PM Modi stopped fund collection in his name in New York (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT Washington, DC | 4th Oct 2014
rime Minister Narendra Modi intervened decisively in New York to prevent a small group of NRIs from cashing in on his visit, specifically the dinner hosted by Ambassador S. Jaishankar on 28 September, hours after the grand event at Madison Square Garden, where nearly 20,000 individuals listened to his powerful speech. NRIs, who do not wish to be named, brought it to the attention of Modi's team that some individuals were collecting as much as $10,000 per person "to ensure a seat at the dinner and a chance to meet the Prime Minister personally". When this was brought to his attention, the Prime Minister immediately asked Ambassador Jaishankar to ensure that admittance was denied to those who paid for the privilege, and that only genuine invitees were allowed entry. Although the task of winnowing out those who paid (identified NRIs) to gain entry from the others was difficult, this was done, and a major scandal was thereby averted.
"The Prime Minister was firm that no individual, even those he knew well, should be allowed to collect money in his name, and therefore saw to it that such fund collectors were put out of business", an NRI claimed, adding that "several who paid $10,000 for entry to the dinner on 28 September now want their money back". Although the initial guest list for the Modi dinner in New York was 300, finally more than 700 invitees attended and not only listened to the Prime Minister but got to shake his hand. Modi ensured that he personally met almost every guest, spending nearly three hours at the venue.
Overall, the Modi visit is seen as an immense success from India's point of view. Unlike his predecessors, who stuck to home-baked ways of doing business while in the US, Prime Minister Modi played the game the US way, in the process pleasantly surprising his hosts and opening the way for a comprehensive, and more equal, dialogue between Delhi and Washington on matters of substance. Rather than stick to cricket, he played baseball. This came as no surprise to Modi watchers, for during his China visit as well, he had respected the traditions of the country he was visiting, colouring his visiting cards red (the Communist Party's favourite hue) and ensuring that the lettering was in Mandarin and not just in English, besides ensuring that his presentation on opportunities in Gujarat was presented in impeccable Mandarin rather than in English or Hindi. Although Modi is tight-lipped on his motivations, it is possible to discern a clear game plan behind the visit to the US, a strategy which has four prongs:
(a) showing that there were no hard feelings about the nine-year denial of a visa to him by both the Bush and the Obama administrations, seeking to curry favour with Congress president Sonia Gandhi;
(b) placing business at the top of his priority list, choosing New York as the first port of call rather than Washington, DC, and concentrating on meeting heads of businesses there in an informal setting where confidentiality ensured a useful and vigorous exchange, with both sides not only understanding each other's limitations and red lines, but being in a better position to ensure that the slow road for investment outside the financial sector gets replaced by a fast track;
(c) doing an Israel, by energising the Indian-American community into standing by their original home, such that any administration that downsizes interest in India would face the same ire from the Indian-American community as it would with Jewish Americans were it to rock the boat with Israel. Prime Minister Modi made a silent statement at Madison Square Garden about his goodwill in the community that would certainly have reached not only the White House, but his detractors on Capitol Hill and in the State Department. That nearly four dozen House and Senate members attended the MSG rally on a Sunday and when Congress was in recess showed that elected representatives with a significant Indian-American voter base could not ignore Modi.
By personally shaking hands with almost all the 700-plus guests at Ambassador Jaishankar's New York dinner, Prime Minister Modi now enjoys the same position within his flock that Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel does within his, (d) ensuring that an inclusive message gets sent so that there is no segmentation of the (Indian-American) community on religious lines.
All groups were represented at the Indian PM's events in NYC, even as Modi avoided formal meetings with religious leaders of the major communities, meeting one-on-one only with a group of Sikh leaders and with a group of Jewish leaders. The significance of the meeting with representatives of the Sikh community was that this group has long been the target of Pakistan's ISI, which has succeeded in recruiting several of them into neo-Khalistan factions that are in control of at least 16 pro-Khalistan gurudwaras in the US, including two in New York that are known to top US officials such as Preet Bharara, the New York prosecutor who flung Devyani Khobragade in jail on flimsy charges.
Unlike his predecessors, who gave only token attention to the Indian-American community and relegated business leaders to secondary status vis-a-vis officials, Prime Minister Modi gave them prime time attention, thereby disaggregating his US contacts into (i) community (ii) business and (iii) officials, and dealing separately and intensively with each. Importantly, unlike Manmohan Singh, who visibly regarded an invite by the US President as an honour in itself, Prime Minister Modi, from the start, established a "partner, not supplicant" posture towards his US counterpart. He plainly saw India as an equal of the US, and refused to act in a cringing and "supplicatory" manner, in the process showing a confidence that few Indian leaders display on US soil. He stuck to the diet (warm water), dress and language that he was comfortable in, and this was reciprocated by President Obama, who avoided any trace of Clintonite condescension during the visit, even accompanying Prime Minister Modi to the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial in DC. It needs to be borne in mind that President Obama is in the final two years of his last term in office, and that his party is likely to lose control of the US Senate by 4 November, because of his own unpopularity with the voters. In contrast, Prime Minister Modi is in the early stages of his first term, and remains immensely popular back home.
The Prime Minister found time to meet with those who may play a key role in a post-Obama administration, showing a bipartisan spirit by meeting not just Democratic leaders Hillary Clinton and Michael O'Malley, but Chris Christie of the Republican Party, as well as House Speaker John Boehner, also a Republican. The visit has shown that Prime Minister Modi is a man of the future rather than of the past, and at a time when the US is going through major difficulties with Russia, China and even the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (over policy towards Iran and Syria), President Obama may be looking for a strong India-US alliance as his legacy by the time he steps down from office in the third week of 2017. By his visit, Prime Minister Modi has shown that he is willing to walk the extra mile — even while fasting — in order to ensure that this objective gets fulfilled. Overall, relations between India and the US have never looked better since Rajiv Gandhi charmed the Reagans in the 1980s.