Conventional diplomacy is passé in Modindia today. PM Modi is disdainful of dipstick diplomacy, which is high on hype but low on delivery as the opulent optics of the Ivanka Trump visit showed. Development and India Power are the twin towers of his policy outreach. The PM is the Father of Bizplomacy — a new paradigm in international relations where corporate clout and geopolitics are not separated at birth.
After around 40 months in office, Modi seems to have realised that a valid business proposition to the US has more real time significance than a diplomatic hug or a hollow handshake. Modi’s visible preference for American options is an indication of India’s shift from multi-polar parleys to singularly commerce-led international connectivity. From the number of his US visits and the expanding carbon footprint of American business and political leaders to India, America and Americans are the flavour of Modinomics and Modiplomacy now.
Last week in Hyderabad, the PM was at his charming best, playing the perfect host to a powerful, high profile American businesswoman and showing his clout as the patent promoter of Brand New India. Over 1,500 entrepreneurs from 159 countries had been jointly invited by the governments of America and India to parti-cipate in the 8th Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in Telangana’s capital. The 400-strong US business delegation was led by Ivanka Trump, the 36-year-old daughter of President Donald Trump. Modi set a new precedent for protocol by throwing a lavish official dinner in her honour at the Taj Falukhnama hotel and held a one-on-one dialogue with her.
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, India’s Ambassador to the US Navtej Singh Sarna and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar were in attendance. The Indian media was engaged in competitive adulation of POTUS’s elegant offspring. At the end of the three day extravaganza, it was evident she came and she spoke — but hardly conquered the hearts of those who came for. Obliviously, the main purpose of the event was to maximise the message of her maiden visit to India and Modi’s desire to consolidate his personal relationship with the first family of the world’s most powerful nation. Modi accepts her as a dynast with corporate and political lineage with the potential to endorse brand India to the world.
Officially, Ivanka’s status in the White House hierarchy is vague. She flies with dad for most of his foreign visits as a member of the official delegation. The ride has always not been smooth. Once she was fustigated for taking her father’s chair at a G20 meeting. However, nowhere has she received such high levels of protocol pampering as the red carpet welcome from the Modi government. At home, Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner are known for their business acumen rather than diplomatic skill.
Yet in India, where dynastic connections automatically invite barbs, her status as a perceived influencer in the US business environment had made her the toast of the Indian establishment. However, the conspicuous absence of many leading American women entrepreneurs and corporate honchos did not go unnoticed as huge contingents from both India and the US too, comprised only middle level business leaders. Evidently, Modi’s plan is to reach out to future generations of capital creators and not the current ones.
Ivanka expectedly fits the type of today’s enlightened businesswoman. At the Summit speech, she championed the empowerment of women and gender equality as the most effective tools of wealth creation. Lines like “having diversity is better business. It’s, therefore, a fiscal responsibility of businesses to their shareholders to balance the gender gap in the labour force,” and “Just consider, if India closes the labour force gender gap by half, your economy could grow by over $150 billion in the next three years,” were indicative of Ivanka’s business mindset.
Her charm diplomacy did not go unnoticed as she chose the right words to describe her magnanimous host. Acknowledging the principle behind Modi’s rise to power, she said, “What you are achieving here is truly extraordinary. From your childhood selling tea to your election as India’s prime minister, you’ve proved that transformational change is possible,” Modi’s response, however, had diplomatic undertones, as he waxed eloquent about India’s friendship with America and not much about Ivanka herself.
While the PM and his team were successful in showcasing India’s ability to create business opportunities, the Summit was an opportunity for Ivanka to better her knowledge of the current economic environment in the country where the $3.5 billion Trump Empire has high stakes. Even before the pugnacious billionaire became the US Presidential candidate, his real estate companies had signed deals with Indian developers for using the Trump name on their projects. Could it be sheer coincidence that the promoters of two of the five projects are well connected with the BJP and NCP? Following the usual American business model, Trump is not investing greenbacks in these projects based in Pune, Mumbai, Kolkata and Gurgaon. He is only lending the prestige of his name and charging huge fees for it.
America is the world’s most attractive commerce and business destination. Ever since Modi assumed office in 2014, India’s exposure to the US markets had been spreading at a very high rate. India has been expansively liberal in ploughing back its burgeoning pile of dollars. With over $400 billion in foreign exchange reserves, Indian investment in the US Treasury bonds has also shown unusual growth. Its holdings have risen by over 100 per cent since the BJP came to power at the Centre. From $67 billion in 2014, Indian investment rose to $145.1 billion in 2017.
A data analysis reveals that the Reserve Bank of India’s confidence in the US treasury bonds grew exponentially from June 2014 onwards. Treasury department figures show India’s exposure to the US securities has been rising constantly since January. The RBI has justified this trend on the grounds that the US market is much more remunerative than European markets. Clearly, Modi doesn’t perceive politics as just power play. By meeting and hosting business leaders like Ivanka, he is set to prove that good business makes even better domestic politics.