Prime Minister Narendra Modi will return home this weekend after delivering his speech at the UN’s 74th General Assembly session Friday. It’s been a long week and Modi has reasons to be satisfied with his performance in America, where he has met political leaders from across the globe – from US President Donald Trump to Iranian supremo Hassan Rouhani.
Back home, we are suitably chuffed that Trump compared Modi to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, making several Indians turn to Google with the query “who was Elvis Presley?”.
You might ask why Indians care so much about Modi being accepted in the West, and whether it’s the East India Company question all over again. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh once put it cruelly, but succinctly, describing India’s love-hate relationship with the all-powerful US. “Yankee go home. But take me with you,” he wrote in 1999.
Taming the critics within
Over breakfast with top American CEOs this week, Modi asked the executives to come invest in India, which he pitched as the ‘only destination’. Indulging in his penchant for acronyms, Modi said that India’s attractiveness as an investment destination is due to the “four Ds: Democracy, Demography, Demand & Decisiveness.” One wonders what the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the RSS’ economic affiliate determined to protect Indian business from foreign monsters, must be thinking.
Except that the SJM’s co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan too was in New York this week, meeting e-commerce players, investors et al, vociferously denying that the SJM was against FDI.
But Mahajan gave the game away when he was forced to ask Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal on Twitter why India has agreed to drop technology transfer requirements as a precondition to becoming a member of the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Mahajan described it as “a meek surrender.”
India's position on RCEP, a meek surrender concessions offered are 'disturbing'. Indications suggest that the provisions are not only detrimental to the interests of the economy, but are also contrary to the stated position of NDA @swadeshimanch https://t.co/Qm6F32SRA2
— ASHWANI MAHAJAN (@ashwani_mahajan) September 26, 2019
For the moment, though, Modi is on top. The RSS seems to be on board with the plan to open up the economy, realising that it must go along with the man who doesn’t brook any domestic opposition. The RSS knows Modi is that one big ticket who will help expand their ideology across the country.
Dumping the likes of Ashwani Mahajan who went hammer and tongs against Walmart in 2018 or against Monsanto, the producer of genetically-modified Bt cotton seed, in 2017 is a small price to pay for the stagnating economy. Especially when both the BJP and the RSS are fully aware that if anything could hurt the government, it will be the lack of money in people’s pockets – not Rahul Gandhi or Sharad Pawar or Mamata Banerjee.
The Kashmir conundrum
Modi’s other challenge, when he returns home this weekend, will be Kashmir. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval has returned to the besieged Valley and is expected to camp there for a few days. There are attempts to usher in a second rung of leaders – some Kashmiris have been brought to Delhi and have met Home minister Amit Shah, among other leaders.
But what does the Modi government do about MP Farooq Abdullah as well as former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah who have been under house arrest along with several others since 5 August? How do both Delhi and Kashmir’s political mainstream save face and achieve a compromise?
Modi’s tumultuous evening in Houston, Texas will go down as one of the most successful visits abroad by an Indian prime minister. But now comes the hard part. Senior US officials have told the press that Modi has outlined a vision for Kashmir’s return to normalcy, as well as the return of political mainstream in the new Union Territory. The US is believed to looking forward to Modi implementing his plans.
Certainly, Trump feels for Modi-who-is-Elvis. How many world leaders can come to America and out-Trump Trump himself? But when the US president comes down to earth, he knows he must assuage Imran Khan too. After all, the Pakistani prime minister owns the key to stability in election-bound Afghanistan – something Khan had admitted to at a meeting of the American think tank Council on Foreign Relations in New York this week.
Modi gets an A-grade for his trip to America this week. He didn’t fight shy of meeting the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani within days of meeting the latter’s mortal enemy, Donald Trump. In fact, he met Trump twice in the space of two days.
Now, if only… That plaintive bleat of Indians seeking a middle ground on Kashmir, actions on the slowing economy and over the treatment of minorities is as old as 2014. Modi isn’t about to listen to their ideas of India. He has his own.