Momentum India : PM Modi makes waves yet again in the US

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Vol 9 Issue 4 Sep - Oct 2015
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Key takeaways from PM Modi’s visit to the US and address at the UN
Ashwani Sharma
Wednesday, June 22, 2016

It is not unusual for an executive head of a state to hit the headlines when he embarks on a tour abroad.  If he is rubbing shoulders with a number of important world leaders, the significance scales up and so does the media glare.Prime Minister Modi, however, is different. He makes waves- not just arouse curiousity.  Be it the UAE or the USA, Modi’s arrival energises the Indian diaspora with unprecedented excitement. In many a instance even the local nationals sit up, take note and admire the man’s suave soft skills and steely nerves. Modi has his detractors too – more at home than abroad, and that is hardly surprising, given the nature of politics in our region. The criticism however is more like an indirect endorsement that Modi is on the right track.  Among many of the frivolous allegations against Modi are faking poverty, spending millions on his public appearances abroad, frequent foreign visits and his penchant for dressing well.

Reading between the lines, however, one realises that these are, in fact, acknowledgments that are clear to everyone: Prime Minister Modi is the best brand ambassador and country salesman India has had in decades, perhaps after Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru. Whenever he steps on foreign soil, he is able to connect not only with the Indian diaspora but also with the locals (Americans during the recent visit) like no other Indian Prime Minister could.In fact even amongst the global leaders, Modi stands tall in terms of popularity and charisma. Not surprising then that Modi was the only world leader who attended so many diverse meetings during the UN General Assembly and enjoyed unprecedented attention.  This despite the fact that Prime Minister Modi had to compete with President Xi of China, who himself was on a charm offensive, and with Pope Francis, who conducted an extraordinary Papal visit at the same time, cutting a swathe through American hearts and minds. Modi’s enthusiasm, high energy levels and tireless style and impeccable dress sense however, turned many a critic into his ardent admirers. Modi today is seen as a representative of India more than any other Indian leader in the past.

Many of the Modi critics accuse him of doing nothing more than play to the domestic gallery by using the diaspora to appear popular abroad. However, the fact is that this makes a difference to how India is perceived by the people abroad; in the current case, the Americans.  Indian Americans today are perhaps the most successful businessmen and professionals in the US, and if they can be impressed by Modi, it is tantamount making to a power statement to the US as well.

As it happens, the American interests in India - whether political, business, military or geostrategic – all are driven by a convergence of geopolitical, strategic and commercial vision. Thus certain amount of synergy would always exist even without Modi’s charisma. But Modi deserves credit for his energetic persona and capability to project India’s aspirations which vibe well with his global audience. He captures the modern Indian spirit that fascinates the world as seen once again during his current visit to the US. Modi manages to convey India’s soft power just the way the Americans or most others would do for their own country, through a mix of marketing skills, realpolitik and showmanship.If Modi is now taking India’s prestige in America to new heights, as evidenced by the power-list of USA Inc and Silicon Valley that had gathered to schmooze with him (Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Tim Cook, Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai, John Chambers, etc), it is because he is seen differently from his predecessors. He is someone who authentically represents Indian-ness without being too judgmental about what the west stands for. He is happy partnering the best of the west without feeling inferior to them.

Some of the takeaways from PM Modi’s visit:-

Permanent seat at the UNSC: At the G4 summit on September 26, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, PM Modi met with Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. At the summit, Modi made a convincing case to make space for the world’s largest democracies, pushing the envelope for the inclusion of India as a permanent member at the UNSC. Modi used the opportunity after the General Assembly decided to take up the issue of reforms and expansion of the UNSC.

Wi-Fi by Google to 500 Railway Stations: During his visit to the Silicon Valley, PM Modi visited the Google campus, where he met with Sunder Pichai. The Google CEO announced that the company will be collaborating with Indian Railways to provide

wi-fi services at 500 railways stations by next year. Post a digital tour of the facility, Modi also met with Google employees and spoke on ‘Code 4 India Hackathon’, where he pushed for the need to encourage the Hackathon culture in India.

Digital India: PM’s visit to the Silicon Valley  was a major highpoint where he was received with much fanfare, usually reserved for a rockstar. The PM used his visit to push for Digital India. He met with the heads of the top tech giants and urged them to be a part of Digital India and spoke of plans to connect all schools and colleges with broadband and expand wi-fi hotspots. He cited examples of whatsapp being used to great effect by the farming community in India.During the Digital India Dinner hosted in Modi’s honour, chip maker Qualcomm Incorporated chief, Paul Jacobs established a USD 150 million India-specific Venture Fund to fuel innovation and foster start-ups in India.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadela pledged to take low cost broadband connectivity to 5 lakh villages across the country, for which it will be partnering with the Indian Government. Microsoft also plans to make available its own cloud data services operating out of Indian data centres.

During his meeting with Apple CEO, Tim Cook, Modi invited Apple to set up a manufacturing base in India. Cook is believed to have responded positively.  Foxconn, Apple’s largest manufacturer has decided to set up a manufacturing base in India.

