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The problem with Modi attacking Congress when he travels overseas

Ashok Swain Articles

PM is repeatedly using diaspora meetings as partisan events, not as an occasion to reach out to all Indians living abroad.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the Indian diaspora at the Sultan Qaboos Satidum in Oman's capital Muscat has created a controversy again because of his barb at the Opposition, Congress. Accusing the previous Congress governments of ruining the image of the country with scams, he boasted: "No one can accuse my government of corruption."

It is another matter that Modi has refrained, even in Parliament, from answering Opposition's repeated charges of corruption in the Rs 58,000-crore Rafale fighter aircraft deal with France. However, the concern here is his repeated attacks against domestic Opposition on foreign soil.

Prime Minister Modi is a frequent flyer.

In his 45 months of being in office, he has already undertaken 35 foreign trips, covering all the continents except Antarctica, visiting 53 countries. There are serious doubts over these high-profile foreign jaunts enhancing India's global image and bringing diplomatic and economic gains. But there is one thing for sure, Modi has used these trips to politically mobilise a powerful section of the diaspora, addressing huge Indian gatherings in foreign countries.

Modi is repeatedly using these diaspora meetings as partisan events and addressing the congregating crowd as his party supporters, not as a prime minister speaking to all Indians, living abroad. This overt politicisation of diaspora gatherings started from his New York Madison Square Garden speech in September 2014, when he told the audience, "You may not have voted in 2014 but when results were coming in, you celebrated."

The audience did not consist only of his drooling diaspora supporters, but also a number of Indian community organisers and even host country political leaders.

Since then, Modi has been directly targeting the Congress party in almost all his addresses to the diaspora communities abroad. While speaking to Indians in Toronto, Canada in April 2015, he said that henceforth India will be known as "skill" India, not "scam" India.

The most brazen statement came a month later in Shanghai, China on May 16: "Earlier you were ashamed of India but today you are proud of the country." Two days later it was repeated in Seoul, South Korea when he told the diaspora that before he became prime minister, people in India used to wonder what sin they have committed to have been born in India.

In Muscat, Modi accused the previous Congress-led governments as corrupt and claimed he has earned a good name for the country by providing a corruption-free administration. There is nothing new in this script, which he has been following since coming to power.

There is no doubt Modi is not a conventional PM. He has very little respect for the customs and norms followed not only by the Congress governments but also by the Vajpayee administration.

Independent India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was of the firm belief that diaspora groups need to be kept out of India's domestic politics. He had advised them to become loyal citizens of their adopted countries and refrain from indulging in India's internal issues.

The governments of Indira Gandhi and Rajeev Gandhi too followed the same principle of keeping diaspora away from the domestic politics.

This approach was very useful considering the hawkish nature of diaspora groups of Israel and Armenia and their diabolic desire to guide respective home country's elections and ethnic politics. Though the previous NDA government brought some changes to this Nehruvian principle, but prime minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee was very careful to maintain the political culture of not taking domestic politics to foreign countries.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh understood the importance of the powerful Indian community settled abroad and created a Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to facilitate increased support to overseas Indians. This was purely done as part of foreign policy without any aim to score points in domestic politics.

But the politician in Modi has changed that approach after coming to power in May 2014. His foreign policy is more about earning political capital for himself than prioritising country's diplomatic needs.

The "jewels" of each of his frequent foreign visits is not the agreements he signs with the host governments but his well-choreographed huge diaspora gatherings. To make these meetings "successful", Indian missions have to use all their resources which compromises the real reasons for these official and diplomatic trips.

These shows involving diaspora have helped Modi hide his serious diplomatic deficiencies and have given him platforms to do what he does best, political campaigning. The diaspora-outreach also silences his "swadeshi" critics back home.

Organising huge public meetings in non-democratic host states such as China and Gulf countries also brings additional complications for the Indian diplomats. Most importantly, the mobilisation for these events through Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (a RSS subsidiary for mobilising Hindus outside India) has not only widened the fissure between pro-Hindutva and anti-Hindutva factions within the diaspora but also Indian missions and Modi critics abroad.

Modi by giving political speeches abroad has also dismantled the well-established democratic convention of the country and paved the way for Opposition leaders to be openly critical of the government and its leader visiting foreign countries.

Rahul Gandhi has started paying back Modi in the same coin since his trip to the USA in September 2017. While addressing the diaspora in Bahrain in January 2018, he did not hesitate from warning people of what he thinks were "serious problem at home". While Modi was recently at Davos, Rahul Gandhi tweeted blaming him for the country's uneven distribution of wealth.

Modi's political project in mobilising Hindutva diaspora has not only infuriated Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi, but has also given added incentives and encouragements to Indian minority diaspora groups to mobilise. Sikh diaspora, Kashmiri diaspora and Dalit diaspora are getting better organised and coordinating among themselves more to confront the majority Hindu diaspora. India has increasingly started exporting its domestic conflict to foreign countries.

No country in the West likes migrant communities engaging in their home country's domestic politics. They rightly fear that it might import conflicts from the home country to the host country. By overtly politicising the diaspora by repeatedly giving political speeches, Modi is changing the ideal perception of Indian diaspora in the West. The Indian diaspora has become a dangerously divided house. This development might bring political dividends for Modi, but is not good for India and its diaspora community.

 
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