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PM reaches out to Americans but minces no words on engaging neighbours

comment Updated: Sep 29, 2014 00:39 IST
Hindustan Times

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States is going remarkably well.

Unlike visits to the US by his predecessor Manmohan Singh, Mr Modi’s visit has an air of pageantry alongside the more serious elements.

The prime minister has been greeted by enthusiastic Indian fans lining the streets of New York and Mr Modi has warmed to the festivity – comfortably segueing into a rock concert at Central Park and sharing the limelight with Hollywood’s A-list celebrities.

Mr Modi’s address to 50,000-strong crowd was a clever bit of public diplomacy to project India and himself to young Americans.

On the substantive side, the prime minister exhorted Indian American business leaders to invest in India and met New York’s mayor Bill de Blasio to discern trends in rejuvenating urban spaces, developing public housing and policing big cities.

The PM’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly understandably received a lot of attention. Mr Modi used the occasion to subtly reiterate India’s critique of global institutions and explicitly pronounce his views on Pakistan policy.

Taking a broad view of global developments – such as the surge for democracy and prosperity in the developing world and the “tensions and turmoil on a scale rarely seen in recent history” – Mr Modi questioned if institutions like the UN were operating effectively to handle contemporary challenges.

Interrogating the power balance at the UN Security Council, Mr Modi noted that nations continue to think in zero-sum terms while maintaining that destinies are interlinked.

He pressed for UN reform pointing that institutions of the 20th century would no longer be effective as “no one country or group of countries can determine the course of this world”.

Mr Modi also made some telling remarks on Pakistan, a day after his counterpart Nawaz Sharif criticised India for cancelling Foreign Secretary-level talks, besides reiterating Kashmir’s right to self-determination.

The PM was comparably restrained, saying he was “prepared to engage in a serious bilateral dialogue” with Pakistan provided there was no shadow of terrorism. He admonished Mr Sharif for raising Kashmir at the UN and said Pakistan ought to take its responsibility for creating an “appropriate environment” seriously.

In terms of their effects, Mr Modi’s remarks on Pakistan may well be among the key outcomes of his US visit.

Islamabad reacted immediately saying that it had a right to speak with Kashmiri separatists while conceding that such talks could be better timed. The India-Pakistan hiatus looks set to continue.