-proliferation.

The reasons for the change of heart towards India across the board are diverse and even contradictory. The emergence of a single party Government with a decisive leader is one reason attributed to the change. But most countries had seen the same leader as a Hindu nationalist with a dark past. Everyone knows that his party won only less than 40% of the votes. In these circumstances, it is difficult to imagine that the advent of Narendra Modi has caused the change. His lack of experience in foreign policy could even have been a disincentive.

Another reason being cited is the growing strength of India. The stabilization of the rupee and the faster pace of liberalization may have attracted attention, but even when India was registering a two-digit growth, it did not enjoy the kind of confidence and concessions it now gets. The promise of growth, further liberalization, an investment friendly environment, (“red carpet, not red tape”) less government and more governance and reduction of corruption may well be the factors that have attracted the world towards India. The sustainability of the change will depend on whether the promises can be kept.

More than anything else, the evolving international situation and India’s unique geography and history, which have led to the new dazzle of India. With the US, the nuclear deal was transactional with clear expectations on both sides. President Barack Obama came to India in 2010 to reap the harvest of the deal in terms of nuclear and arms contracts at a time when creation of jobs was a life and death issue for his second term. His disillusionment caused by the nuclear liability law and the Indian rejection of F-18 fighter aircraft soured ties. The arrest of an Indian diplomat and retaliation by India marked a new low. None of these is a hindrance today and the US is gearing up for a visit by Narendra Modi, the success of which is a foregone conclusion. The geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific have expanded India’s magnetic field. Even if nuclear trade does not take place, the US will find compensation in arms trade with India. India’s friendliness itself is at a premium in the US today.

In 2005, faced by the new warmth in India-US relations, China was ready to move ever so slowly to befriend India, but its momentum was lost as India plunged into major scams and withdrew into its own shell. Today, China is signaling readiness to make significant investment and to forge a partnership, regardless of the complex border issue and other irritants. India is equally anxious to enhance Chinese investment and trade, as long as the border remains tranquil and China scales down its encirclement of India. The visit of President Xi Jinping is expected to be a game changer. He has postponed a visit to Pakistan, which was planned to take place before his arrival in India.

Unprecedented bonhomie marked the Modi-Abe summit in Japan. India will receive public and private funding to the tune of USD 35 billion will be available to India in 5 years, a special strategic partnership was forged, which includes defence exchanges, clean energy, cultural linkages and bullet trains. The crucial nuclear agreement could not be signed and transfer of aircraft did not materialize, but the will was there to accomplish these in a short span of time. Modi’s critical reference to expansionist tendencies in the region gladdened the Japanese, though it was clarified later that he did not mean China. China, which had severely criticized India-Japan links on the occasion of another Indian visit, merely hinted at Japanese perfidy. Moreover, China indicated that the Chinese development package to India would be three times larger than that of Japan.

In ancient times, eligible young women in India could publicly choose a husband from many suitors, who lined up with their wealth on display. India appears to be in the same happy situation, except that choosing just one among the contenders could be catastrophic. The challenge before India is to keep everyone hopeful and to derive benefits from each.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though a novice in international diplomacy, has proved his ability to juggle around with several options with the agility of an Indian magician. His style is not to postpone decisions, but to take them at the right time and correct mistakes equally decisively. He postponed talks with Pakistan the moment the latter appeared to take liberties, he voted with Palestine when he realized that his bid to balance Israel and Palestine did not play well in India and he responded positively to the US overtures even after refusing to join the global agreement on WTO. He has proved his mettle in diplomacy in his first hundred days in office. His stress on continuity with innovation, decisiveness and sensitivity keeps India dazzling in the eyes of the world, at least for the present.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

A Hundred Days of Modi Diplomacy

A Hundred Days of Modi Diplomacy

By T.P.Sreenivasan

A mixed bag of triumphs and trials in foreign policy marked the first hundred days of the Modi Government. The list includes an unprecedented invitation to SAARC leaders and the Prime Minister of Mauritius to attend the swearing-in of the new Government, a visit to India’s steadfast friend, Bhutan, support to BRICS and its New Bank, assertion of friendship to Russia, stress on economic and commercial ties in a meeting with the Chinese President, a signal that India would be even handed between Israel and Palestine, even while reiterating support for the Palestinian cause, meetings with three Ministers from the United States, rejection of the WTO Agreement as it endangers food security plans in India, a historic visit to Nepal, an invitation to the world to manufacture in India and a decision to resume the dialogue with Pakistan and its cancellation and shying away from signing a trade agreement with ASEAN. As he completes a hundred days, Modi has paid a game changing visit to Japan and meetings with the leaders of Australia, China and the US are on the cards.

