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Swiss press review Narendra Modi delivers confident ‘sermon’ at World Economic Forum

Modi doing a namaste

Narendra Modi played the role of campaigner-in-chief for globalisation at WEF


The Swiss papers interpret Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s WEF opening plenary speech on Tuesday as a message that global institutions must adapt to the needs of emerging countries like India. 

Modi played the role of a campaigner for globalisation at WEF much as Chinese President Xi Jinping did the year before, writes German-language paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) on Wednesday. The paper says that in the past this role “was previously reserved for Western heads of state”. 

According to the Südostschweiz paper, Modi’s speechexternal link was as much a response to Xi Jinping - who was the guest of honour last year – as to Trump. He wanted to present himself as a genuine world leader, writes the paper. 

However, 24 Heures thinks India’s approach is different and marks a strategic return to the past. 

“Placed between China and the United States, India is returning to a tradition of the non-aligned countries of the early sixties,” writes the paper. 

French-language paper Le Temps says Modi was a perfect foil for Swiss President Alain Berset, who spoke about “reaffirming the importance of international collaboration and multilateralism”. The Indian prime minister echoed Berset’s sentiments by calling on the great powers “to cooperate and break down walls and barriers”. 

Le Nouvelliste goes as far as designating Modi “Man of the Day” for his anti-protectionist stance. 


Modi's speech at WEF

New world order?

The Basler Zeitung paper says the Indian Prime Minister showed at WEF “how confident his country has become”. Modi first “surprised” the audience by speaking in Hindi, it writes, leaving many searching for translation services. 

“In so doing, he demonstrated the growing self-confidence of India and other Asian countries, which no longer want to adapt to the customs of the West or the US - and do not have to do so,” the newspaper says. 

According to the paper, Modi’s choice of Hindi as well as his message seemed to say "Will you please adapt to us if you want something from us?" 

The NZZ paper sees Modi’s speech as a message that there is a gap between the demands of global institutions like the World Trade Organization and the needs of emerging countries. The paper interprets Modi’s “Hydra of protectionism” phrase as a rallying cry against new tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade. 

The Südostschweiz paper says the prime minister’s speech raises the question "Do the international organizations that emerged after the Second World War still reflect the dreams and goals of humanity today?”. 

Investment and trade

The 24 Heures paper writes that with India targeting a GDP of five trillion dollars by 2025, “this ambition will not be achieved without the foreign investment that Modi has sought to attract, by drawing up a long list of reforms”. The paper calls Modi a “clever merchant” for positioning India as leading member of the international solar allianceexternal link, along with French President Emmanuel Macron, intended to promote and accelerate the energy transition.

According to the Tages Anzeiger and Der Bund papers, Modi made up for lost time stuck in Davos traffic (helicopter services were suspended due to heavy snow) by spending an hour with the Swiss on arrival. The papers write that “in the end both sides affirmed that the free-trade agreement, which had been pending for ages, should be concluded this year”. 

However, the 24 Heures paper writes that “for Europe, and of course for Switzerland, India is an increasingly influential but demanding partner.”


Not all media analysis is flattering to the Indian prime minister. According to the NZZ paper, Modi’s speech did not go down well everywhere. The paper says participants called it "background noise" and "nothing memorable". 

“It was also clearly addressed to the audience at home via the numerous Indian media present,” it adds. 

The 24 Heures paper sees some contradiction in Modi’s statement that “globalisation is not incompatible with the diversity of cultures and religions. “This may come as a surprise from the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a pro-Hindu party known for its nationalist and anti-Muslim rhetoric,” the paper writes. 

The Südostschweiz paper writes that Modi used his first visit to WEF to “present his vision of the world”. It sums up the message of his one-hour speech as: “If the world follows Indian values that are thousands of years old, it can solve all its problems.”

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