The Sabarmati River Front (Picture: www.sabarmatiriverfront.com)
It is a good thing that China’s President Xi Jinping does not read Gujarati. If he did, he would be amused to be called Jhi Jhingping as an Associated Press photo of a billboard in my hometown of Ahmedabad in India shows.* Xi is visiting India and his first stop is the biggest city in the state of Gujarat, which also happens to be the home state of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
All stops are being pulled out for this important visit for not just the Modi government but India generally. As some media reports suggest “no stone is being left unturned” for the visit. I think it would be wise to leave many stones unturned in Ahmedabad because we don’t know what might be hiding underneath. Reports also say that the city has authorized spending 100 million rupees (about $1.6 million) to spruce it up for the visiting dignitary. These are highly choreographed visits and dignitaries get to see only what the hosts want them to see. In any case, what can President Xi really see during such a short stay?
Given their style of working, which has been described as self-centered and autocratic, when Xi arrives in Ahmedabad tomorrow he will essentially meet the Indian version of himself or, conversely, Modi will essentially meet the Chinese version of himself. In short, it is all good.
I would have liked to report on the Xi visit from Ahmedabad, if only to see how the two men grounded in unshakable self-belief come across each other. The newly developed Sabarmati River Front, a pet project of Prime Minister Modi when he was Gujarat’s chief minister, will feature prominently as a backdrop to the visit. Depending on whom you ask the river front project has been described either as a shining example of modernity or an environmental disaster. I have no particular point of view on such matters because I take them for what they are. The river front on the Sabarmati is already a reality. It would be pointless to debate its necessity now. Xi will be hosted to dinner on the river front inside specially erected tents. It happens to be the prime minister’s 64th birthday on September 17 and it is just as well that he celebrates it with Xi.
One notices a certain sense of urgency to the Modi government’s diplomacy. From quickly engaging India’s immediate neighbors on becoming prime minister to attending the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS)summit in Brazil to visiting Nepal and Japan to receiving Xi and then finally attending the United Nations General Assembly and wrapping it up with two-day talks with U.S. President Barack Obama at the end of September might give you a sense of global diplomacy on steroids. If one has to engage with the rest of the world, one might as well do it sooner rather than later. Once again, it is what it is like the river front. There is no point debating its merits or otherwise. The world is on real time and leaders have to respect that.
I will have the opportunity to cover the penultimate part of this diplomatic thrust when I visit New York and Washington to report the Modi visit. I have told some of my friends to keep calling me throughout September 29 and 30 for no apparent reason but only to afford me an opportunity to tell them, “I can’t talk now. I am at the White House.” It means nothing at all.
* I have not used the AP picture because I do not subscribe to the service.