A veritable whirlwind of diplomatic and social engagements appeared to engulf the schedule of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New York City on Saturday, where he managed to squeeze in not only a speech to the United Nations General Assembly but also held a range of bilateral conversations with the heads of government of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Sticking tightly to his gruelling schedule, Mr. Modi, however, held an impromptu meeting with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a conversation with a casually-attired former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and delivered a second public address the same day in New York’s Central Park at the Global Citizens Festival for ending worldwide poverty.
Following his “neighbours first”, policy Mr. Modi held conversations with three leaders of South Asian countries, in the process winning their support for his proposal to create an International Yoga Day. Touching upon a wide range of regional issues of concern Mr. Modi found time to discuss the plight of incarcerated Indian fisherman in Sri Lanka with the country’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa, to whom the Prime Minister also flagged the question of environmental damage stemming from bottom trawling.
With Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina, Mr. Modi brought up both the land boundary agreement, which he assured her was being taken up for discussion and subsequent action in the Indian Parliament, and the Teesta waters conundrum, which the Prime Minister identified as a sensitive issue that needed a consensus-based approach even though at the present time the water flowed unimpeded by India.
In discussions with Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Mr. Modi said that India stands ready to provide all assistance that Nepal will need in the conduct of the forthcoming SAARC summit in November.
These positive discussion notwithstanding, the first ever U.N. address of Mr. Modi was in danger of getting marred by a possible ‘hot mic’ moment in which the President and Co-Chair of the General Assembly, apparently unaware that they could be heard over the PA system, appeared to allude to a lack of courtesy by the Indian delegation as the latter departed from the podium, perhaps too abruptly for the accompanying protocol personnel to keep up with them.
The gaffe initially came to light after several media commentators suggested on Twitter that they had heard the comments made. The relevant segment of the audio, which The Hindu has obtained, was not particularly clear, yet in it the UNGA President, Sam Kutesa of Uganda, could be heard saying what sounded like, “Let them settle a bit,” then adding, “Making a racket,” and “You have to have a little courtesy to wait over there” and finally “But I think… India considers itself [unclear].”