Politics and diplomacy are poles apart. The former is the art of saying nothing while doing something, the latter practices the game of expatiating more than necessary. While politicians shout at each other to make their point, diplomats score victories through unspoken words and visible postures. This maxim was quite evident when US Ambassador Nancy Powell, of tomboy coiffure and pugnacious build, drove to Gandhinagar to meet CM Narendra Modi, who her country had been treating like a pariah for a decade. She didn’t utter a word to the media. Nor did Modi. But political supporters and opponents exchanged high-decibel verbal fire. Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid dripped sarcasm while observing he would “be interested in knowing what Powell tells Modi. In the past, countries on human rights have lectured us. It would be interesting to know what the US makes out of what happened in Gujarat”. The Congress appears to be convinced that the Powell-Modi handshake at this crucial juncture would swing the mind of voters in favour of the saffron party.
It was clear that diplomatic expeditions to Gandhinagar were acquiring legitimacy and significance. For the first time, political parties are gloating over foreigners endorsing their policies and personalities. Though there is hardly any commonality between politics and diplomacy, both swear to protect national interests. If Powell and other envoys before her had flown to Gandhinagar, it was meant to protect and project only the interest of nations they represent and not to promote their host or his political philosophy. The BJP leadership was vertically divided over the impact of Powell’s visit. Only those who directly or indirectly represent the interests of Dollar Power projected her sojourn as a victory for Modi. It is true that Modi has been resisting meeting the US representative at a place and time of her liking. According to party insiders, some Delhi-based Modi acolytes attempted to arrange a meeting between the two in Delhi. The idea of hosting a dinner where Modi would “just drop in” was proposed. But the Gujarat satrap torpedoed the plan, which led to panic in the US establishment. Finally they instructed Powell to fly to Ahmedabad. Though Modi has been seeking endorsements from Western powers and global corporations, he never allowed them to dictate terms. Tech-savvy campaign managers surround him. He has been enjoying the company of corporate czars. Besides attending packed, choreographed public rallies, Modi has not thrown away any chance to be seen schmoozing with the chatterati, who would dump him the moment he doesn’t make it to 7 RCR.
But the Americans also didn’t want to give the impression that Powell had exclusively gone to meet Modi. Before and after her visit, the US government made it clear that Powell has been on many pre-poll exploratory visits to many states and Gujarat was just one of her many halts to meet leaders of political parties. Interestingly, the Indian media made a big splash of the Modi-Powell parley but ignored a similar pow-wow she had with Congress leader Shankarsinh Vaghela. If she spent 45 minutes with Modi, she gave 40 minutes to Vaghela, having driven down to his home as well. He was much more forthcoming in his interaction with the media, saying “she had questions about the human rights situation in Gujarat and also wanted to know the probable scenarios in the event of either a BJP-led NDA or a Congress-led coalition winning elections”. Obviously, Powell had treated both leaders as equals. The US also announced that it looks forward to working closely with any government that the Indian people would choose. It announced that its ambassador would be meeting West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. It is tragic that both the foreign establishment and Indian elite believe that voters can be swayed by green room interventions of a foreign hand. They seem to have forgotten that the power to influence the democratic verdict has moved away from metropolises to the caste-infested small towns and villages of India. It is obvious that foreign countries, particularly the West, are taking extraordinary interest in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. While tourist traffic may have stagnated, there has been a sharp spurt in the number of known and unknown diplomats and lobbyists from many nations descending on India. Earlier they were totally dependent on local missions, which would confine interactions to a select group of opinion-makers with savoir vivre. The Delhi-based ambassadors are finding it difficult to gauge the mood of the people as a new class and breed of leaders have sprouted in various parts of the country. For Powell and her ilk, the rise of AAP and its leadership was an unforeseen miracle. Similarly they were living under the illusion that Modi and other regional leaders could be manipulated through self-appointed promoters in Delhi. Americans and their camp followers have been spending resources and efforts on sending some Indian regional leaders to Washington to be brainwashed, but these captive megaphones failed to deliver except for organising a few seminars and chatfests. Now, they are under pressure from their leadership and business lobbies to capture the real on-the-ground situation in India, which is a big money-making market. For America, it is more important to capture markets than territory. For this, it can go to any extent. If the US is willing to talk turkey with the Taliban, which is responsible for killing 3,000 American soldiers, it can walk the extra mile in any part of the world to protect its economic interests. Plenipotentiary tourism to India proves that even diplomacy has no permanent friends or foes. The only constant factor is getting more bucks using a fleeting fake smile accompanied by a tepid handshake.
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