President Joe Biden got a dose of face time with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a state dinner he hosted in June. Once he touches down in New Delhi, he will get bombarded with dozens of facsimiles of the powerful leader’s face – and that’s just on the ride to his hotel.
Modi’s smiling visage is nearly everywhere where Biden and other delegates might travel or gather within New Delhi on their visits for the G20 summit – along with a smattering of anodyne slogans like ‘pro planet people for pro planet progress’ and ‘promoting a universal sense of oneness.’
Modi, who has been accused of pushing through anti-democratic moves on the world’s most populous democracy, can be seen at train stations, at bus stops, near street vendors and archeological sites, at Indira Gandhi airport, and all around the areas where delegates from the world’s most powerful nations are gathering.
Billboards with the bearded leader welcome delegates to the G20, where India is seeking to establish itself as a leader of the ‘Global South’ and a key player amid great power struggles between China, Russia, and the U.S.
Clean image: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image is plastered all over New Delhi for the G20 gathering that President Joe Biden is about to attend
There are eight Modi signs within sight of a convention center and a hotel where State Department officials have set up an area for U.S. media.
‘Solving the greatest challenges faced by humanity together,’ says one slogan.
‘One world one sun,’ says another,’ while a ‘democratizing technology’ slogan hints at the push to relocate supply chains in India as a counter against China.
Sometimes digital billboards toggle between multiple slogans, allowing people to see Modi at night – although merchants are already complaining about a virtual lockdown of New Delhi beginning Friday, when Biden is set to arrive.
Others speak of ‘democratizing technology’ and ‘deepening trusteeship toward our beloved planet,’ although India has taken heat for continuing to import Russian oil amid the brutal war in Ukraine.
There is a larger than life-size cutout of Modi near a central train station. Even some of the humble tuk-tuks that ply the streets using motorcycle engines have ads in Hindi for discount medical care – with Modi’s picture and the G20 logo slapped on the back.
Modi is using the summit to position himself as the leader of a ‘Global South’
All for One! G20 signage also touts a ‘universal sense of oneness’
When Modi isn’t on a billboard or digital sign, he might be seen on the back of a tuk-tuk
The signs have proliferated along with an increased police presense
Modi is using the summit to tout an equity agenda, while placing India at the center of a technology boom and supply chain politics amid concern about China
India is undergoing rapid growth and economic transformation
‘In terms of domestic politics, clearly part of Modi’s appeal is to have the Indian people think of him as the one who restored the country or brought it to recognized great power status,’ John Ciociari, Director of the Ford School’s Weiser Diplomacy Center and International Policy Center at the University of Michigan told DailyMail.com.
‘I understand that they’re doing a lot of marketing around the G20 to present this as an Indian accomplishment, where in fact, it’s simply a rotating chairmanship,’ he said.
All of that Modi comes amid signs of domestic concern inside India to U.S. officials, including a judicial crackdown, press restrictions, and bouts of religious violence, even as the country remains a major constitutional democracy that is key to U.S. positioning in the region.
‘It’s definitely awkward,’ said Ciociari. ‘I think India’s recent past more generally is awkward for the United States. … And although I think that there are certainly values that bind bind the US and India, the Democratic backsliding issues in India do present a challenge for Biden and for other US officials.’
He said there was a quiet recognition that the U.S. relationship is ‘too important to jeopardize by lecturing India much on democracy issues.’
It all comes at a summit where businesses in central areas have been repainting, and gardeners and street sweepers have been out in force to have the city (wider Delhi tops 30 million) put its best foot forward.
Modi isn’t the only one trying to make the most of the summit politically.
Biden’s presidential campaign announced Thursday it it was releasing a new video featuring images of Biden’s risky visit to Ukraine – and explicitly tying it to the G20 gathering. It is an effort to contrast his multilateralism and global diplomacy with rival Donald Trump’s policies. (Trump and Modi shared a bond during their own ‘Howdy Modi’ gathering in Texas).
‘Ahead of G20, Biden-Harris 2024 Announces New Ad Highlighting President Biden’s Leadership on the World Stage,’ went the headline of a release announcing the new ad, which touts Biden’s ‘quiet leadership’ confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin.