Central & South Asia

A Cheat Sheet for Obama on Modi’s US Visit


Wikimedia Commons

September 25, 2014 20:02 EDT

Obama needs to disregard Washington’s India experts and woo Modi, who will achieve success with Indian Diaspora and US business.

The authors of this article have read with amusement the garbage being churned out by pundits in Washington DC. They tend to be ignorant, monolingual, whiter than white so-called India experts. An odd coconut, the term used for anglicized Indians who barely speak any Indian language, is thrown into the picture to make Washington seem more inclusive. Washington pundits have been preaching to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to build personal relations with US President Barack Obama, reach out to Capitol Hill and deepen political, economic and security ties. Obama could do well to ignore the whole lot of them because these pundits simply do not know what they are talking about.

The US State Department and the White House completely misread the Indian elections earlier this year. They did not anticipate Modi’s victory and failed to rescind the visa ban the US government imposed on him. The American media, including The New York Times and Foreign Affairs, carried a one-sided vilification campaign against Modi. For a country that is fanatical about markets, it is strange that Uncle Sam supported a corrupt dynasty that imposed socialism on the country and allied with the Soviet Union for decades. Even Wharton, a leading business school, canceled its invitation to Modi.

Conspiracy theories mention US support for the Nehru dynasty. Some believe it does so to keep India weak. Others believe this support may be based on the fact that Sonia Gandhi, the heir to the Nehru throne, is white. The reality is that the US is ignorant about India and the Ivy League elites who live in Washington’s echo chambers are more comfortable with courtiers of the Nehru dynasty who boast of an Oxford or Harvard education, purchased from the coffers they filled by robbing taxpayers. Rustic speakers of native languages such as Modi are too plebian and uncouth to engage with and are invariably ignored if not insulted.

Where is Modi Coming From?

Obama has to understand that just as he is the first African American president of the US, Modi is the first Indian prime minister who comes from a backward trading caste. Unlike Obama, he does not have the benefit of an elite legal education, but began as an entrepreneur selling tea by a train station. Furthermore, Modi comes from Gujarat, long the seaboard of India and the home of the country’s savviest traders. It was a Gujarati pilot who enabled Vasco da Gama to sail to India. So, it is important to remember that business, trade, commerce and enterprise comprise Gujarat’s DNA. Modi is culturally inclined to be business-friendly, and the huge Gujarati expatriate community will welcome the first prime minister from its state deliriously.

Modi won the elections by promising infrastructure, growth and jobs to a country where more than 50% of the population is under 25. Rising aspirations and sky high expectations have piled the pressure on the prime minister to deliver. He wants to build infrastructure, attract projects and get everyone to “make in India” as he declared in his stirring speech on August 15, the day India gained independence. Modi has inherited slowing growth, rising inflation and truly awful banks with a ton of bad debts on their books. He needs foreign investment in droves. That is why he went to Japan and welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping. Under Modi, the business of India will be business.

The US State Department and the White House completely misread the Indian elections earlier this year. They did not anticipate Modi’s victory and failed to rescind the visa ban the US government imposed on him. The American media, including The New York Times and Foreign Affairs, carried a one-sided vilification campaign against Modi. 

Modi’s main focus will be attracting US companies to invest in India. He will lay out the red carpet for US business. American companies are experiencing record earnings and are looking to expand in other markets. India, with its youthful aspiring population, presents a most attractive proposition. Already, Modi has set a scorching pace in approving infrastructure and industry projects. Under Modi, India’s central government has become far more transparent and efficient. He will facilitate more trade and investment. The prime minister’s goal is generating jobs and he wants US companies to set up shop in India.

What Will Modi Do in the US?

Too many Americans believe that Modi wants them to “rehabilitate” him or to make him “respectable.” This is delusional. Modi believes that if he is strong and powerful enough, the Americans will come around. So, whilst he will be unfailingly charming, Modi will focus on enhancing his “soft power” by reaching out to the Indian Diaspora through events such as his Madison Square Garden address. He calculates that if he wins the support of Indians in the US, then they will pressure their representatives in Washington to change tune on India.

Modi will make it clear to Washington that the balance of power is shifting from the Atlantic to BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — who have already formed a bank to rival the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both of which are exclusive white clubs. He will not make any political concessions to the US because Obama is not in a position to make large investments in India.

