Washington: Narendra Modi was dressed for the occasion wherever he went, but the diverse colours that the Indian prime minister donned on his recent US visit had one unifying theme – to win America. And this is being talked about even a week after his visit.
Landing in America’s financial capital in a smart casual maroon bandhgala and black pants, he got out of his car in front of his hotel to shake hands with delighted members of the Indian-American community chanting “Modi Modi” as anxious security guys scrambled to keep their charge safe
Then he switched to a more formal bandhgala suit for meetings with the city’s mayor and a Nobel Laureate cancer researcher. That was to be the pattern of Modi’s 100-hour action-packed whirlwind tour laced with symbolism.
Next day wearing his trade mark half sleeve Modi kurta and churidars with a grey shawl thrown on his left shoulder, he paid homage at Ground Zero where the twin towers of the World Trade Centre stood before the 9/11 attack, to show India’s resolve to fight terrorism and solidarity with Americans.
Switching to a formal blue bandhgala suit, Modi then took to the world stage with an address to the UN General Assembly choosing to speak in India’s national language, Hindi.
An Indian-American writer suggested that Modi through his fast for the Hindu festival of Navratri and the choice of his apparel was speaking in code his “Hindu nationalist” supporters, while another implied that he was cocking a snook to the American establishment that had denied him a visa for nearly a decade.
Be as it may, the US officialdom from President Barack Obama down also treated Modi no less as they broke the ice over an exclusive dinner at the White House. As they shared common experiences, Obama wondered how Modi kept up such a rigorous schedule on just a diet of warm water and yoga and told him how he himself enjoyed dancing during his 2010 trip to India.
So much so that as the summit ended with the two leaders giving a new mantra of “chalein saath saath – together we go forward,” Obama joined Modi on an unscheduled trip to the memorial of African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Modi had come full circle in just four short months. There lay the true significance of the Modi visit though some critics dismissed their joint statement vowing to deepen cooperation in from defence to nuclear to space to counter-terrorism to women’s empowerment and health as merely a rehashed ‘laundry list’.
What Modi himself has called a “hugely successful” and US officials branded as an “extraordinarily successful” journey was different from others before in more ways than just optics: the two sides have lined up a “pretty ambitious agenda of engagement” over the next nine months or so to translate words into action.