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Modi's paisa vasool US trip

By B S Prakash
June 30, 2017 10:33 IST
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'The choreography of the Modi-Trump hugs has already been much analysed: The curvature of the arm as it moves, the initiation of the embrace, the gaining of confidence as each hug is consummated.'
'Embracing comes naturally to us; we embrace everything and everyone, but it takes a master to extend it to a firm hand-shaker like Trump, and to literally bend him to your method.'
Ambassador B S Prakash assesses the Modi-Trump bonhomie.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

In the end, it was a total paisa vasool trip for tModi fans -- five hundred million at least, and Trump fans -- I am told that there are some.

Like a Karan Johar movie filled with feel-good factors: Glamorous locations, well dressed actors, not too much melodrama; the sets and the script were appealing: Polished oval tables, the legendary Rose Garden at the White House with its velvety lawn; 'cozy working dinner'; (which we did not get to see); the First lady in a bright floral yellow dress befitting a top model that she was; Ivanka in the black and white pant-suit befitting the global entrepreneur that she is; a mysterious and stone-faced Jared Kushner cast as Mr X; and smiles all around, handshakes and hugs.

Three hugs. Or maybe, two-and-a-half.

Make no mistake. The choreography of each of these hugs has already been much analysed: The curvature of the arm as it moves, the initiation of the embrace, the gaining of confidence as each hug is consummated.

The consensus among the slow-motion experts, the third umpires: It is Modi who is the initiator, but Trump is a ready responder.

Embracing comes naturally to us; we embrace everything and everyone, from cows to even Saddam Hussein, but it takes a master to extend it to a firm hand-shaker like Trump, and to literally bend him to your method.

Modi is now an acknowledged master of the optics and what the Americans term, the perfect 'photo-op'.

It does not matter if Arab leaders are a bit miffed; they thought that they had patented the hugs a la Arafat; we must tell them that they still can have the male 'kiss'.

The Saudis and the Qataris should try it with mutual benefit. And for world peace.

Enough about physical intimacy and personal chemistry, though take it from me, these are as important if not more important than the so-called substance.

But let us assess the 'talks', now, which hundreds of our channels and thousands of our 'talking heads' have done already.

With the US, the talk is always of 'friendship', even when we are not always 'friends in need'.

The first Trump tweet, even before the meet, had conferred 'my good friend' status on Modi.

Going beyond the individuals, the 'friendship' between India and the US is anadi and ananta as Modi may say, without a marked beginning or an end; timeless.

In the seventies we were being described as 'two estranged democracies'.

A decade back, we became, 'engaged democracies' and the breadth and depth of the engagement grew with as many as twenty groups 'working' (or at least talking) on everything from agriculture to culture, coal to nuclear.

With this visit, we have become 'Democratic stalwarts in the Indo-Pacific region' -- a big jump, becoming stalwarts, also 'responsible stewards' and taking ownership of the term 'Indo-Pacific'.

These references are from the joint statement, which has been under analysed, in my view, especially the larger strategic overview.

That is because, the consumer in India is always looking for a familiar item -- Pakistan.

To satisfy him, the incessant and obligatory, but yes, also necessary, condemnations of terrorism and criticisms of cross-border support to it were duly made, actually more pointed this time.

Trump is clearly against terrorism seen in American eyes as ISIS, Al Qaeda, and whoever else is killing Americans. (Is Iran killing Americans? Maybe not, but they qualify a priori.)

What about those with other equally dark cloaks --- LeT, JeM, HuM? They have been listed, a matter of some comfort.

We, the long suffering people have long learnt that terrorism is easier condemned than combated, but with Modi-Trump resolve, some showing of stick to the rogue State -- named this time -- is within the realm of possibility.

Before the visit, the conventional wisdom was that Trump is all about 'lena-dena', a Gujarati word that is translated as 'transactional' in English.

The cynics went further and said that with him it was all only about the lena, 'what is in it for me?'

Our diplomats must be congratulated for addressing this issue squarely and cleverly and identifying some dena items.

Trump seemed happy that India is indeed buying their 'beautiful' toys (as he proudly claimed 'nobody makes better weapons than us'); is in the market for 100 planes (When? Who?); with a little bit of bargaining, may buy liquid gas.

Working with the US, we can indeed find 'creative ways' to increase trade, a more important objective than balancing trade, a secondary goal. 

The H-1B visa, that subject of considerable concern to all of Indian middle class, or at least to all families with an engineer son, was not mentioned. In public.

Again, plenty of ground work had been done earlier by our IT majors, NASSCOM, and also by the American giants who dish out that goodie.

Perhaps a judgment had been made that some issues are best addressed by staying below the radar and thus on this matter of American dena, we did not invoke our lena.

In the telling of the story of the long afternoon at the White House, many 'firsts' are being identified: the first 'working dinner' under this President (another first for the Indian guests might have been a 'dinner' at six pm; and which Indian can eat at that hour?); the first occasion, when the entire Trump family came out in force to greet a visiting leader; the first time a second embrace was seen; the first time that Melania has smiled in public and so on.

I am told by not very authoritative sources -- they may be even 'fake news' or 'alternative truth' -- that some other programme elements were considered in planning the visit, but were dropped.

Such as conferring a honorary doctorate on Modi by the famed Trump University; the gift of 500 vouchers in Trump casinos, and from the Indian side the gift of a jewel encrusted sculpture of Gau Mata by a Gujarat master craftsman.

Of the jokes shared by the two leaders about how to treat the media, the media is not reporting.

Prior to the visit, there was also the apprehension about the after-meet-tweets.

So far, golden silence.

It has all been a 'Good job' as the Americans are fond of saying in their overall appraisal.

It is lucky that we cannot help Trump in solving the North Korean problem, as he may have frowned on our unhelpfulness, the way he views China off late.

But we have innovated a way to Trumpdom and should now start preparing the red carpet for Ivanka.

And trust our luck.

B S Prakash is a former Ambassador and a long-standing Rediff columnist whose earlier columns can be read here.

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