Modi arrives in the US on a strong footing. He has suspended dialogue with Pakistan and asserted India’s thin red lines. This has won him admiration. Modi’s US visit is a personal vindication after years of being shunned by the Americans. In contrast to Modi, Obama is in a weak position regarding foreign policy, in general, and India, in particular. The Middle East continues to sap US energy, making it impossible for the Obama administration to focus on India. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to New Delhi was a disaster because he appeared to be underprepared and distracted. The pressure is on Obama to put Washington’s best foot forward because Modi will be unfailingly pleasant but drive a hard bargain.

Modi is Different But Has His Compulsions

It is important for Obama to understand that India has its own tradition of political philosophy and ancient republics that go back to 6th century BC and beyond. Modi sees himself in that tradition and is jettisoning the Nehru model. Modi is arriving after casting Nehru’s beloved Soviet-inspired Planning Commission into the dustbin of history. This is a seismic change in the way India has functioned since its independence in 1947.

In Western terms, Modi’s economic beliefs would be termed as closer to classical liberalism as compared to other Indian politicians. He wants nations to keep doing business despite their differences. The US is upset with India because it threw a spoke in the wheel of the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks. India was not happy with the progress on food security issues. The US and western Europe have long manipulated emerging economies on most trade measures. The declarations on free trade are invariably benign but the fine print too often hurts poorer nations. These nations cannot afford a battery of expensive lawyers and end up getting manipulated by their erstwhile colonial masters. Hence, emerging economies are wary of trade and the WTO.

India’s spiking of the WTO talks confused Americans because Modi was supposed to be pro-business. He was even raising limits on foreign direct investment in defense. So, what was going on? The answer is simple: American presidents have to placate the corn lobby because primaries begin in Iowa. Similarly, Indian prime ministers have to protect farmers who decide the fate of any election in a still largely rural country. What happened was that Indian farming interests trumped the US farm lobby and the WTO talks collapsed. Obama, Kerry and their underlings have to get over their disappointment. The laws of electoral politics anywhere in the world are cast in iron.

Cut Out the Hype and Roll Up Your Sleeves

Modi is a bachelor who lives to work. He is notorious for working endless hours and being highly disciplined. Obama backed Manmohan Singh, the former Indian prime minister, who was a puppet of the Nehru family. Trained at Oxford, he was socially smooth and charmed the US president. Hyperbole was a hallmark of Singh’s foreign policy and he had a reputation of being awestruck by Western leaders. He was derided in India for his weakness but was a reassuring figure abroad. Washington has to understand that a Modi-led India will be more assertive and lose a bit of the cultural deference the US has become used to.

Modi speaks in cadences that the US has not heard before. He acts very much like the CEO, driving projects and expecting deliverables. He is the most charismatic Indian leader in decades and will not kowtow to anyone, least of all any US leader. Yet, Modi is a pragmatist who believes in the ancient Indian philosopher Kautilya’s idea of quid pro quo in inter-state relations. If he wants to strike deals with India, Obama needs to give Modi offers that are too sweet to resist.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons


Only Fair Observer members can comment. Please login to comment.


  1. Pawan

    September 26, 2014

    The Great American Hypocrisy. 1. USA reasoning for a Visa Ban on Modi still remains but now they are welcoming him? Why this change of stance without any logical reasoning. It shows USA is only doing things for its own interest and nothing else. Just because Modi becomes PM so all the reasoning for a BAN vanishes…..haahahaha what a joke.!!! What will the coming generation of USA would think about its countries leaders….will they respect them? No… is the answer. 2. Timing of Make In India campaign and India on Mars shows that India is serious business to the world. No one can take us lightly now. Our new generation knows what’s wrong and what’s right. We also know to voice our opinions now more strongly than ever. We have the stock of one of the most intelligent youths in the world. 3. A Leader once said that to make a country strong one has to have enemies and if a country does not have them it should create fake enemies…..so luckily I would say we already have few neighbours as our enemies, and that is making us stronger day by day. Sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise. 4. Modi is very different from our past leaders so America don’t take him lightly he really means business and he can go to any extent for his country India. He is a great dreamer and an emotional person who knows what he wants to do. He works harder than most of us and will surely deliver. 5. I do not think it is even appropriate to take the name of our neighbour nation which is more of a terrorist heaven and nothing else. That nation is even spoiling its coming generations by teaching them wrong history (in so called schools)…….soon they will be producing only donkeys and terrorists. You reap what you sow.

