Thursday, June 13, 2024
HomeColumnsTavleen Singh writes: For Modi, G20 summit adds to personal prestige

Tavleen Singh writes: For Modi, G20 summit adds to personal prestige

This is not a column that deals with foreign policy, but it is hard for me to avoid writing about the G20 on the day of its summit in Delhi. Another compelling reason is also that it is the most important international conference I have seen in India. I have seen many in long years of covering politics and governance. Let me begin then by giving the Prime Minister full credit for understanding so well that this was a chance for him to project India as a country that has transitioned from being a shabby little socialist dump into a dazzling new superstar.

In the old days when we were weirdly proud of being a poor country, big world leaders when they landed in Delhi would notice how poor we were from the minute they landed at the airport. Delhi airport was no more than a grubby shed at that time and almost certainly did not have the capacity to allow so many private jets to land within hours of each other. World leaders, no matter how important, would be housed in government hotels and guest houses that reeked of various socialist smells. If they wanted to shop lowly officials would take them Cottage Industries on Janpath where they would be offered lowly handicrafts and textiles.

A great deal has changed since those socialist decades. Delhi has an airport that is better than most western airports and some of the finest hotels and restaurants in the world. And Modi’s G20 team has put its heart and soul into making Delhi dazzle with lights and fountains. It is a shame that security concerns turned the city into a fortress and that celebrated shopping centres and bazaars have been forced to remain closed. My foreign friends tell me that they have rarely been to a country that is as much of a shopping paradise as India. One of their favorite haunts is ironically Khan Market which has been made a symbol of all things bad by those who like to wear their loyalty to the Prime Minister on their sleeves.

Speaking of which I had a disagreeable encounter with some of them on X just before I sat down to write this piece. Someone sent me an old billboard of Modi standing at the forefront of a group of some of the world leaders who are in Delhi today that showed his approval ratings to be better than any of theirs. I saw it as the work of some zealous sycophant and posted it in the hope that someone would take it down. This provoked an ugly, belligerent onslaught from BJP trolls. I have said this before and will say it again, this lot does more damage to the Prime Minister’s image than anyone else. It is a team of trolls that needs to be disbanded.

Also Read | G20 beyond the Summit: The Delhi that world leaders will not see – but should

To return, though, to the G20 and its unexpected domestic fallout I would like to say that there are few places I have travelled to in India in the past year where I have not seen G20 posters. They usually have a picture of the Prime Minister with one of his sayings beneath it like ‘India is the mother of democracies’ or ‘one world, one family, one future.’ While travelling through rural Rajasthan not long ago I saw one such poster and asked the driver of my taxi what he knew about the G20. He said, “It is a group of very rich people who will come to India and bring lots of investment. Modiji has done a good thing by bringing it to India because it will improve our image in the eyes of the world.”

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It reminded me that during the last general election whenever I wandered into some village to ask why they would be voting for Modi once more almost everyone I asked said they liked that India’s image had improved since he became prime minister. Almost certainly in next year’s general election this will be a reason that will influence those voters who will vote for him a third time. There has been endless speculation among foreign policy experts on whether this summit will be able to come up with a joint declaration. It will not be an easy task because of deep divisions on the Ukraine war, fossil fuels, and who should pay for damage to the environment among other things. But whether there is a joint declaration or not does not matter.

Also Read | PM Narendra Modi writes: G20 will reach the last mile, leave no one behind

From the vantage point of India, the G20 presidency has given the Prime Minister an opportunity to show that India is not the country that it used to be. It no longer hesitates to speak for what has come to be known as the global south and it intends in the future to play a much more significant role on the world stage. There is no question that in the showcasing of this new India there has also been the showcasing of Narendra Modi and no question in my mind that this will work to his advantage when the next general election comes along. If he wins again there is no doubt at all that this year of endless G20 meetings in different cities and states across the country will be a factor.

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From Modi’s point of vantage, the summit that concludes today has already brought laurels and glory that will add to his personal prestige.

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