Rama Krishna Sangem
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrapped up his four day long first ever state visit to the US on June 24, Saturday. We may like it or not, he definitely left a lasting impression on the bilateral relations of India and the US for years to come. In a way, he steered the relations to a crucial turn – beyond usual rhetoric of Oldest and Largest Democracies of the world etc;
PM Modi is known for his stamp of personalized diplomacy on the world stage. He hugs the world leaders and avidly chats with them on a range of topics. His enormous knowledge about historical facts and anecdotes on global politics makes him strike a personal rapport with them. Modi is easily mingles with, if he likes the other leader. This was on full display during his four day visit to America.
Three out of four days, PM Modi dined at the White House – first day, private dinner with President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr Jill Biden, next day again a state dinner with Bidens along with 400 other guests, and third day, luncheon with Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State (like our External Affairs Minister) Antony Blinken. Normally, no other PM or President of any country can do this.
Thousands of Indian Americans thronged New York and Washington DC to see him and join his programmes. Dozens chanted “Modi, Modi!” wherever he is seen – be it Yoga day or White House reception. At the same time, hundreds of Indian Americans protested against him saying he is a “fascist and murderer etc”. Some US congressmen even wrote letter to Biden asking him to raise humanitarian or rights of minorities.
But, Modi silenced his detractors with his articulation and explanations. Congressmen like Pramila Jayapal who wrote to Biden joined in standing ovation in the congress’ joint session as well as the luncheon hosted by Kamala Harris and Blinken. President Biden who once had doubts over Modi’s reliability to a Democratic dispensation in White House stood solidly behind the PM.
So, what made these things possible? What are the elements that played a role in success of historic visit of PM Modi to the US? Here are my inputs: Green diamond, Samosa caucus and ginger juice. They may look silly, but have meaning and purpose, if you go deep and analyse.
Green Diamond gift to Jill Biden
PM Modi, as soon as he arrived at White House, presented a 7.5 carat green (lab grown diamond) to First Lady Dr Jill Biden. Women love diamonds (after all, there’s a saying that diamonds are woman’s best friends), and Dr Jill Biden is one too. More than any other gifts to President Biden, this green diamond is unique – as it underlined PM Modi’s commitment to clean energy and environment. He pleased Dr Jill Biden as well as the environmentalists!
Samosa Caucus in US congress
Unlike in India, US congress has several caucuses – small lobbies which advocate one or the other causes. A caucus is a small group of lawmakers that work on specific topics. There is a caucus in favour of US forging stronger relations with India – this group is called Samosa caucus. This caucus includes congressmen 49 year Raja Krishnamoorthi (House representative from Illinois) and 44 years Ro Khanna (House representative from California) and others.
And what? This caucus played a role in securing bipartisan support to PM Modi’s address to the joint session of US congress. There are others in the congress, like Pramila Jayapal, who think Modi is anti-minorities and a human rights violator who opposed his address to the congress. But, this Samosa caucus did a strong home and leg work and prevailed to the last minute. That is the power of Samosa caucus!
Ginger Juice at state dinner
President Biden himself said that as he and PM Modi are teetotalers, they had just ginger juice at the state dinner at White House on June 22. Many of us who watched these dinners live on TV must have wondered what Modi was drinking there. Biden answered our doubts. This gesture of not touching alcohol will definitely enhanced Modi’s image among Indian Americans.
We should not forget when Modi went to America for the first time as PM in 2014 September, then president Obama hosted a dinner (not a state dinner) at White House. But, Modi simply sipped a glass of hot water, saying that he was on fasting due to “Durga Navarathris”. That was thought to be a mark of protest against the US for not granting him Visa when he was CM of Gujarat to visit America. Now, that chapter is over.
I say now that chapter is over, because, today PM Modi enjoys greater acceptance among both Democrats and Republicans alike. If former PM Dr Manmohan Singh signed India US civil nuclear deal in 2008 and paid a state visit in 2009, Modi signed even bigger technology and defence deals with the US and paid another state visit. PM Modi thus entered American history by being the 5th world leader to address US congress for more than once.
The other four are: UK PM Winston Churchill, 3 times, Israeli PMs Benjamin Netanyahu and Yitizhak Shamir each 3 times and South African leader Nelson Mandela 2 times.