Modi succeeds in America once more
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has returned this week after a successful six-day tour of the United States, his second after he took over the office. If he had wowed the East Coast and Washington last year, this time it was the turn of the West Coast, and particularly the Silicon Valley, where several opportune Indians had become millionaires. Also about half a million Indian Americans, the second biggest contingent in the US, live in the Bay area. Therefore, the West Coast is important both politically and economically.
One of the takeaways from this week-long visit was that India has found a place at the UN high table at a lunch hosted by the UN chief Ban Ki-Moon in honour of the visiting dignitaries for the 70th General Assembly. Modi was seated between Austrian President Heinz Fischer and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
The second was Modi’s bilateral meeting with US President Barack Obama, his third in one year. Modi knows that in a year’s time he’ll have to do business with a new US President, but the meeting was warm as the two leaders embraced each other. The tone for the dialogue ahead of Modi’s third summit meeting was set a few days before with US Vice President Joe Biden saying “Our goal is to become India’s best friend.” Ahead of Modi’s visit, India had approved a multi-billion-dollar deal to buy Boeing helicopters. Obama, entering the last year of his presidency, would like to see economic integration, better market access, and also acquire India’s support for the UN Climate Change Summit in Paris later this year.
For Modi, acquiring investments in manufacturing and using development funds from American companies for clean water, health, and sanitation were priority areas. Modi used the summit to raise India’s claim for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. More importantly, Modi limited the visit to just waving across the table at the UN peacekeeping meeting to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who tried his best to internationalise the Kashmir issue in vain.
The third was the G 4 summit hosted by Modi in New York. This special high-powered event with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who are aspirants for the proposed expanded Security Council, was a good effort. They backed each other’s bid.
Fourthly and more importantly, the Prime Minister primarily chose to focus on the economy. He not only wooed the Wall Street’s big wigs but also travelled to the West Coast to meet IT giants and CEOs of start-up companies. In the meeting with 42 CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies in New York, Modi was told that unless he delivered on the ease of doing business and transparency, they would not invest their billions.
However, it was a different story on the West Coast where he met the IT giants for the first time who were willing to go more than half way in coming up with some good investment plans in India. Modi received a warm response to his pet projects ‘Digital India’ and ‘Make in India’. The Prime Minister’s carefully planned meeting with the Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and electric carmaker Tesla’s Elon Musk were important for his quest for technological support that India seeks.
The takeaway from the Silicon Valley was Google’s promise to provide wi-fi services in 500 railway stations.
This would be a great boon to rural India. Microsoft CEO and India-born Satya Nadella also promised to take up low-cost broadband connectivity to five lakh villages across the country in partnership with the Government of India.
During his meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook, Modi invited Apple to set up a manufacturing base in India and if this happens it will provide some jobs locally. In his town hall meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, Modi spoke about how Facebook and the social media could be used for global diplomacy. One of the main aims of Modi’s West Coast visit was to promote the startups in India, and this too received a good response. On the whole, the initial response from the Silicon Valley was warm but how it translates into action is yet to be seen in the coming months.
The fourth takeaway was Modi’s connect with the Indian Diaspora on the West Coast. The Prime Minister has been cultivating the Indian Diaspora assiduously and his Madison Square Garden address last year wooed New York and Washington. Modi’s address in San Jose earlier this week exhibited his clout among the Indian American community. The cheers he received from the Diaspora showed his popularity.
Now that Modi is back, it is time to concentrate on making good on the promises he made to the Silicon Valley and the Fortune 500 CEOs. The first is to take forward the momentum gained on the West Coast and create conditions for investment.
The second is to speed up the pace of reforms and deliver whatever is possible through executive orders. There are the banking reforms, labour reforms and other financial reforms, which needs to be initiated.
The third is to reduce red tape and allow his ministers to take speedy decisions at their level, particularly those heading the economic ministries.
The fourth is to reshuffle his cabinet and bring talent even from the market and weed away any inefficient ministers.
Above all, connectivity, infrastructure, manufacturing, skill development and improving the economy should top his “to do” list at home.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)