Marketing India

There is a growing percep-tion that the Centre has not been as reform-oriented as many had expected when it entered office last year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the US once again. It was his second trip after assuming office last year. If Modi’s last visit to the US was about introducing himself to Washington and making sure that misperceptions about his hostility to the US were set aside, his recent visit was about ensuring that the momentum that his two previous meetings with Obama have generated result in some tangible outcomes.

This visit was about getting the economic dimension of the relationship right and to project India as a prominent investment destination by reaching out directly to the American corporate sector. Modi addressed global heads of state at the Sustainable Development Summit hosted by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and met Barack Obama – his third summit with the US President within a year - but all eyes were on his economic and trade agenda.

Modi made a major push for India’s candidacy as a permanent member of the UN Security Council by hosting a G-4 summit of Germany, Japan and Brazil though it remains unclear how India’s ambitious target of a set at the high table by September 2016 is likely to be met in the face of strong opposition from various quarters, not the least China.
At a recent meeting with Indian corporate leaders to discuss ways to bolster the economy amid global slowdown, Modi is reported to have exhorted the Indian industry to take more risks at a time of China’s growth worries.

His government is keen that there are opportunities for India to exploit so as to turn China’s pain in to India’s gain. Indian minister of state for finance has suggested that New Delhi was ready to “take the baton of global growth” from Beijing, underscoring rather ambitiously that “in the coming days, India will leave China behind as far as growth and development matter.” Not surprising therefore that Modi spent a large part of his time in the US in the Silicon Valley focusing on innovation and his pet project of Digital India.
After interacting with potential investors, media and communication majors and a dinner with CEOs of more than companies focusing on infrastructure and manufacturing in aid of his 'Make in India' initiative in New York, Modi promptly headed off to the Silicon Valley for two days over the weekend, becoming the first Indian leader to visit California in more than three decades.

He met Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and electric carmaker Tesla’s iconic CEO Elon Musk as well as Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai and Shantanu Narayen, the India-born CEOs of Microsoft, Google, and Adobe respectively. Much like his other visits, he reached out to the Indian -Americans whom he wants to harness in the economic regeneration of India.

Besides a town-hall style Q&A session at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters, Modi’s outreach programme included witnessing the start of a 15-hour hackathon at Googleplex, with some 150 Indian programmers looking to produce software and applications relevant to India for Digital India and Skill India missions, and addressing Indian-Americans at a community reception in San Jose.

Credibility question

In recent months, a perception has taken shape that the Modi government, for all its hype, has not been as reform- oriented as many had expected when it entered office last year. Though the government is predicting that the Indian economy will grow at 8 per cent or more in 2015-16, this is largely a product of state spending as private investment has been relatively slow to pick up.

It is Modi government’s very credibility that is on the line. While some have questioned the statistics employed by the Modi government to suggest that India is growing faster than China, others have been disappointed at the government’s inability to pass key legislation. The last session of parliament saw no work as key bills to make the acquisition of land for industrial infrastructure easier, and to federalise the disparate taxation schemes that make taking products or raw materials between 29 states incredibly slow and costly had to put on cold storage in face of an unrelenting opposition.

While the blame clearly lies at the doorstep of the main opposition party, the Congress, which is yet to reconcile to its staggering defeat and is more keen to showcase its ability to scuttle Modi’s agenda than in being a responsible opposition, Modi’s critics have also underscored that the prime minister is yet to come into governance mode, preoccupied as he has been by continuous campaigning.

Yet, Modi remains India’s best hope. His personal popularity remains very high and optimism about the future of the country under his leadership is soaring. Majority of the Indians, including traditional Congress supporters, continue to believe in Modi’s ability to deliver. It is this cache of popular support that Modi leveraged as he tried to convince the US investors and strategic community that he still has what it takes to deliver and that the India story has only just begun.

It may seem like a tall order but Modi is nothing if not ambitious. And at least for the moment, his bet has paid off as even Pakistani media has been forced to admit that he is an astute politician with the ability to outsmart rivals and he is aiming for the “political and military dominance of India”, with a Pakistani daily noting he was “received like a star” in the US. It remains to be seen what impact Modi’s visit will have over the long term but economic diplomacy will be key to India’s role in the globe as New Delhi strives for a greater global role.

(The writer is Professor of International Relations, King’s College London)

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