BY FRANK F. ISLAM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has returned home to India from his six-day visit to the US to reach out to the Indian American community, buttress US-India trade relations, speak in a number of forums, hold meetings with country and business leaders to reassure to encourage and promote investment in India. And do all of this while avoiding or minimizing speaking about Kashmir.
Based upon the results, it must be concluded that the Prime Minister’s mission was partially accomplished. The definite high point was the massive rally in Houston for the event titled “Howdy Modi!”. The definite low point was the discussion around Kashmir and on Kashmir at the UN and afterward. The other points fell somewhere in between.
More than 50,000 participated in the Houston rally where President Donald Trump joined Modi for the celebration. Both leaders expressed lavish admiration for one another while Trump essentially stuck to his prepared remarks and did not attempt to upstage Modi. The day in Houston clearly belonged to Modi and the Indian American supporters who were there to share in his and their glory. It was made even more special by the fact that the size of the protest in Houston against the Modi administration’s acts in Kashmir was much smaller than projected and the protest got very limited media coverage.
After that giddy start, many in the press were predicting that when Trump and Modi met one-on-one during the UN meeting in New York that a new “limited” trade agreement between India and the US would be announced. In spite of intense negotiations that were held among India’s Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, US Ambassador Kenneth Juster, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and others, those expectations were not met. The official perspective and word from both sides, as of this writing, is optimism and that there will be a “deal” of some type in the near future.
On the international relations and investment front, Prime Minister Modi and his entourage held more than 75 meetings. Their most significant and substantial business get-togethers were with representatives from 17 American energy companies in Houston and 40 multinational corporations such as Mastercard, Visa and Walmart at a roundtable in New York City. The press reports that there was considerable dialogue in these sessions. The only tangible outcome, however, was an MOU for $2.5 billion between India’s largest LNG importer Petronet and the American energy company Tellurian.
While Modi was in New York he was one of the many speakers at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum. He also received a Global Goalkeepers Award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for his administration’s Clean Indian Mission. The luster of that award was diminished somewhat by criticisms from some academics and Nobel laureates and the resignation of a Gates Foundation employee to protest the award due to human rights concerns in India and the issues in Kashmir.
In a 17-minute speech to the UN, Prime Minister Modi made no mention of Kashmir. Instead, he concentrated on celebrating India, the substantial progress that had been achieved on many fronts during his first term in office and calling for “peace and harmony” among the nations of the world.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke later at the UN and devoted nearly half of his approximately 50-minute speech to talking about India and Kashmir and criticizing Modi and his administration for what has transpired there. Among other things, he predicted, that “…when the curfew was lifted there would be a blood bath.”
Following Khan’s remarks, India exercised its rights to respond to his criticisms by having Vidisha Maitra, first Secretary in India’s Permanent Mission speak to the UN. In her remarks, she stated that India’s citizens do not need anyone to speak on their behalf “least of all those who have built an industry of terrorism from the ideology of hate”. She proceeded to call out Pakistan and Khan on many points.
The US visit represents a good start on the mission. To complete it fully and successfully, a mutually acceptable “limited” trade agreement must be struck; investor concerns about the Indian economy must be eliminated, and investments must start to flow in large amounts. Most importantly, the Kashmir situation must be resolved in a way that is beneficial to the citizens of that state and to the region as a whole. There must be true “peace and harmony.”
After all of that is done, Modi can say proudly and the media in India, the US and around the world can report correctly “Mission Accomplished!”
(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur and thought leader and civic leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)