When Prime Minister Narendra Modi helps himself to a Madison Square Garden-style “grand reception” in the itinerary of his forthcoming visit to China, it makes one feel uneasy. The roadshow implies that Modi is seeking a great distraction.
China is a very important country for India’s foreign policy. When the BJP functionaries are sent as advance column to China, there is cause to worry for more than one reason.
For one thing, the Chinese government has already included a roadshow for Modi in his itinerary in President Xi Jinping’s hometown of Xian, which will be beamed live to India. On top of it, what is the need for a theatrical show at Shanghai, financed by India’s seven-star diamond merchants living in Hong Kong? It seems like a deliberate effort to distract the public attention in India.
Indeed, what is the big deal in cajoling 10000 faces to show up on a Shanghai square, like “nothing seen in China” before? Who is it that Modi hopes to impress? His hosts – or the Chinese people?
But then, China’s leaders have done away with mass gatherings once Mao Zedong passed away and the Cultural Revolution became history and the Chinese people’s revolutionary mood began transforming by the eighties. For the Chinese people, whose dream is to live like the average Americans do, they have a China Dream already, and they wouldn’t possibly need another one from Modi.
The heart of the matter is that we must learn from the purposive ways in which Barack Obama or David Cameron or Angela Merkel or Vladimir Putin plan their visits to China. They don’t depute party men as advance party to arrange crowds for them during visits abroad. Indeed, they have no time for useless, unproductive extravaganza. Most important, they don’t plan visits to China unless there is substantial business to transact.
Even if 100000 people – ten times the figure the BJP functionaries are apparently struggling to mobilize – do show up in Shanghai on May 16to watch Modi perform on a flashy stage, when the balance sheet of his China visit is drawn, there will still be severe stocktaking by thoughtful folks back at home. They will ask:
How far did Modi succeed in getting the relationship with China to substantially progress from the point when Xi visited India last September? What happened to the breathtaking railway projects that enable Indians to travel from Delhi to Chennai in half a day? Where is the $20 billion investment China promised? What is the status of the industrial parks that China proposed to establish in India? And, of course, where on earth is that famous “orbital jump” that was promised to resolve the border dispute between the two countries?
The truly dangerous part is that all this innovative China diplomacy could play into the hands of China’s brilliant diplomats to exploit. No doubt, they relish the fact that they deal with a non-state actor who is not only a greenhorn in international diplomacy and is not accountable but also has access to Modi’s ears.
They know precisely what they want from him and they know by now how to get Alibaba or the Xiaomi into the Indian market without having to circumnavigate the pompous Indian bureaucracy.
China’s diplomats are good at cutting corners and getting their job done in a political environment that lacks transparency. They do wonderfully well with the authoritarian leaders in Africa or Central Asia — and India is not any different. The bottom line is that Beijing has great clarity about what exactly it wants to do with India and its leaders, as China keeps rising.
All this leaves one perplexed about the Modi government’s foreign policies. Be it on the relations with Pakistan or with China, two of India’s most important foreign-policy templates, Indian diplomacy is meandering aimlessly, lost in trivialities or reveries.
It is not that the Indian foreign-policy establishment lacks professional skill or expertise regarding China. But the mandarins know when to keep their mouth shut and make way for the non-state actor who might well show up in South Block one fine day as the new boss.
Conceivably, Modi’s Chinese hosts would do whatever it takes to guarantee that our non-state actor puts together a brilliant show in Shanghai for Modi. They would only estimate that it pays to boost the credibility of the non-state actor, while also playing on the vanities of the visiting Indian leader whom they have known closely enough, after all, as a frequent flier to their ancient land, at a delicate juncture when his popularity at home is beginning to decline and he is under attack even from within his camp.