What will be Narendra Modi’s mantra for the United States?

Modi doesn’t leave the country without a slogan in mind.
Modi doesn’t leave the country without a slogan in mind.
Image: AP Photo/Saurabh Das
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We don’t know it yet, but before Narendra Modi sets foot on US soil, he will have finalised in his mind a mantra. A slogan that to his mind captures ties between India and the United States. He will introduce this slogan during his speech at Madison Square Gardens before 20,000 adoring admirers. He will repeat it in subsequent meetings. Some will cringe, others might be amused, and a lot of people will see in it the touch of Modi’s genius.

How do we know this? Because by now there are predictable patterns about Narendra Modi and one of them is that he will have a slogan or a pithy catchphrase ready for nearly every important occasion. It could be an abbreviation (Highways, I-ways and Transways, or HIT for Nepal), a touch of alliteration (per drop more crop) or a new definition for an existing usage (First develop India, for FDI, the widely-used short-form for foreign direct investment).

It’s unclear precisely when it started, but most Indians came to be familiar with his penchant for catchphrases during his campaign for 2014 general elections. But before that, during his Sadbhavana fasts in Gujarat, which was seen as his effort to reach out to the Muslim community in the state, his slogan Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (progress for everyone) had struck a chord. This came to be used in a big way during his general election campaign.

As he recast himself in the image of a reformer and business friendly administrator, he unleashed a slew of economy-related slogans. Some of them were classic conservative lines repurposed, some were Modi originals. Government has no business to be in business, he is fond of saying. Minimum government, maximum governance was repeated often on the campaign trail. Red carpet, not red tape, is another favourite.

When attacking the previous UPA government’s doomed public-private partnership projects, he would say what is needed is 4P—people public private partnership. Then there is this one about the value chain—Farm to fibre, fibre to factory, factory to fashion, fashion to foreign.

He used these slogans so often in his speeches, that prior to the election, a campaign support group brought out a volume on Modi’s governance vision explained wholly through these mantras, called Moditva. His slogans such as ‘development over deity’ and ‘toilets before temples’ had raised the heckles of his hardcore Hindutva followers.

After becoming Prime Minister, Modi has extended his penchant for word play to diplomacy. When he visited Bhutan in his first overseas visit, he came up with B4B—Bharat for Bhutan and Bhutan for Bharat. Next was Nepal’s turn. They got HIT—Highways, I-ways and Transways. I-ways is presumably short for information highways. About transways, nobody is really sure.

Next Modi went to Japan. There he spoke to Japanese businessmen about India’s 3D advantage—Democracy, Demography and Demand.

It was the Chinese president’s turn to visit next. And sure enough, Modi has a slogan ready. Inch to Miles. It stands for ‘India and China towards Millennium of Exceptional Synergy’.

Whatever you might think of these slogans, and indeed some are immediately forgotten while some are remembered only for their clumsiness, Modi indulges in this exercise with earnestness. He coins them with the bravado of a rookie copy writer and mouths them with the conviction of an elder statesman.

So what might be his line for the United States?

Tune into Quartz India for a livestream of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi‘s 9/28 speech at Madison Square Garden in New York City starting at 11 am EST and 8:30 pm IST. We’ll take your comments on our Facebook page.