Beyond Hype and Pomp
Beyond Hype and Pomp
Compared with the breathless Indian television coverage and acres of print spent during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s six-day US trip, the near-total absence of media coverage of his visit in the US could be termed a failure from India’s point of view. That would, however, be a mistake. Not only did Modi’s trip face competition for the news cycle (coinciding as it did with visits by Pope Francis and Chinese President Xi Jinping as well as a rare appearance by Russian president Vladimir Putin at the UN General Assembly), but his visit had a different agenda from other visitors as well.
Although he stayed in the same iconic Waldorf-Astoria hotel and addressed the UN General Assembly, his principal mission was to sell India to US multinationals and tech titans, and to win the support of Indians overseas. Though sceptical about his track record for reform, Fortune 500 CEOs showed interest in investing in India and Modi’s delegation returned home with a rich database of enthusiastic supporters who may be of assistance in the future.
Modi’s business agenda was evident from the fact that his meetings were not in the corridors of the United Nations but in the gilded rooms of Waldorf-Astoria where American CEOs trooped in. It was also there that Fortune magazine hosted a dinner attended by 47 major CEOs — of Ford, Cisco, IBM, Lockheed, to MasterCard, Merck, Pepsi, DuPont and Dow. What emerged from the remark of the moderator of the closed-door meeting was that the businessmen did not mince words about their unhappiness with complicated regulations, excessive red tape, confusing bureaucracy, poor infrastructure and overlapping local taxes and urged Modi to speed up reforms. Modi concurred, “The world is not going to wait for us. I know that.”
It was away from gridlocked New York, in Silicon Valley, that Modi found himself most at home. In his meetings with the tech CEOs like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, and Apple’s Tim Cook, he pitched his ‘Digital India’ vision. Although Google’s announcement of plans to provide Wi-Fi to 500 Indian railway stations, or Facebook offering free Internet service were the result of prior consultations, they added to the sense of achievement.
The high point for the PM was surely the enthusiastic reception he received from 18,000 NRIs and Indian-Americans at San Jose’s Convention Center. Soaking up the ecstatic applause from the crowd, when he asked them for a “certificate” of keeping his election promise, he drove home political advantage by denouncing the corruption of India’s (unnamed but obvious) opposition party — in particular that of son, daughter and son-in-law. Besides scoring political points, Modi’s party took home very a valuable database of Indians in the US.
Showing remarkable skills in the registration process for those wishing to attend the public meeting with Modi, the organisers sought passport, driving license and address details of each individual as a prerequisite for being considered for an entry pass, although actual delivery was subject to scrutiny by the sponsors. The organisers in America connected with 313 partner organisations, from the All World Gayatri Parivar to the Zionist Organization of America, which provided the email list of their members for free invitation. Similar move is afoot in the UK where an invited crowd of 70,000 at the Wembley stadium will greet Modi in November. Thanks to the email list obtained from 414 European organisations, the BJP can expect a massive addition to its Big Data of likely supporters and donors overseas. Neither Xi nor Putin can rival these riches.
The author is consulting editor of YaleGlobal Online, published by the MacMillan Center, Yale University.