Narendra Modi is turning into Asian Phenomenon
Since 2002, sections of the commentating classes in New Delhi perceived Narendra Modi as someone who spent his waking hours punching pins into voodoo doll replicas of political opponents. As such, pictures of the Prime Minister smiling and waving at crowds in Japan or playing the flute for children have left these sections in a state of shock.
Rather than go into the tired issue of whether Modi has changed - he hasn't; he was always like this, ask anybody in Gujarat who doesn't begin his or her morning re-reading old issues of Communalism Combat - or whether his critics will ever change, it may be better to make an assessment of Modi's diplomacy and ask if a distinctive style is emerging.
In three countries - Bhutan, Nepal and now Japan - Modi has had an obvious impact on crowds and evoked a spontaneous response from common people. In this writer's interactions with multi-stakeholder groups - not just government delegations - there is an interest and curiosity about Modi among ordinary citizens in a host of other countries including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, China and Pakistan. In some cases, this is occurring despite deep-seated apprehensions and scepticism about India or about the Modi government.
Why is this happening? Obviously the Modi narrative of the tea-seller's son who made it to the Prime Ministry, of the boy from nowhere, the self-made man without a famous surname and matching bank balance who united a diverse, chaotic society and won the biggest mandate in 30 years has resonated beyond India's borders.
It is noteworthy that all the countries mentioned above - from developed Japan to underdeveloped Nepal - are plutocratic polities with the upper echelons of power still dominated by inter-connected clans and families. Indeed, despite the spread of democracy, the experience is similar in much of the world. In this context, Modi's achievement of breaking glass ceilings is being admired. Whether some people admit it or not, it is making him an Asian phenomenon.
Modi is not the first Indian Prime Minister to arouse genuine popular acclaim in countries of the neighbourhood and region. Jawaharlal Nehru was recognised as the elder statesman of Asia. In the mid-1980s, Rajiv Gandhi, as the handsome young hope after a generation of tired, cynical politics (ironically the creation of his mother) excited the world community as well.
Yet, where Modi stands out is in his social origins and economic background, and in his ability to win a parliamentary majority in a much more competitive electoral environment than Nehru or Rajiv ever encountered. Non-Indians respect this; societies tend to respect democracy, even (or especially) if they are not themselves democratic.
Indian soft power comes in many shapes and colours. Its best expression is the presenting of India as an open and essentially fair-minded democracy, which gives people opportunities and is a meritocracy insofar as it is possible for a society to be optimally meritocratic. Modi's rise is emblematic of this aspect of Indian soft power.
Modi may have surprised a few analysts in being at ease and entirely unselfconscious in his international engagements. In a sense, this reflects the increasing trend in India - as elsewhere - to consider domestic politics and foreign policy as a continuum, rather than existing in separate, watertight silos. The age when foreign policy was shaped by a small elite in New Delhi, unaffected by provincial concerns or domestic pressures, is long over.
That this dichotomy is just not sustainable became obvious over the past decade, as Manmohan Singh and his key confidants such as Montek Singh Ahluwalia consistently over-promised in terms of economic, trade and diplomatic measures. To be fair to him, Singh was always looking over his shoulder at his party bosses and appointing authorities.
He had to be cautious and careful with his speeches and his text because, to borrow from the old Bee Gees song, "It's only words. And words are all [he had] to take [their] heart away". He simply didn't have the political clout beyond the text he was reading. In time the world began to see this, and began to move on.
The promise of Modi is not the promise of words - or of just words - but of delivery. It is the belief, among international interlocutors and audiences, that his views carry weight because these views - and Modi himself - represent a political constituency and reflect the democratic voice of India in 2014. That he can speak freely and for himself, empowered as he is by a popular mandate, has also allowed Modi the freedom to go by his instincts when he leaves India or when he meets global leaders. Japan appreciated this; in the coming weeks, it will be America's turn. more
G.K.Naidu, Hyderabad more
Modi will emerge the Global Leader the world has not seen before. He is a "Thought Leader" and we all need to forget our differences and put our mind and thoughts together. This Golden Opportunity is GOD given gift and should not be wasted in petty politics and speculations and rumours and instead used for NATION BUILDING! more