Narendra Modi turns 69: How PM's personal touch with Trump, Putin and Macron translates to political capital for India

Sreemoy Talukdar

The 'Howdy, Modi!' event at Houston, Texas, provides a useful plank for analysing the effect Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had on India's polity and the nation's stature in the comity of nations. The fact that it is Modi's 69th birthday today adds a touch of relevance to the assessment.

The event on 22 September at the 50,000-capacity NRG Stadium has already been sold out, according to reports. To wit, an event on such a grand scale to be addressed by a foreign leader on American soil has never happened before, and the appearance of US president Donald Trump and a host of other US lawmakers (both Republicans and Democrats) at the event is "unprecedented in the annals of US-India relations, and indeed in the chronicles of US ties with any country," as The Times of India notes in a report.

Modi apparently invited Trump to the Houston event during the G7 summit (where the Indian prime minister was French president Emmanuel Macron's invitee) and Trump reportedly readily agreed and accordingly instructed his officials and security detail. The White House release confirming Trump's attendance at Modi's 'party' with 50,000 Indian-American expats underlines the importance US places on bilateral ties that is underwritten by the personal chemistry and bond between the two leaders.

"'Howdy, Modi! Shared Dreams, Bright Futures,' is expected to draw tens of thousands of people. It will be a great opportunity to emphasise the strong ties between the people of the United States and India, to reaffirm the strategic partnership between the world's oldest and largest democracies, and to discuss ways to deepen their energy and trade relationship," read the White House statement. Worth noting the stress on "strong ties between the US and India" and emphasis on reaffirmation of the "strategic partnership" and shared values and interests.

The significance of Trump and Modi appearing on the same stage at the biggest public rally by a foreign leader on American soil (surpassing even Modi's previous rallies at Madison Square Gardens and Silicon Valley) cannot be overstated. It is a ringing endorsement of India's growing relevance in global affairs, the appeal of its market and the role US envisages for India in its Indo-Pacific policy where New Delhi serves as the lynchpin. These structural realities will continue to shape bilateral ties regardless of wrinkles and Trump's appearance is a confirmation of that trajectory.

At another level, Trump's very public engagement with Modi on such a huge platform at a time when Pakistan is running a vituperative campaign against India and threatening nuclear Armageddon over Kashmir is an unequivocal diplomatic victory for India. The development must be a heartbreaking one for Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan, who had assumed that the US president was in his corner when Trump offered to mediate between the two nations.

It is also worth remembering that the event will be attended by a number of US lawmakers from both parties signifying bipartisan support India enjoys in the US. Reports indicate that Texas senator John Cornyn is "looking forward" to attending the Trump-Modi rally on Sunday, and so are other senior leaders including senator Ted Cruz, Congressman Al Green, US representative Pete Olson; Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, US representative Sylvia Garcia and Texas governor Greg Abbot.

So the point is, Pakistan's diplomatic overtures at influencing global opinion against India has received a deep setback, and if that wasn't clear enough during the UNHRC meet, it is clear as daylight now with the entire US leadership putting its weight behind an event to be hosted by the Indian prime minister on American soil.

This is evident, but where does Modi come into the picture? It is inconceivable that any other Indian prime minister would have enjoyed so much clout on foreign soil as Modi, and the Indian-American community that punches above its weight in terms of financial clout and influence in the US, is particularly drawn to Modi as an activist prime minister who is out to enhance India's stature in the world.

Therefore, the fulcrum of this unprecedented event where Modi and top US leadership will be in joint attendance €" dispelling Pakistan's threats and efforts €" lies in the personal popularity that Modi has been able to amass in the years that he has been in the Prime Minister's Office.

And it is not only in the US that we have seen Modi's personal popularity work to India's diplomatic advantage. We have seen this repeatedly play out over the years, but none more so since the epochal event on 5 August when India announced reading down of a constitutional provision to revoke Kashmir's 'special status' (in effect largely symbolic) and reorganise the state into two Union territories.

Modi's tireless efforts in securing a personal bond with world leaders have come in handy with the UNSC P5 nations where the US, France, Russia and even the UK have been on India's side with only China coming out in the aid of its client state Pakistan.

The personal chemistry between Modi and French president Macron, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Trump have ensured that the world has been willing to be patient with India's viewpoint on an issue that could have been contentious and have provided New Delhi with a long rope to implement its plan.

Nothing elucidates this phenomenon (of Modi's personal bond playing a role in tilting the balance in India's favour) than the Indian prime minister being felicitated in the Gulf nations at the precise moment when an unhinged Pakistan has been trying to whip up 'Islamic ummah' frenzy over Kashmir.

As already noted, this diplomatic win for India should be traced to Modi's personal bond with world leaders, but it would be misleading to lay it totally at his door. India's sustained diplomatic effort at reaching out to nations over its position on Kashmir has played no less a part, but here too the work ethic that Modi has brought to the table since his ascent to the prime minster's post  has been effective.

We are talking about a leader who crisscrosses the world with multiple stops at different time zones with no apparent fatigue and still manages to get his work done with aplomb. Consider Modi's schedule since attending the Far East Economic Forum in Vladivostok (Russia) on 5 September.

He was back in New Delhi on Friday morning. After a day's work, he flew down to Bengaluru to witness Chandrayaan-2 mission's landing on the Moon. When the mission suffered a setback late on Friday night (early morning Saturday), Modi left ISRO operations room only to be back a few hours later at ISRO premises again to give a pep talk to heartbroken scientists and personally comforst ISRO chief K Sivan.

According to reports, Modi then reached Mumbai to participate in the inauguration of Metro Lines, Metro Bhavan, first Metro coach and the Bandogri Metro Station, then travelled to Aurangabad to take part in several activities pertaining to self-help groups, with a rural focus. Post these engagements, he returned to New Delhi by Saturday evening.

Reams have been written Modi's work ethic and punishing schedule, how he gives sleepless nights to colleagues and how he is trying to change India's infamous red-tapism by asking bureaucrats to change their ethics and mindsets. 

The point to be made is that this tireless effort from an activist prime minister has earned him unprecedented political capital, ensured his unwavering popularity and also worked to India's advantage: both at home and abroad.

Also See: Trump to attend 'Howdy Modi' event: US president, seeking to burnish image ahead of 2020, banks heavily on Indian-Americans

Donald Trump likely to join Narendra Modi on stage during 'Howdy Modi' rally for Indian diaspora in Houston

'Performers are all show-offs': Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi quotes Elton John on Donald Trump joining 'Howdy, Modi!' rally

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