From Wuhan to Buddha smiling in Delhi, a full week

In his churidaar and Nehru jacket in Wuhan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi looked every inch the successor of the first prime minister. No one else has worn the churidaar with such elan since, especially on foreign soil.

Written by Jyoti Malhotra | Updated: April 30, 2018 11:56:46 am
pm narendra modi, modi china visit, buddha purnima, wuhan, xi jinping, nehru, modi yoga animation series, indian express Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Saturday, April 28. (Yan Yan/Xinhua via AP)

Between warm wishes to all Buddhists on Buddha Purnima and his remarkable visit to Wuhan last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had an incredibly busy week. But he found time to put out this message on his Twitter timeline on the ‘shashankasana’ yoga pose that is the latest episode in the Modi yoga animation series:

In Wuhan, the prime minister, in his introductory remarks to Chinese president Xi Jinping, thanked him, saying, “I am the only leader for whom you have twice stepped out from Beijing.”

President Xi responded in similar words, welcoming him to China. For the next two days we were enthralled by the style and care with which the Chinese pulled out the red carpet for PM Modi. The walk along the East Lake, the slow boat ride on the Yangtze river across which Chairman Mao ever-so-famously swam, along with 5000 followers, in 1966, as well as the sprawling villa that Mao used for rest and recreation in Wuhan.

The outcomes of that Wuhan meeting will be parsed, analysed and criticised by various schools of thought for several weeks to come. One thing is clear: President Xi, having enshrined his code of conduct after the recent party congress in the Constitution, seemed intent on telling the leader of that other Asian power – Prime Minister Modi – that he was no less than the man whose diktats once shook both China and the world.

The PM held his own. In his churidaar and Nehru jacket, Narendra Modi looked every inch the successor of the first prime minister. No one else has worn the churidaar with such elan since, especially on foreign soil.

But the PM’s articulation of his own five-point mantra with which to deal with the Chinese – Soch, Samman, Sahyog, Sankalp, Sapne – have conclusively put to rest Nehru and Chou en-Lai’s own five-point Panchsheel incantation. In English, the PM’s five points translate to ‘Thinking, Contact, Cooperation, Determination and Dreams.’

The decision to have a joint Sino-Indian project in Afghanistan is full of promise, as is the decision to tell both armies that they must rebuild trust. Both Special Representatives on the disputed border have been “urged” to settle discrepancies. But there was no word on the result of 20 rounds of negotiations that have taken place since 2003, when the mechanism of the SRs was set up during former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Beijing. Certainly, there was no talk about why China backtracked on its own 2005 promise to agree to discussing the border.

Certainly, despite protestations to the contrary, the Wuhan summit was as structured and thought through as they come. From the musical welcome at the Hubei provincial museum when Chinese dancers and singers sang a Bollywood number to the promenades among the cherry blossoms to drinking tea on a teak swing with a gorgeous Chinese painting as the backdrop – what a far cry from Sabarmati in 2014! – Delhi and Beijing have clearly burnt the candle at several ends for several weeks.

None other than China’s ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui gave the game away when he tweeted after the summit:

If Indians are wonderstruck by the fact that a Communist Party senior official is playing that most capitalist of all games, golf, then it’s a measure of how little Indians understand the evolving nature of power in China. Perhaps the Chinese will put this down to yet another manifestation of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

Certainly, the Chinese ambassador could be the next Twitter phenomemon. His audio message on Twitter on the eve of Wuhan as well as throughout the summit, in impeccable English, is a sterling example of what diplomats can do to transform the stuffy world of international diplomacy.

Back in Delhi, as Prime Minister Modi fulsomely paid tribute to the Dalit convert to Buddhism, Babasaheb Ambedkar, on the occasion of Buddha Purnima, he also remarked that the day was also known as the Day that Buddha Smiled. The PM then went on to talk about how, under Vajpayee, India had joined the most exclusive club of nuclear weapon powers when it conducted two tests at Pokhran on May 11 and May 13.

Unfortunately, the PM forgot or didn’t pay attention to that first nuclear test in Pokhran on May 18, 1974, ordered by Indira Gandhi, on Buddha Purnima day. The story goes that nuclear physicist Raja Ramanna, who had got his piano lowered into a safe place in the shaft, would while away the time playing western classical pieces while Gandhi and her inner sanctum waited with bated breath as to the result of the explosion.

When the nuclear test was successful, a much-relieved Raja Ramanna transmitted the following message to Gandhi: The Buddha has smiled again!

It’s another story why Mrs Gandhi was subsequently forced by world powers to go back on her own declaration that India had become a nuclear power – she was forced to call it a “peaceful nuclear explosion” as western powers threatened the young, independent country with shutting down all aid, thereby paving the way for another prime minister, Vajpayee, to take the full credit for the 1998 nuclear explosion.

At least Vajpayee in 1998 gave full credit to all the leaders who had pushed through India’s nuclear programme, despite huge national costs, including Gandhi, emphasising that this was a national effort and not a party-political one.

But on Buddha Purnima, Prime Minister Modi forgot his Congress predecessor who started it all.

@jomalhotra

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