A new comer to diplomacy, Modi has taken care to stress continuity, but without making it a fetish. He let the MEA mandarins prepare their briefs and used them to great effect in his conversations, echoing more or less the same language that Manmohan used. The strategy is to appear steadfast in the consensus positions, which have evolved over the years. Instead of formulating and announcing new policies in advance, he has decided to let his thinking to evolve as he meets world leaders and measures the efficacy of the present policy. For the present, he spoke about terrorism to Pakistan, the need for a political solution of the Tamil issue to Sri Lanka, illegal migration to Bangladesh and generally stressed the primacy of India in South Asia. Continuity for him is an anchor, as he comes to grips with each situation and develops his own nuance for it. Like in the case of the nuclear doctrine, which BJP had vowed to review, he has resorted to the argument of continuity and national consensus to maintain status quo.

Modi, however, is keen to put his stamp on diplomacy. Innovation in diplomacy is already visible in Modi’s moves. The invitation to SAARC leaders for the swearing in was innovative and their actual arrival was a triumph. Distancing himself from the neighbourhood policy of his predecessors, he made the innovation that India will fight poverty with SAARC and rise with SAARC in the global arena. This is a calculated risk, given the history of the bedeviled relations that India has with several neighbours.  He tried his personal diplomacy with Nawaz Sharif, bringing in the two mothers and exchanging gifts for them. Similar innovative contacts may have been initiated with the other leaders. He is known to choose personal gifts for his counterparts.

Innovation was very much on display during his visit to Nepal. The most dramatic was his offer to Nepal to consider any change that Nepal may want to see in the Treaty of 1950. This was a way of confronting the issue squarely and finding a solution his predecessors had shied away from in the past.

The decisiveness, which Modi has shown in taking domestic political decisions could be seen in his diplomacy also. After agreeing to resume talks with Pakistan, marking a departure from India’s position that talks were contingent upon action against terrorists, Modi did not hesitate to call off the talks when Pakistan went back to its old ways of hobnobbing with Kashmiri dissidents. Continuity came to his rescue when he put forward the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration the basis of the dialogue in the future. The decision to block a debate in the Rajya Sabha on Palestine even at the risk of paralyzing the Upper House was a part of his decisiveness. Equally, he did not hesitate to vote in favour of Palestine at the UN Human Rights Council, when he realized a change in Palestine policy would not be nationally acceptable in the face of the ongoing Gaza war. He stunned the Americans and the rest of the world by standing firm on the WTO issue at a time when the strategic partnership with the US was being discussed.

Secretiveness and the element of surprise in announcing decisions marks the Modi style of diplomacy. From being a voluble politician, Modi became a reticent statesman. He does not believe that he needs to explain each of his actions in diplomacy and open it to scrutiny by the press and the public. The process of decision-making will remain private even after the decisions are announced. He made a departure from the established practice of wining and dining journalists on board his flights precisely because he did not want to be influenced by the prejudices and predilections of the press. At the same time, he does not maintain the sphinx like silence of his immediate predecessor. His activism in the social media has made him less dependent on the conventional media to spread his message. Messages in social media are carried without the interference of editorial scissors and pressures of time and space. His visuals with sartorial signals like different garbs and headgears also convey a vibrant image. In other words, his silence and speeches are measured and orchestrated for maximum effect.

The Modi mystique remains even after his hundred days in office because the control he exercises on information and his continuous visibility. China and the United States may be unsure as of now what they can really accomplish in their encounters with Modi in September. They will articulate their positions on the basis of the general framework of his policy approaches, which have been outlined. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel did precisely that when he outlined the co-production proposal as bait to get defense contracts. China will naturally stress investments in infrastructure and trade. Still in the stage wooing India in the formative stage of the new Government