Narendra Modi’s clarion call to Indian-Americans and non-resident Indians in the USA, his rockstar reception at New York’s Madison Square Garden, his meetings with SAARC leaders like Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sheikh Hasina and Sushil Koirala, as well as his rendezvous with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Bill and Hillary Clinton, among several other photogenic moments from his chock-a-block itinerary – no doubt attest to the new prominence that India, under the aegis of the current Prime Minister, has achieved on the global dais.
It is obvious that Modi, a performer par excellence, has charmed the rather insular, often high-handed, New York audience like never before, at least never before by a foreign dignitary addressing in a language other than English. It is also evident that Modi, with his love for a good show, his penchant for the theatrical and his uncanny ability to cook up ever new and catchy slogans, has emerged as the new American idol.
Particularly, in a USA tired of a highly cerebral but increasingly disappointing, war-mongering president in Barack Obama, Modi has filled a symbolic vacuum, coming across as a leader who’s out to deliver. Hence, in Narendra Modi, an icon-starved America has suddenly found a star, who embodies the quintessential American dream – the capitalist’s progress from rags to riches. It is Modi’s language, laced with metaphors of technocratic solution and business-friendly enunciation, that ultimately won over not just the desi cheerleaders but also the videshi, white and hitherto ‘cautiously optimistic’ American business fraternity.
But beyond the egregious sops for the pampered Indian-Americans, what are the real takeaways of Modi’s stint in the USA? As of now, the goodwill generated by Modi’s visit, highly successful until this point, will certainly help pave the way for greater investment into our FDI-hungry manufacturing and service sectors. But will it also act as a springboard and compel Indian-Americans, a highly successful model minority and third largest Asian group in the US, to look beyond the routine remittances and start thinking business? Will it prompt second and third generation PIOs to come up with crossover commercial ventures at a scale and pace far exceeding previous such enterprises?
This love letter to the diaspora, beyond the formidable gong of ‘Love Mother India’, will it translate into real action and help plug the gaping holes in investment manufacturing sector? Hence, merging of PIOs and OCIs and other nimble categories of connectedness and domicile notwithstanding, it is really the Indian-Americans who must now answer Modi’s earnest appeal, and give back more than the odd dollar or pound sterling in return. How Modi’s strategic flamboyance matches up to Obama’s characteristic restraint will be crucial.