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The Tireless Prime Minister

By Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com
September 30, 2014 16:17 IST
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'There was never really a doubt, but now it can be conclusively stated that the prime minister has unusual mental and physical stamina,' says Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com who is covering Narendra Modi's visit to the United States.

At a reception at New York's Pierre hotel hosted in his honour by Indian Ambassador Dr S Jaishankar on Sunday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shook hands with around 600 plus people. He stood on his feet for two hours. He ate nothing and just had a glass of water. Modi is fasting for Navratras.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with Indian Americans at the reception hosted by Indian Ambassador Dr S Jaishankar in New York on Sunday, September 28. Photograph: PTI Photo

Modi allowed people to take photographs with him. He also posed with junior officers at the Indian consulate in New York. There was never really a doubt, but now it can be conclusively stated that the prime minister has unusual mental and physical stamina. It was however, awkward for guests to tax the prime minister when he is surviving only on water.

***

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj arrived in the US on September 24 by an Air India flight. She was in the first class while her secretary and lady assistant were in economy.

Throughout the 14-hour flight, Swaraj didn't speak to fellow passengers except an officer from the Prime Minister's Office and another government official traveling on the same flight.

Former US President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meet with Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at the New York Palace Hotel on Monday, September 29. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Since assuming office Swaraj steadfastly refuses to speak to the media. Only once she has shared her views at a press conference in New Delhi.

I tried in vain to say hello to her on the flight, but was rebuffed after four attempts. The lady is on the move and keeping a safe distance from the media.

Her strategy is working well as Modi remains in the limelight and she chugs along silently and firmly.

For proof, just see Modi in the photograph where Sushma laughs heartily with Hillary Clinton. It explains why Sushma avoids the media.

***

The most outstanding feature of Modi's visit so far is that Indian Americans are wielding their clout and money power to ensure that US Congressman and Senators whom they support are in full attendance at Modi's events.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with American CEOs at a breakfast meeting in New York. Photograph: Mohammed Jaffer/SnapsIndia

Indian Americans are strategic donors and that means something for a US politician, especially at election time. US Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Joe Crowley, the New York Congressman, among other, spent almost half a day with Modi.

Some 40 US politicians -- Senators, one Governor, Congressmen -- spent three hours at Modi's Madison Square Garden event and many were present at Sunday's dinner which went on and on because Modi decided to shake hands with all the guests.

***

At Ambassador Jaishankar's dinner, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal, a Gujarati, wore her Anarkali. Also present were Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Punit Talwar and Assistant Secretary and Director General of the US and Foreign Commercial Service Arun M Kumar.

The trio have done a lot of hard work for Modi's visit. A well-deserved presence.

***

The idea of serving only vegetarian food just because Modi is a vegetarian is stretched to the limits at all his events. The Air India crew and the eight journalists travelling with Modi on AI-001 have been forced to turn vegetarian.

At the Pierre dinner, Ambassador Jaishankar didn't serve alcohol nor non-vegetarian delicacies. Some juice and papadam came by in the first round; the vegetarian main course was served in small quantities. Some Punjabis present at the Pierre found the ghas-poos indigestible.

***

Modi has stunned many Indian diplomats. All of them say they have never seen anybody like him. He meets so many people in one day that they are unable to keep track and follow protocol.

At the New York Palace Hotel, Modi's living quarters were on the 52nd floor while his meetings were on the hotel's fouth floor.

Modi met old Gujarat colleagues, some doctors and people who had ferried him in the US during the 1990s when he was 'banned' from Gujarat after his political tussle with then chief minister Keshubhai Patel.

***

Modi's meetings with Namrata 'Nikki' Randhawa Haley, the governor of South Carolina, and Tulsi Gabbard, the US Congresswoman from Hawaii, were interesting.

Modi has been meeting US politicians who will likely have a long shelf life in American politics. As a former diplomat put it, "Modi is looking beyond Obama." Haley, 42, could well be a nominee in a future US presidential race.

US Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard calls on Prime Minister Modi in New York. Photograph: Mohammed Jaffer-SnapsIndia

Gabbard and Modi clicked well. Tulsi, who is just 33, has never been to India, but she is a devout Hindu. She has served in the US Army and has had one tour of Iraq and one tour in Kuwait. Like Modi, she is a strong votary of counter-terrorism measures and the prime minister has invited her to visit India.

The first practicing Hindu American in the US Congress, she took her oath on the Bhagwad Gita and gifted that copy of the Gita to Modi.

Haley will visit India in November. She came prepared and wants Indian jobs for her state. She wanted joint ventures in the pharma sector and told Modi about the Boeing plant which relocated to her state.

***

Modi surprised members of the media based in the US when he invited them for a meeting. The encounter was strictly off the record and went on for 30 minutes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

At the meeting Modi tried to present his softer side. He joked with journalists and insisted that he does not have an aversion to the media. He claimed he meets journalists in New Delhi, but does not give them headlines.

The journalists who interacted with Modi are still debating who the real Modi is.

***
Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani are business rivals on the Gujarat turf.

Both billionaires were seated at different tables at the Pierre reception. Ambani was at the lead table along with Modi, Sushma Swaraj and Pepsico Chairman Indra Nooyi. Adani was at the next table.

Many who boast of a personal friendship with Modi in New York and elsewhere in America didn't get the prime minister's attention. Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vijay Jolly got five seconds when he went to shake hands with the prime minister.

  • Please click here for full coverage on Prime Minister Modi's US visit.
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Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com in Washington, DC
 
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