It would be rather unusual for me to report an Indian prime ministerial visit to Washington and the United Nations in New York for a wholly rural newspaper. I intend to report Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s New York and Washington visits towards the end of the month for Gaon Connection, India’s first professionally run, high quality and now major award winning rural newspaper. I have written a column for the paper in Hindi but I have never reported developing stories in the language before.
It is hard to look for a specific rural angle to such visits which by their very nature tend to be focused on larger economic and strategic issues. If there is ever a rural dimension to them, it is generally in the form of an agreement related to agriculture which tends to impact the rural population directly. However, we now live in such a globalized system that it is no longer necessary to make a distinction between the urban and the rural since everything affects everything else. While there are specific pieces to any bilateral diplomacy, particularly what happens between India and America, which are full of consequences for the rural populace, by and large it is still governed by globalized national interests.
The upcoming Washington visit of the prime minister is unusual in the sense that it is spread over two days on September 29 and 30. I suspect an extended bilateral engagement between Modi and President Barack Obama is Washington’s way of exploring whether New Delhi can step up its international role commensurate with its economic profile. According to the 2011 round of the World Bank’s International Comparison Program (ICP), India overtook Japan as the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. The country’s share in the world GDP was 6.4% compared to the US (17.1%), China (14.9%) and Japan (4.8%).
There is a feeling in Washington that India’s position as the world’s third largest economy behind America and China does not quite translate into its involvement in global crises of the kind we are facing now. It is perhaps from that standpoint that an official White House statement about the visit makes specific global references: “The two leaders will discuss a range of issues of mutual interest in order to expand and deepen the U.S.-India strategic partnership. They will discuss ways to accelerate economic growth, bolster security cooperation, and collaborate in activities that bring long-term benefits to both countries and the world. They will also focus on regional issues, including current developments in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, where India and the United States can work together with partners towards a positive outcome.”
I have no particular intelligence or privileged information to say this but my hunch suggests that Obama expects India to step up its global role as its relates crises of the kind unfolding now. That could be one of the reasons for the two-day engagement. In particular, he might explore possibilities of a greater Indian role in the Middle East with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria running amuck there. I am not quite sure what New Delhi can do with its own unique set of problems arising out of the continuing versions of the so-called Great Game in Afghanistan/Pakistan region. I suppose Washington looks at the world’s largest democracy and third largest economy sitting in the strategic heart of a region that has become perennial source of its problems and wonders how to leverage India’s strengths. It is in this context that New Delhi’s steadfast commitment to charting an independent course on all global issues that frustrates Washington. While his reputation might suggest that Prime Minister Modi could change that course, my gut tells me that he is not going to make any significant departure. His primary mandate, as repeatedly highlighted by him, is India’s economic growth. I doubt if he would like to be distracted by stretching the country too much into the kind of crises which are eternal.