People outside the country often ask if India is any different now that Narendra Modi is in power. Some are nervous that he will be a Hindu nationalist ruler. Others are concerned about stability after the fall of the Gandhian dynasty.
It’s still a bit early to say if his policies will have any major effect, but one thing is certain: India got its leader. Modi is a strong, powerful, never-tiring, proud-to-be-Indian man who prefers to speak only in Hindi, and whips out memorable quotes like Rajinikanth.
But perhaps Modi’s best skill is being able to tell an audience exactly what they need to hear. And there is no better example than his recent visit to the US.
Welcome Back Tour
Modi scheduled over 35 meetings in only five days in the country that, until recently, he was blocked from entering. His pace was relentless, meeting the who’s who of American business and politics. And he did it all while on a liquid-only diet for Navratri.
Didn’t hear about Modi’s visit to the US? It’s likely that you didn’t belong to one of his three target audiences.
The Indian Diaspora in the US
NRIs, PIOs, and OCIs have always been a popular target for Indian politicians. These are generally hard-working Indians who have either made a decent living or a fortune, often in the US. They leave because India is backwards, poor, dirty, and bureaucratic. They jump at a chance to earn money and thrive in a new world. However, once an Indian, always an Indian. Be it a cricket match on TV, or the passing smell of some Bengali sweets, it doesn’t take much to ignite a former Indian’s passion for his/her motherland.
Modi is already popular with this group. Many people in the US showed strong support for him during his earlier election. So it was no surprise that he received a ‘rockstar’ reception when he entertained over 18,000 of them at Madison Square Garden in NYC.
Modi’s message to them was simple. Come home. Today.
Modi was keen to show them that the India they left is not the same India it was before.
India isn’t backwards. We just sent an Orbiter to Mars on our first try for a fraction of the cost of any other country.
India isn’t poor. We are getting very wealthy off the success of the IT industry.
India isn’t dirty. Modi just initiated his Clean India campaign, starting with the Ganges.
India isn’t bureaucratic. Modi promised to remove obsolete laws and make the visa process easier for Americans traveling to India. And he’s forcing civil servants to show up to their jobs on time.
As Ellen Barry of the NYTimes wrote, Modi “offers himself as a metaphor for the India he wants to build – ambitious, confident, and impatient with slackness of any kind.” He is a tough guy in a government that is used to pushovers.
Modi says “Come back to India”. Let’s make it the place that others will dream of coming to one day.
American Business Leaders
Modi began his campaign with this group by writing an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. He held a CEO breakfast with some of the most powerful and recognizable names in the US business world (e.g. Google, MasterCard, PepsiCo). He had one-on-one meetings with CEOs from Boeing, IBM, General Electric, and Goldman Sachs. He addressed the US-India Business Council.
His message to them: Make in India.
He wants India to do more in manufacturing; but overall, he wants to see more things made in India – from steel to software. He has committed to removing unnecessary laws, providing better infrastructure, and being a ‘natural’ business partner for US companies. Most of those he met with already have significant involvement in India, but Modi wants them to expand.
US and World Political Leaders
Modi’s official reason for visiting the US was attending the General Assembly of the United Nations. In addition, he met with President Obama, Vice President Biden, John Kerry, Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Boehner, Michael Bloomberg, and other important players. He also gave a speech at the Global Citizen Festival in NYC, which he ended with “May the Force be With You”.
His major message to this group was: We belong with you. Modi doesn’t represent an India that is ready to be a US puppet in South Asia. He wants to promote an India that deserved a unique voice as one of the world’s leaders. His co-authored op-ed piece with Obama in the Washington Post reflected a view that India should be treated as an equal partner.
In Modi’s UN message, he subtly rebuked Pakistan for its connection with terrorism, joined in the global effort to fight terrorism, asked for an International Yoga day, and requested a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
His other meetings were more about relationship building rather than policies, but I really enjoyed Secretary of State John Kerry’s message. He said:
“I’ve been Secretary of State now going on two years, and I was on the Foreign Relations Committee for nearly 30 years, so I’ve seen, as the Vice President has – we’ve both sort of lived through the ups and downs of this relationship. And people talk about the United States and India perhaps the way that a matchmaker talks about two friends that they want to get together. And you sort of have that, ‘Oh, you have so much in common. If only you’d spend more time together.’”
That was the message. We belong together. We are natural allies and partners. Let’s hang out more.
Each audience seemed thrilled with the message they got. The Indian diaspora continues to chant his name. American business leaders said “He answers questions brilliantly, and he’s very focused on improving India.” And the White House has already issued a statement that it will support India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UNSC.
This is the leader India wanted, and he did not disappoint on his first visit to the US. Let’s see if he can not only create inspiration, but also action.