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All eyes on PM Modi's first international summit

By Sheela Bhatt/
July 12, 2014 02:30 IST
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Narendra Modi’s engagement at the upcoming BRICS Summit in Brazil will be keenly watched as the prime minister will interact with some of the world’s most powerful leaders.

The summit to be held in Fortaleza will also see the launch of the significant BRICS bank whose idea was mooted by India.’s Sheela Bhatt gives a lowdown on Modi’s first major international rendezvous.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leaving for Brazil on July 13 to attend the sixth BRICS Summit which is an ambitious and high-profile body consisting of Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa. Although PM Modi won’t have Finance Minister Arun Jaitley by his side, he will be accompanied by Minister of State for Finance Nirmala Sitharaman and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval during his trip.

The prime minister will remain out of the country from July 13 to 17, and the visit will be keenly watched as it’s his first international meeting after he took over the top post. Also, the visit will be under scrutiny by many to see India’s commitment to BRICS under the new leadership of Modi.

PM Modi will visit two cities of Brazil. He will be in Fortaleza from July 14 to 15 where he’ll attend the BRICS Summit. From there he’ll fly to Brazilian capital Brasilia where the BRICS leaders will meet South American leaders. PM Modi will also attend the India-Brazil bilateral meeting in Brasilia.

The prime minister is flying in a special flight to Brazil via Berlin where he will have a transit halt on July 13; and on his return journey his aircraft would make a technical halt at Frankfurt on July 17.

Unfortunately for PM Modi and other BRICS leaders, Brazil is in mourning after losing disgracefully to Germany in the semi-finals of the ongoing FIFA World Cup.

However, the geo-strategic importance of the summit is never under question. Recently, two major BRICS members -- China and Russia -- have signed a path-breaking gas deal worth $400 billion which took 10 years of negotiations and will survive for the next 30 years. After this geo-political tectonic shift, the BRICS leaders are meeting for the first time.

When Afghanistan is under transformation, when Iraq is boiling, when the United States of America has almost declared that it doesn’t want to be a hyper-power and when Russia is using its “energy power” to maximise impact in its neighbourhood and to deal with the West, the meeting of the chiefs of the BRICS countries has to be an important event.

The pessimists argue that except China, no other BRICS member has registered 6 per cent growth in the last couple of years and many Western commentators are saying it’s high time to rather give importance to MINT-- the association of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey.

However, the sixth meeting of BRICS in Fortaleza will make news because the BRICS bank is set to be launched to counter the clout of the International Monetary Fund. This idea was mooted by India.

The event will see all the heads of the BRICS countries -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Jacob Zuma, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and host Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff registering their presence and resolve to counter the current global financial order.

The flying time from New Delhi to Berlin and Berlin to Brazil’s Fortaleza is 17.30 hours.

PM Modi and his entourage will reach Brazil on July 14 at around 2:30 pm. Within two hours of his arrival two high-level bilateral meetings have been arranged on the BRICS Summit sidelines.

The first bilateral meeting will be between PM Modi and Chinese President Xi at the Gran Marquise Hotel in Fortaleza. The meeting is scheduled to last 30 to 40 minutes as it’s the introductory meet where customary talks of investment and other such issues will crop up.  Modi has, as the chief minister, given China sizeable opportunity to invest in Gujarat. This meeting will test the chemistry between the two leaders.

The next meet is at 7 pm with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Marina Park Hotel. Modi is familiar with Russia as he has visited the country before alongside former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The prime minister will speak in Hindi in his meetings with the presidents of China and Russia. He will use the interpreter in his all the bilateral meetings. 

Interestingly, the Prime Minister’s Office under Modi has broken the tradition of including 30 plus media persons in his entourage except journalists from two government-owned media agencies. In total there are seven media persons who will be accompanying the PM -- V S Chandrasekar from Press Trust of India, Naz Asghar from United News of India, Sudhir Kumar from Doordarshan and Meraj Uddin from All India Radio, apart from two camera persons from Asian News International and Doordarshan and one photographer from the Films division.

Officially it’s not known why PM Modi doesn’t want media men on board when his flight is big enough to easily accommodate 34 media personalities. Moreover, there are compelling reasons to cover his first official meet with the world’s two most powerful and charismatic leaders.

A senior government officer who was part of the preparatory meetings told that it’s possible that the Modi government doesn’t want to spend exchequer’s money on reporters who belong to cash-rich media houses. It wants media houses to pay from their pockets if they want to cover PM’s visit.

Another explanation doing the rounds is that after having the brute majority the government seems to believe that it can afford to keep media at arm’s length as Modi has done in Gujarat where the media was kept informed only when the chief minister wanted to. It was always a one-way street.

Modi likes to do business with the established media on 'need to know' basis, claims a senior journalist from Gujarat.

“Probably he wants to replicate the Gujarat model in New Delhi,” he adds.

With or without the heavy presence of Indian media the BRICS event is immensely important as it’ll see the launch of the BRICS bank. The “New Development Bank” which is supposed to counter the monopoly of the IMF will have $100 billion of capital within seven years. Each founding country will contribute $2 billion for the next seven years. The bank is set to start lending in 2016. 

After concluding the bilateral meetings with Brazil and South Africa’s president, PM Modi will meet leaders from Peru, Guyana and Suriname too amongst other South American leaders.

Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Photograph: Mukesh Gupta/Reuters

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Sheela Bhatt/ in New Delhi