  2. A.V.Venkataraman

    September 26, 2014

    US may lead the world in scientific field and inDefense but it lacks very much in strategy and diplomatic cleverness. A country of this stature listened to a low class ,last in the rung of Nehru dynasty,simply by blood relation, without any capacity for leadership,Rahul, is a disgrace and shows the prejudice to race. Added to the shame was the secret mission of a third rate diplomat,Hillary Clinton, to Gujarat to personally verify whether mass murder of Muslims really took place and was hidden by Modi, and making herself a laughing stock after understanding that thecunning duo MOM and SON had played a degrading game. India was in the grip of Modi Wave and BJP was well ahead in popularity,could not be judged by a Super Power and went behind an insignificant person's advice that Modi was more dangerous than ISI, to say the least, is disgusting. Obama proved to be the worst President in many respects but denying visa to Modi, after the land slide victory,is the crown of his blunders. President of America is nobody to conclude whether a duely elected PM of a country is to be respected by US or not. At tha same time US should have known that Manmohan Singh was the weakest PM of India and his policies were detrimental to the nation,leading to all time record of scandals,corruption, stagnant growth of economy, staggering unemployment etc and he was a puppet of Dynasty. Overall PM of India will take India to an unprecedented level should have been clear and the earlier Obama realises this the better for both the countries .

  3. Deepa

    September 26, 2014

    Modi is at best an incompetent buffoon who failed to prevent the single largest massacre of innocent civilians when he was at the helm of affairs in his state. At worst, Modi is complicit in the murder of thousands. That's all anyone in this world really needs to know about this sorry excuse of a human being.

    1. Kumar Venkatraman

      September 27, 2014

      Hi Deepa, the Hindu newspaper is on the look out for immature students (UG, Grad or postdocs) to write opinion pieces in the OpEd pages. Ability to sound clueless is a must and I see evidence of that in your writing. Please do us a favor and apply to the Hindu newspaper. I can have the satisfaction of reading a rant-filled fun piece once in a while.

    2. Dhananjay

      September 27, 2014

      This tape is worn out but U can keep playing it to your delusional heart's content. It is precisely such attacks for 12 years that increased Narendra Modi's popularity. Sweet delusions ...

    3. Abha

      September 27, 2014

      Well Deepa, I do not know which universe you live in. But Gujarat massacre was preceded by killing of hundreds of Swayam Sevaks in a train. Not that people who bash Modi like to see anything other than Gujarat riots. Hindus were also killed in that massacre, but do we bother to talk about them. Single largest killing would be the Sikh Massacre after Indira Gandhi was killed, but it s convenient to forget or ignore them because they were not our favorite MINORITIES. India has a history of riots and in most places the killings are brutal and mindless. But the only person who needs to be responsible for the riots in his state is MODI. Logically the whole thing just seems like an left wing, pseudo intellectual, Nehruvian philosophy of congress to keep anyone other than themselves in Power. Feeding the nation on graphic images of selective news bytes, does not make it a truth. Instead dive in the reality and see what really happened. What the world needs to know is the following: 1. India is waking to a new reality, we do not let politician control our thought process anymore 2. Minority appeasement has run its usability course and will now attract disdain and anger from majority who are being ignored 3. Growth and success is all we really care about 4. Modi is amalgamation of billion of Indians dream, his vision drives us and will drive this country to greater heights. 5. Slaves of congressian era has no place in this transparent and efficient government system

    4. Mira

      September 27, 2014

      Its okay to be a stupid. But not so graceful to celebrate it in public.

    5. MG

      September 27, 2014

      What would you say if I told you that most other politicians in India are responsible for a minimum of lakhs of deaths through their bad policies and massive corruption? Those deaths ok for you?

Leave a comment

Support Fair Observer

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.

In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.

We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money.
Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.

Will you support FO’s journalism?

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

Donation Cycle

Donation Amount

The IRS recognizes Fair Observer as a section 501(c)(3) registered public charity (EIN: 46-4070943), enabling you to claim a tax deduction.

Make Sense of the World

Unique Insights from 2,500+ Contributors in 90+ Countries

Support Fair Observer

Support Fair Observer by becoming a sustaining member

Become a Member