In September 2014, just a few months after becoming the prime minister, Narendra Modi had broken the protocol by receiving Chinese President Xi Jinping and the First Lady Peng Liyuan during their state visit in Ahmedabad and not in New Delhi. For those who were still over the moon relishing Modi's historic ascent to power, it was a smart departure from the routine establishment politics by a leader who was seen as an outsider and did not have the acceptability in the Lutyens like most or all of his predecessors.
It was said that Modi had demolished the invisible wall by equating his own hometown with the national capital by receiving the Chinese head of the state there. In fact, the Chinese had reciprocated when Modi paid a visit to their country in May 2015 by rolling out the red carpet for him in the ancient city of Xian in Shaanxi province which happens to be Jinping's hometown. Modi's Ahmedabad move was hence seen as a major diplomatic success.
Fast forwarding to September 2017, we see Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe being received by Modi in Ahmedabad and not New Delhi. However, this time, not many are praising Modi and instead, it is being said that bringing Abe to Gujarat was out of desperation to meet the upcoming challenge this year: the Gujarat Assembly elections.
The Opposition Congress has already created a noise over this and why not? Abe and his wife Akie's accompanying Modi in an open vehicle in a road show in Ahmedabad makes it evident that the BJP top brass has made the maximum efforts to give an international touch to its claims of development in Gujarat even though the real picture has not been convincing.
The western state is witnessing several problems ever since Modi left for national duty and since it is a major prestige battle for the saffron party, the Modi government has not thought twice before bringing an international leader to the state instead of the national capital and show to the people of the state how much it is concerned over Gujarat's development. The foundation of the bullet train project linking Ahmedabad with Mumbai has also been a part of the greater quest to woo the Gujarati electorate.
Moves like demonetisation and the protests by the Patidars, one of the BJP's major vote-banks, have put the BJP in a serious spot and the post-Modi leaderships in the state (one chief minister had to be changed because the BJP was not finding her suitable) have struggled to pacify the angry sentiments. After remaining in power for two decades, the BJP now has a serious anti-incumbency to tackle in Gujarat and the challenge is even bigger since it is Modi's own state and a debacle here would give a boost to those who are seeking to challenge him on the national level.
But will making use of an international leader help the BJP in Gujarat? It is desperately selling its development theory once again but will it make any realistic appeal? The 2014 move of bringing Xi to Ahmedababd was a smart one. The 2017 move of doing the same with Abe is more out of desperation. Is even the superman in Modi feeling the butterflies in his stomach?