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Modinomics on His Mind, No Middlemen Please

NEW YORK: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a big bite off the Big Apple, he had business, and only business on his plate. At the iconic hotel Taj Pierre in Upper Eastside, it certainly felt like that Indians were taking over New York. The noise level in the circular Wedgewood Room was high, with the businessmen milling around noticeably buoyant in spirit, both figuratively and literally. “For the weekend, Modi is the king of New York,” said an American observer half-jokingly at the round subterranean room in the Tata-owned Pierre. It was filled to the gills with about 300 Indian businessmen, all of them schmoozing furiously at the reception of Confederation of Indian Industry. The American’s observation was to draw attention to the fact that though Modi was not physically present in the room, his presence in the US has drawn large groups of Indian business honchos to New York at this time of the year. As Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gave his shrill diatribe on Kashmir to a sparse audience at the UN, the only part of the subcontinent that mattered was Modi’s India.

NO MIDDLEMEN PLEASE:  It’s about money, honey. The main thrust of India’s Development Man during his visit is economics. Unlike previous prime ministers, India’s new CEO was clear that no corporate middlemen would be part of his team, neither would they be allowed to dictate his agenda or areas of investment. He chose to deal directly with CEOs. At an international meet, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had held long discussions with his counterparts of many G8 nations. The huge corporate delegation that was part of his contingent was furious. They harangued the Principal Secretary on the PM’s decision to deal with heads of state without them being present, since their business interests were involved. Manmohan agreed that they had a point. He included them in all further discussions. Not Modi. The Indian PM, unlike many other world leaders, is not accompanied by an official business delegation. Therefore, all of them had come on their own steam. “We wanted to bring in US and Indian businessmen together in one room and let them do what they are best at—build business to business links,” said a visibly-happy senior official, as he looked around the packed room. Members of the US State Department were present; mid-level though, but they were the main worker bees who ensured the success of every aspect of the PM’s visit.

IT’S ECONOMICS, STUPID: If there was an overlying theme of Modi’s foreign policy since he took over on May 27,  it has been his emphasis on the economic side,  rather than the political. “We have to re-orient how we look and assess success of the PM’s foreign policy. The old parameters are gone. Political issues no longer take primacy during visits,” said a senior government official. Modi’s diplomacy is unabashedly all about courting money for India. “It’s like what the Chinese did in the 1990s,” he said. The big players like Tata and Adani were not present in the room at the Taj Pierre, but the event was not about marquee names. “During Modi’s Japan visit, the CEOs forum was being held. This time, the bilateral CEOs forum meeting has not coincided with the visit,” said a senior official of the industry chamber, explaining the absence of the top Indian CEOs. But,  if you still want to be dazzled by business star power,  then standing outside New York Palace hotel on Monday would perhaps be the best venue.

US INC. WOOED MODI: Top US corporate eagles will be hastening to Modi’s door—all of them heads of Fortune 500 companies with a turnover equal to the GDP of a small country. The event will begin with a power breakfast on Monday. Eleven Chief Executive Officers including Google’s Eric Schmidt,  PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi and their counterparts from Carlyle Group,  Cargill Group,  Merck and Company,  Caterpillar, Warbur Pincus,  Mastercard and Hospira group would be sitting across Modi. This pleasant business repast will be followed by one-on-one meetings with the heads of six powerful US companies and investment groups: Boeing,  Blackrock,  Goldman Sachs,  IBM, KKR and General Electric.  These are by invitation only. “We knew which companies were interested or already had Indian business interests, so the Indian embassy wrote to them, inviting them to meet the Prime Minister,” said an MEA official.

The next day, Modi will be feted by 300-400 business leaders who will attend a reception hosted by the US India Business Council in Washington. The chairman of the council is Mastercard Worldwide head honcho Ajay Banga.

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