San Jose and the India Diaspora: It was like a repeat performance. Modi makes it a pont to talk to the diaspora whenever he goes abroad and the people almost always accord him a warm welcome. The anticipation with which they awaited this event was no different. And once again, Modi did not disappoint the diaspora. Modi met with thousands of Indians at the SAP Centre in San Juan on 27 Sep. He spoke of how India has a new image and identity and how there is a reflection of India’s vibrant culture in California. He also spoke of ‘brain gain’ when many more Indians will be born in the US which can be turned into a brain gain, as when the time comes they would serve India.

Modi also spoke about the need to push for e-governance in India as he termed it as ‘effective, easy and the most economical governance. ’ 

Meeting with Mark Zuckerberg: One of the most anticipated and talked about events was Facebook Townhall meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO Facebook. During a widely televised Q&A session Modi spoke about social media and how it can be leveraged for good governance.  He listed opening of zero balance bank accounts for all Indians as one of his major achievements so far.  On a question by Zuckerberg on Modi’s mother, the PM broke down as he spoke about how his mother toiled hard to bring up her children and give them the best she could.

Bharat Fund: At the exhibition of start-ups, which featured products from around 40 companies, Modi unveiled the Bharat Fund, which will provide seed funding to Indian start-ups.         

UN Peacekeeping Operations

Leaders of more than 50 countries gathered for the summit on United Nations peacekeeping operations on the 28th to pledge new commitments and strengthen existing capabilities, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying “the demand for peacekeeping has never been greater.””We are here together to strengthen United Nations peacekeeping in concrete and meaningful ways,” Mr. Ban told the Leaders’ Summit on Peacekeeping, held at UN Headquarters on the margins of the annual high-level debate of the General Assembly.

The Summit convened by President Barack Obama comes at a time when peacekeeping missions are unprecedented in scale of operation and scope of mandates with 125,000 troops, police and civilian personnel in 16 operations spanning four continents. The meeting came after months of lobbying by Washington for greater contributions from European nations in particular as it seeks to strengthen peacekeeping missions to take on a more aggressive role, particularly against the threat from Islamist groups in Africa. Existing contributors like India reiterated their pledge to support UN Peacekeeping operations and cautioned that the changes must not be antithetical to the purpose and history of peacekeeping.

Last year, the US launched an initiative to strengthen the militaries in six African countries and establish reaction forces to “rapidly deploy peacekeepers in response to emerging conflict”. Now Washington is looking to complement that with weaponry, equipment and forces from nations with the resources and recent combat experience, such as eastern European countries which fought in Afghanistan. Incidentally, the US will not commit more forces to frontline peacekeeping. It has just 28 soldiers in the field and 78 other personnel. Washington, however picks up more than one-quarter of the nearly $9bn annual bill for peacekeeping and provides major logistical support such as airlifting troops.

On his part PM Modi committed that India was ready to contribute monetarily to a memorial for slain UN Peacekeepers. He also announced new contributions to the UN Peacekeeping Operations. These include additional battalion of up to 850 troops in existing or new operations; additional three police units with higher representation of female peacekeepers; commitment to provide critical enablers; deployment of technical personnel in UN missions; and, additional training for peacekeepers at facilities in India and in the field.

Pushing for reforms of the UN Security Council, Modi emphasised that the success of UN peacekeeping “ultimately depends not on the armaments that the soldiers carry, but on the moral force that decisions of the UN Security Council command.”

PM Modi also raised the demand of troop contributing countries for greater say in the UN Peacekeeping mandate.

Modi-Obama Summit Focusses on Climate Change

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrapped up his five-day US visit, ending with a summit meeting with President Barack Obama that focused on climate change and gave another push to India’s demand for reform of the United Nations Security Council at a separate UN summit on Peacekeeping.

The India-US summit meeting, that lasted an hour, saw Modi and Obama exchange warm hugs - in a reiteration of their personal chemistry and the strengthening of bilateral strategic ties. Obama in his media statement after talks with Modi recalled his January visit to India for Republic Day, terming it a wonderful trip. He said their talks focused much on climate change and the upcoming climate change talks in Paris. He said both sides agreed that it was a crucial issue and all countries have responsibility towards fighting climate change. Obama said he was “encouraged by the impressive nature of Modi’s commitment to clean energy. And I really think the Indian leadership in the upcoming Paris conference will set the tone not just today but in the decades to come (on climate change).”

Both sides also discussed trade, investment, defence and education.

Modi, in his statement, said the US president and he “share an uncompromising commitment on climate change, without affecting our ability to meet the development aspirations of humanity. We have both set ambitious national agendas.””As terrorism threats grow, we have resolved to deepen our co-operation,” Modi said.

He also thanked Obama for the US support to India for a permanent seat in a reformed UN Security Council and appreciated Washington’s support for New Delhi’s membership of the international export control regimes within a targeted time frame.

Modi said India looks forward to working with the US for India’s early membership of Asian Pacific Economic Community.