There is a good reason, which will soon become apparent, why I begin this article with a long quote from a story in The New York Times. It covered the reception the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, received at an event organised by the large Indian diaspora in the US. “They wore his face on their chests, waved it on posters, chanted his name and quoted his slogans, 19,000 fans drawn to a single star. His image stared down from the big screen at Madison Square Garden and emerged on canvas in a live speed-painting onstage. And when the man himself emerged, the capacity crowd on Sunday, September 28, in New York’s most storied arena roared as one. ‘Modi! Modi! Modi!’ the audience chanted, drowning out the announcer’s attempt to introduce the man who needed no introduction: Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, whom 19,000 people had travelled from around the country and Canada to see speak on his first visit to the United States since being elected in May… The event was broadcast live around the world and watched in ‘super Modi’ parties across the United States.”
Pakistan’s prime minister was also in New York at the same time for the opening session of the UN General Assembly. The large Pakistani diaspora in the US made no attempt to project their country by suitably greeting the Pakistani leader. Instead, there was a crowd waiting for him outside the UN that shouted “go Nawaz go”. These two very different receptions speak volumes about the political situations in the two countries and how they are perceived by the world outside. Nawaz Sharif’s reception was obviously the consequence of his political troubles at home. He was faced with the demand from two different groups, the PTI and the PAT, to resign his office.
These different treatments of the two visiting South Asian prime ministers reminds me of the question I was asked by LK Advani when I visited him years ago at his home in New Delhi. Advani asked me about the way the Pakistani expatriate community wrote about their country. “A lot of this writing is very negative and I find that puzzling,” he said to me. “If you read our newspapers, you would have seen that we don’t spare each other in domestic discourse. But outside the country, we see ourselves as the nation’s ambassadors, protecting our image and advancing our reputation.” That, he thought, was not the case with the Pakistanis living outside their country.
One extremely negative consequence of the 2014 protest movements in Pakistan is to increase its isolation. Ever since the country came to be identified as one of the world’s most dangerous places, it has been shunned by foreign visitors, investors and airlines. It is worth noting that while speaking at the Madison Square Garden, Modi asked each of the three million or so members of the Indian community in the US to encourage at least 10 American friends to visit what was once their homeland. This will mean an additional 30 million tourists to India, which would make a large contribution to the Indian economy. The Indian prime minister was correct in underscoring that tourism creates the kinds of jobs his country needs the most. Tourists would want to eat local food prepared by local cooks; hire taxis and rickshaws to visit local sites; and buy locally produced goods. Tourism, in other words, would bring employment for the relatively less well-to-do, creating the kind of jobs that would not be done by large firms making large investments in large projects. Asking the Indian diaspora to produce tens of millions of additional visitors to their former homeland, would not produce the kinds of number the prime minister had in mind. But his suggestion had an impact of the type he may not have expected. It gave a strong message to Indians in the US to promote the attractive side of their homeland by giving the right impression to their American friends. By having the ‘Modi story’ picked up by major newspapers in the US, the prime minister did a lot of good to his country. The opposite was the case with the reception given to Prime Minister Sharif.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2014.