At a time when a hyper-ventilating Imran Khan is regularly issuing painfully imploring threats of a Indo-Pak nuclear war over Kashmir, Narendra Modi has decided to use the Gandhi shield to deflect the Pakistani verbal nukes by highlighting the teachings of the Mahatma and their relevance in facing the challenges confronting today’s world.
The ideal platform: a cross-regional event at the United Nations on September 24, titled ‘Leadership Matters’, where leaders from different parts of the world would speak on the uses of Gandhian idealism in today’s world. A star line-up of speakers include prime ministers Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and Andrew Holness of Jamaica, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and UN Secretary-General Antonia Guterres, who will all talk on how Gandhiji’s ideals have helped them deal with key crises in their lives. PM Modi will also speak.
World leaders will be congregating at New York from this weekend for the United Nations General Assembly, which begins from September 24, including PM Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan.
However, one of the highlights of Modi’s visit to the US will be seen beyond the UN General Assembly, at the “Howdy Modi” event being organised in Houston, Texas, by the Indian-American community. US President Donald Trump has also decided to be present at the event, making the already over-booked, immensely-hyped gathering a much more sought-after programme. The two leaders are also likely to have a bilateral meeting where a trade pact between India and the US could be agreed upon.
The presence of Trump at an essentially Modi event being organised by his supporters, with both leaders addressing the gathering, is significant in the prevailing situation. More than 50,000 people are scheduled to be at the Houston event and by sharing the platform with the extremely popular Indian premier, the US President, facing a reelection next year, wants to keep influential Indian-American voters happy. It’s to be expected that despite Pakistan’s desperate attempts to internationalise the Kashmir issue by begging US mediation, Trump is unlikely to say something at this juncture to embarrass India and its PM.
According to Union foreign minister S. Jaishankar, the community meeting on September 22 at Houston will be a “crowning moment” for Indian-Americans. “The diaspora is, of course, the forte and in many ways somewhat UNIque aspect of our foreign policy and that is underlined by what is coming up soon in the US, which is a big diaspora event in partnership with our Indian-American community,” he said. Addressing the media on September 17 to highlight the Modi government’s first 100 days, Jaishankar also stressed that Article 370 was an internal matter and the only issue to be discussed between India and Pakistan was the issue of terrorism that the neighbour continues to use as its foreign policy. “Pakistan is perhaps the only country to openly pursue terrorism as its foreign policy,” he added.
Indian officials feel the Pakistani PM and his team will act according to expected lines by highlighting Kashmir in Imran’s address to the UN General Assembly and during other interactions. Imran has reportedly lined up a lot of media interaction with leading news outlets during his New York stay.
Though Modi and Imran will both address the General Assembly on September 27 within hours of each other, the thrust of the Indian PM’s engagement will be much beyond Kashmir. Modi is scheduled to talk about climate change and interact with leaders, especially those from small countries in the Carribean and the Pacific Ocean islands. In addition, he will engage with leading investors to highlight India as an attractive investment destination. Many leaders from different parts of the world are expected to attend the UN event on Gandhi, marking the 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma, at the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) hall.
On September 23, Modi will also be one of the key speakers at the Climate Action Summit being hosted by the UN Secretary-General. Indian policy planners think that when presidents of the US, China or Japan are going to be absent from the summit on climate change, PM Modi, who had been trying to champion the cause, could take the lead in this crucial issue.
The India-funded solar panels at the UN office in New York.
The UN Office in New York has installed solar panels on its roof that have been funded by India. It can generate up to 50 Kilowatt power. Alongside the solar panels, a green roof covered with vegetation has been installed at the UN headquarters. Reports quoting the US-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis recently said that India would significantly exceed its 2015 Paris Agreement target of a 40 per cent share of installed power capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. They added that by that period India could have 63 per cent of installed capacity from such sources.
During his recent visit to Russia, PM Modi said that solar energy would play a big part in helping India’s aspiration to generate 175 Gigawatt of clean energy by 2022. India, he felt, could become a hub of solar power battery manufacturing. If solar power was used for cooking in the country, Modi had argued, there was scope for 250 million batteries, which could benefit the electric battery market through cross-subsidy. Some of these points are likely to be re-affirmed by the PM in his UN address.
Though the solar panels at the UN are installed, a Gandhi solar park in New York will be inaugurated by Modi on September 24. Next day, he will be the key-note speaker at investor’s summit that Bloomberg is organising, where he will highlight the ‘Make in India’ programme and invite investors to benefit from India’s growth.
In a significant departure from the past, when Indian PMs would restrict bilateral meetings with a few major world leaders at the UNGA sidelines, Modi has scheduled meetings with 26 leaders of small countries on two separate occasions. There will be a summit with members of the Carribean Community (Caricom) and a separate one with small islands of the Pacific Ocean.
These engagements are unique, for by positioning itself as a friend of countries whose voices are usually lost and their problems ignored on a huge occasion like the UNGA, India can ensure their support on issues critical to it. India also stands to benefit by helping them in areas of trade as well as hydrography and maritime security.
Most of these events will precede the address to the General Assembly by Modi and Imran. At a time when India has decided to take a step up the diplomatic ladder and project itself as a responsible international player trying to deal with global challenges, it is unlikely that PM Modi will confine his speech to petty issues concerning Pakistan. Indications suggest that if need be, a junior Indian diplomat might give a response to the diatribe that Pakistan is likely to unleash against India.
For now, the world may go along with India and accept the decisions taken by it on Article 37O purely as an internal issue. But this position might change to consternation if the lockdown in Kashmir goes beyond a point and the New Delhi leadership fails to restore normalcy in the Valley in the coming weeks.
With an economy that is showing little sign of progress, a bottled up Kashmir can prove to be a major diplomatic headache than it seems now.