View of Modi as India's Nixon bears merit

View of Modi as India's Nixon bears merit

There are great expectations in China that Narendra Modi, the new Indian Prime Minister, will become "India's Nixon" by emulating former United States president Richard Nixon in making a diplomatic breakthrough with Beijing, taking India-China relations to a higher level.

Mr Nixon owed a part of his successful China policy to Henry Kissinger, who served as his national security adviser and secretary of state. So closely did the two men cooperate in global affairs that historians refer to them as "Nixinger".

If Mr Modi is to live up to Chinese expectations, he must find his Kissinger. Unlike Mr Nixon, whose personal strength lay in foreign affairs, Mr Modi has little experience in diplomacy.

I argue that the characterisation of Mr Modi by Liu Zongyi, a leading Chinese political commentator, as "India's Nixon" is historically accurate, not only because Mr Nixon normalised relations with China (and Mr Modi desires a much closer alliance with Beijing), but also because both leaders' public image had suffered great damage, and eventually both were politically rehabilitated, taking their reputations to dizzying heights.

President Nixon's landmark restoration of diplomatic relations with China at the height of the Cold War in 1972 was hailed globally at the time. In later years, his China diplomacy received even greater accolades as a foreign relations masterstroke, and his sullied reputation stands restored.

On the basis of historical evidence, I argue that Mr Nixon and Mr Modi are bound by a common theme of rehabilitation. Mr Nixon's presidential legacy was widely believed to be permanently damaged following the Watergate scandal which led to his resignation in 1974. But, by 1984, the buzzword was "rehabilitation".

Even earlier, in 1952, when Mr Nixon was Dwight Eisenhower's running mate in the presidential election, the former faced charges that he was supported by a secret fund contributed by wealthy oil and real-estate interests. It appeared that his career in politics was over.

Mr Nixon fought back with a powerful television campaign in defence of his honour, so much so that thousands of viewers wrote him letters of support.

Mr Eisenhower stuck with Mr Nixon, and when the former won the election, the latter was transformed from shady senator to a vice-president with a flair for foreign relations.

Mr Nixon rebuilt his public image by making himself acceptable to rank-and-file Republicans. In 1968, he was elected US president by a slender margin. Four years later, he was re-elected by an overwhelming majority.

However, just two years later, he resigned as president following charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

Mr Modi, like Mr Nixon, suffers an image dysfunction owing to the Gujarat riots which resulted in the deaths of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus in 2002.

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