Millennium Post

When fasting Modi meets Obama

For people who thought that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was lagging behind in diplomatic rites of passage since he had not been to Western capitals- the two biggies being the USA and the UK- Modi has instead shown that he refuses to be a laggard.

His end-September (fall season, as the Americans call the autumn) sojourn to New York and Washington have been long on atmospherics, but also not short in content. Having said that, if you look closely at the end-of-visit joint statement besides the statement of intent issued at the beginning, one sees that the progress has really been on the margins.

But the sheer volume of politico-economic-strategic business between the two countries has grown so much in the last 15 years, that one can no longer say a team from India went to the USA (Little Rock, Arkansas, then) to meet the First Cat (called Socks then) or the First Dog.

We have been told that the sumptuous private dinner (not in terms of food, but in terms of ideas) that the US President Barack Obama hosted for Modi was spent mostly on talks about the global economic situation. One can safely assume, Obama in the doldrums on the economic fronts could have told Modi about the regulatory mechanisms that the capitalist system requires.

No, Obama could not have been pre-empting the Nobel Prize committee but must have been speaking straight from the heart. For, the economic mess he inherited from his eminently unworthy predecessor, George W Bush, was created at the first place by the withdrawal of regulators from their primary task- of maintaining the integrity of the banking system.

The story had begun with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Great Depression of 1929. The administration, facing a melt-down, had made into law a bill called Glass-Steagal Act, which barred American banks from getting into the ‘snake-oil’ business of merchant banking.

One of the first acts of Ronald Reagan, a ‘B’ class ‘has been’ actor of Hollywood, who won the elections in the wake of the Iranian fiasco was the repealment of the act. Unlike the Federal Reserve’s anointed ‘god,’ Alan Greenspan, a neo-liberal Reaganite, who was till some time ago a post-crash ‘pathetic figure’ in Washington, Reagan was initially given the same treatment that the domestic and global capital is giving Modi- a kind of a coronation that is unprecedented. Of course, it was said that Reagan was a ‘Teflon’ man. Nothing stuck on him, not even ideas.

Little did the small people in the USA, the ‘nickel and dime’ lot, know that shirts will come off their backs so that the ‘too big to fail’ banks and financial behemoths could be compensated for what they have lost between their profligacy and seven-figure bonus payments. Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate who still has not outgrown writing for the New York Times, has called it a ‘socialisation of loss.’

That the Indian domestic capital has not quite learnt the lesson yet was evident when the accompanying businessmen’s delegation (minus Mukesh Ambani) had talked about getting a stake in the services sector of the American economy.

Even a cursory glance at the pie-chart of the American GDP will tell anyone, that it is about the only thing the American firms do these days. Like the way the city of Detroit has gone bankrupt, most of the manufacturing activities in the USA have been outsourced to China. And it will leave some people incredulous if they become willing to share that remaining service space.

This too is the situation that India finds itself in, which Modi understands. And that has made him to raise the slogan of ‘Make in India.’ It is debate worthy whether the way Americans negotiators make African countries, India would also like to be ‘made’ the same way. However, that will be known after Modi completes his first ‘five.’ Returning to his maiden prime ministerial trip, that was how he had spent his time at the White House on the first day of his bilateral visit.

The second was the business-as-usual day. The advance work had been done well between the bureaucrats of the two countries, on all these areas like ‘Economy,’ ‘Energy and Climate Change,’ ‘Defence and Homeland Security,’ ‘High Technology, Space and Health,’ ‘Global and Regional Issues.’
As has been mentioned above, there were forward movements or an intent expressed for
advancement in all these areas, on the margins. We had been told by the pundits, this trip is not about any major business to be transacted by the two leaders. This was about the two leaders building ‘chemistry,’ about building ‘trust.’

If that dinner when Modi sipped water- possibly from the tap/s at the White House (important issue for WASH to think about)- with a dash of lime and Obama observed Navaratri fast, how the conversation went is an important issue. Whether Modi, who was willing to subsidise Tata’s Nano’s to the extent of Rs 67,000 per car, learnt a few lessons of duniyadari from the man on the hot-seat, that only time will tell. We can only wait. 

The author is a senior journalist
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