With His Networking Style, Modi May Well be the Hero who Defied Conventional Diplomacy
Modi (left) with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper
A day is a long time in politics, but for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a year is a short time. He has become a record-holder as the first Indian PM to spend the maximum number of days abroad travelling to 16 countries in just 11 months. When Air India One bearing him and his delegation landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on Saturday morning after his eight-day visit to France, Germany and Canada, Modi earned the distinction of spending every eighth day abroad ever since he took over in May last year. In contrast, NDA’s previous Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had made just three visits covering four countries over seven days in his first year in office. His successor Manmohan Singh was more active in international affairs. He spent 28 days outside India during his six visits to seven countries. Modi’s itinerary has been carefully planned by keeping his priorities in mind. His directive is clear. Connect with neighbours and do business with affluent nations. Barring Russia, Modi has visited most countries which influence international business. He has been to the US in the West, Japan in the East and Australia Down Under. When he wasn’t on board Air India One, Modi was unrolling red carpets for visiting heads of states from China, Great Britain and the Middle East. It is also a matter of record that most heads of states or foreign dignitaries made India their destination of choice in the first year of Modi’s tenure. Over 100 of them have met him so far, with the same purpose, to win his heart. The villain of 2002 has become the global hero of 2014.
The frequency of his visits is not the only difference between Modi and his illustrious predecessors. Both had travelled to other nations mostly for multilateral talks and not to settle bilateral issues as Modi is doing by engaging global leaders. The PM is known for his marketing mantras. He has captured a major chunk of the Indian political market using innovative sales pitches and mesmerising packaging savoir faire. He is using similar innovations to market India to the world’s powerful nations. Economic diplomacy is at the heart of his singular statecraft. Perhaps, he is actually putting into practice the famous saying that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Modi has understood the seductiveness of the gargantuan size of the Indian market which every nation with desperately avaricious multinationals are salivating over. He chooses his audience and the content of his speeches by playing to the economic hunger of host countries. He extols bullet trains, electronic El Dorados and infrastructure in Japan. He speaks about mining in Australia, makes deals on civil nuclear equipment with France, talks to the Americans about financial reforms and to India’s neighbours about the advantages of peaceful coexistence.
Modi’s strong emphasis on economic diplomacy is obvious going by the content of his speeches and the nature of his interactions during his foreign visits. His invariable meetings with the corporate aristocracy of the countries he goes to have become an essential feature of his travel diaries. If he is in Japan, he meets tycoons from Sony, Suzuki and top Nippon bankers. In the US, his visit is not complete unless he has addressed top American corporates. Previously, trade and commerce have rarely been part of Indian foreign policy. Former Prime Ministers were scared of meeting business barons during their official overseas visits. Now prominent Indian corporate leaders zoom off as advance parties to prepare the ground for Modi’s business meetings. Multinationals are finding it smooth going to do business with a country whose Prime Minister is not bound by administrative protocol and antiquated business baggage. In the sequence of priorities, trade now comes first on India’s new economic diplomatic agenda. Modi has made civil nuclear energy and indigenisation of the defence equipment manufacturing sector as the premier pillars of his diplomatic je ne sais quoi. Since he has converted Make in India into his messianic mission, he seems to be working according to a plan. No foreign company would like to make in India what it makes at home without irresistible inducements. For example, the deal for the supply of 126 Rafale aircraft had remained enmeshed in the bureaucratic web for over a decade. Allegations and counter-allegations of arms lobby adventurism were flying around like pilotless aircraft. Modi simply canned the prodigious pile of files and became the first Indian Prime Minister to announce a deal during a foreign visit without holding formal consultations with domestic stake holders. He invented a new mechanism of signing a government-to-government defence deals to prevent middlemen walking away with huge commissions. With a stroke of his pen, Modi obliged both the French government and French industry, showing his resolve to facilitate the entry of their companies into a sensitive sector. Only Modi could possess the flair to give an on-the-spot order for 36 Rafale fighter aircraft worth over $4 billion. He wanted France’s Dassault Aviation to invest in India as fast as possible. Earlier, he had changed policy to allow FDI in the defence industry to reduce spending on arms imports in the long run. Already many Indian companies like Bharat Forge Ltd, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group, Tata Group, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), L&T, Godrej Group, Mahindra Group, Astra Microwave Products Ltd, Dynamatic Technologies Ltd, Centum Electronics Ltd, Precision Electronics Ltd and Technologies Ltd have set up subsidiaries to produce defence equipment and have sent their top representatives to France, Germany and Canada to expedite follow up measures. In Canada, with his visit generating business worth 1.6 billion Canadian dollars, Modi made it a point to approach corporate captains of the insurance industry, as his NDA government had raised FDI limit in the particular sector.
But it is not the number of companies which flock to his meetings that matter. What matters for Modi is the kinetic gush of dollars which flood India to propel his favourite projects. Through his networking style and bold posturing, Modi wants to go down in history as the hero who defied the golden rule of conventional global diplomacy, which says that in the world of international engagement, some things are better left unsaid. But Modi by his tone, tenor and tendency says it all.
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