Expert panel discusses importance of India’s new prime minister

Within a span of one month, Georgetown has had two starkly different conversations regarding the election of India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, often a polarizing figure both at home and abroad.

One event was held this Wednesday in McGhee Library by the Georgetown-India Dialogue in collaboration with the Asian Studies Program to discuss the future of US-India relations in the context of Mr. Modi’s visit to the United States.

“I think Americans should care about Indo-U.S. relations because, echoing President Obama, the partnership between the two countries could define the 21st century,” wrote Abhinav Tyagarajan (SFS ’15), one of the event organizers, in an email to the Voice.

The event hosted Maroof Raza, strategic affairs adviser to India’s leading news channel, Times Now, and Milan Vaishnav, an associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Irfan Nooruddin, associate professor in the SFS and member of the Asian Studies Program, moderated the event.

Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy in May after his Bharatiya Janati Party swept the 2014 general elections. He just ended a five-day visit to the United States which included meetings in Washington and New York, where he spoke at Madison Square Garden and was cheered on by scores of Indian-Americans.

“Modi came in here to meet President Obama like a rock star,” Raza said. “Only rock stars perform at Madison Square Garden.”

Raza spoke largely about U.S.-India relations in terms of strategic interests of both countries, specifically the war on terror, growing Chinese influence, and “the elephant in the room:” Pakistan.

“Modi, when he arrived here, he made three or four points at the United Nations that I think are very important,” Raza said. “One was the fact that he asked for a comprehensive global convention against terror.”

Raza stressed the importance of Barack Obama‘s and Modi’s joint article in the Washington Post, calling it a “diplomatic coup.” He praised Modi as a man with a vision who knows what he can offer to the U.S., particularly the three Ds: largest democracy, largest work demographic, and a good response to product demand.

Vaishnav took the wheel from Raza with his own version of the three Ds relating to what Modi wanted to accomplish on his visit: mobilizing the Indian “diaspora,” “development,” and “defense and diplomacy.” Isn’t that four Ds?

According to Vaishnav, Modi was successful in mobilizing Indian Americans to contribute to his cause.

“His cause is first and foremost reinvigorating India’s domestic economic development, and he sees that many Indian-American entrepreneurs can be useful to him,” Vaishnav said.

Vaishnav spoke about how Modi’s mobilization of the diaspora has sent a signal to the American government that the Indian premier has his own mandate in the U.S., where he was denied entry until recently. The denial was not discussed, but it was described by Vaishnav as “unfair.”

Modi was denied a visa to the US in 2002 due to his alleged role in riots in Gujarat, where he was Chief Minister. Almost a thousand people were killed and, while courts in India have acquitted him of charges, the specter of this episode haunted his recent visit when a court in New York issued him a summons.

The other Georgetown event regarding Modi had much more to do with this controversy. On the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, the Berkley Center hosted a group of Indian, Islamic journalists who discussed their fear of Modi’s Hindu nationalist leanings.

“My personal feeling is that even right-wing or left-wing hardliners, when they come into complete political eminence, then they have bigger challenges to address and normally don’t pander to ideology,” Raza said when asked whether Modi’s Hindu nationalist leanings were in contrast with America’s pluralistic spirit.

Whether Modi will continue India’s tradition of secularism remains to be seen, but this was certainly not an issue brought up during his magnificent diplomatic visit.

Photo: Global Panorama via Flickr

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