Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been given a red carpet welcome in Ahmedabad at Gujarat. This is not the first time that a foreign dignitary after an initial stopover at the national capital was taken to Modi's state of Gujarat. The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe paid a visit to the western state too. As did the Chinese premier Xi Jinping in 2014.
It leaves us wondering why these visits to Gujarat is being so strongly encouraged. And, why the foreign dignitaries agree to visit the state amidst a tight itinerary. What appeal does Gujarat, or more specifically, Ahmedabad hold for both the parties?
Ahmedabad is not India's political nerve center, New Delhi is. Ahmedabad is not the place where the IT industry flourished as is the case with Bengaluru. Nor is Ahmedabad India's business capital; a mantle given to Mumbai for a longest possible time now.
Then why Ahmedabad?
Foreign dignitaries visiting the US limit their stay to Washinton DC. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited NYC after his initial meeting with President Obama in DC. But that is because of the large diaspora of Indians present in the tri-state area of New York-New Jersey-Connecticut. It was not a visit organised by the Obama administration. It was Indian businessmen who organised it. The same thing can be said about Modi's visit to the Silicon Valley. It was an Indian initiative spearheaded by Indian corporate honchos in the US.
But Gujarat does not have either a large Israeli, Japanese or a Chinese diaspora. It is cities, such as Mumbai and Delhi which have flourishing Chabad Houses where thousands of visiting Israelis stay put every year.
Decades back when Nehru visited the US, he did take a detour to visit Albert Einstein. Again, a personal visit, undertaken to converse with one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. Also, the Jewish question needed discussion. Einstein, an active proponent of the Zionist cause, wanted to convince Nehru of the need to support the cause of Israel.
Many political analysts wonder whether Modi is going back Gujarat to give these powerful heads of state an idea about his root.
It does not seem so. While the modest youth of Modi makes a good fuel for political quibble within India, it does not have the desirable impact at the international arena. Bilateral relationships function better between equals, involving very powerful people. The Language of Power rather than the sympathy card is more effective under the circumstance.
If Modi is taking these dignitaries to Ahmedabad, it is to show what he is capable of achieving. Ahmedabad has evolved into swanky city with polished roads, disciplined traffic, shiny public transport. It is a revitalised city, almost creaseless. A poster-boy of Modi's development model.
Ahmedabad represents Modi's future plan for India. It shows India's enterprising nature at its best. Leaving behind its more conflicted past, Ahmedabad emerges as India's global city with deep cultural roots. Its identity is very much Hindu, very vegetarian, very businesslike.
This unique combination of cultural nationalism with business success is what distinguishes Ahmedabad from Bengaluru.
Bengaluru is far too cosmopolitan. More importantly, it is not the creation of Modi.
The roadshows with prominent dignitaries on streets of Ahmedabad comes with a strong visual message. Modi is announcing to his fellow citizens and, actually, to the world that India is not going to linger any longer in the waiting room of development. India has, in fact, arrived.
What better place to announce that other than the city of Ahmedabad-the workplace of the Father of the Nation. In one masterstroke, Modi connects his personal achievement with the most glorious saga of India's independence movement.
Somewhere, imperceptibly, India and Gujarat, Gandhi and Modi, Gujarati asmita and Indian nationalism get merged.
That perhaps is the unstated goal.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)