rom the time Narendra Modi proffered local dignitaries in Beijing a brand-new Mandarin language visiting card — coloured the favourite red of the Chinese Communist Party for good measure — to the voice-over of his video presentation (which was in Chinese rather than as usual with Indian presentations, in desi English), it was clear that he had researched his hosts as thoroughly as they had studied him, probably a first for Indian politicians visiting the Chinese capital.
Modi, who landed in Beijing on 9 November with an entourage of nearly two dozen business leaders from Gujarat, is not the first Chief Minister to come at the invitation of the Central Committee of the CCP. Just this year, Nitish Kumar was here on the same invite, as were B.S. Yeddyurappa, Y.S.R. Reddy, Tarun Gogoi and even Haryana's pride Bhupinder Hooda in past years. However, none of the others came as prepared as Modi obviously was to charm his hosts.
Although modestly denying any national ambitions ("I am here to serve my state of Gujarat"), he was pointed in drawing attention to the fact that his state was achieving a growth rate of 12%, with even the agricultural sector clocking a record-breaking 10% last year. And at 40%, the urban population of Gujarat is closer to China than to the rest of India. He claimed that Gujarat was "the Guangdong of India", the province that had kicked off economic reform in the PRC in the 1980s. Listening to his recital of the state's achievements, one of those present whispered to his neighbour that "Narendra Modi may be the Deng Xiaoping of India", should he become the Prime Minister, thereby placing Modi in the flattering bracket of the visionary who steered the reforms which transformed China within a generation from a Third World country to a superpower.
His hosts seemed to agree, for Modi had a meeting in Beijing with Politburo member Wang Gang, who for years was in charge of the General Office of the Chinese Communist Party, the crucial job which oversees the working of the giant party that has run China since 1949. In Shanghai, once again his interlocutor is the Party Secretary there, also a Politburo member, and in his last port of call, Chengdu, once again he will have a long meeting with the Politburo member from that metropolis. Clearly, the Chinese are in no mood to follow the lead of the US or the EU, both of which continue to deny a visa to the Gujarat CM.
The first nine (out of the top ten) priorities of the CCP is economic development, and Modi made it clear that he had the same regard for the business community as Deng had. The entire business delegation sat in on all his meetings, unlike during those of his predecessors, where businesspersons were made to wait outside while the political bosses conversed. Modi emphasised that as in the prosperous parts of China, in Gujarat there was a business-friendly administration, with quick clearances. And unlike China, Gujarat was a location where bribes did not need to get paid in order to win orders. He invited Chinese businesses in, but in a way "that met the needs" of the country and the state, clearly conscious of the publicity at home (which one of his group saw as masterminded by a few BJP "friends" of Modi in Delhi) that he was selling out Indian business to the Chinese.
It was not all economics. In his discussions with Wang and party notables such as the mayor of Beijing (one of the most powerful people in the CCP), Modi pointed to the disquiet in India at "Chinese activities in PoK", and to perceptions that "Pakistan was using China against India". He warned his hosts that playing to the tune from Islamabad would damage all ties with India, including the lucrative business deals that Chinese companies in infrastructure, telecom and energy are seeking to conclude. Modi was also pointed in saying that "in our country, show our maps, not yours", in a reference to the diplomatic faux pas made by the Governor of Xinjiang when his maps showed the Indian state of Arunachal and the territory of Aksai Chin as part of China. He also brought up the arrest of several diamond traders from Gujarat, saying that such ill-considered actions by the police damaged the enthusiasm of Indians to do business in China. His hosts were polite in their silence over such unusually frank criticism.
Whether Modi becomes the Deng Xiaoping of India is a matter for the fates to decide. Within his party and outside, the obstacles to such a future are huge, not least the unforgotten ghosts of Godhra. However, what seems clear is that his Chinese hosts have seen in Modi a possible future where India becomes the equal of China, and not a resentful pygmy always griping about Big Brother.