It is rare to hear Narendra Modi speak like a Prime Minister and a statesman when he cannot jettison his vituperative campaigning mode. The occasion or the venue makes no difference to him to grab a chance for berating his critics. If he attacks his domestic opponents regularly on Indian soil, he does not think twice in repeating it on foreign soil.
But he turned his obsession for campaigning mode in a different direction when at the so-called #HowdyModi rally in Houston, Texas (USA), he sought support for a second term for Donald Trump before a crowd of cheering 50,000 Indian diaspora.
“Ab ki baar Trump Sarkar,” he declared grandly at the event, replacing his name with that of Trump in the poll slogan used by the BJP in India. Trump must be mighty pleased to find Modi appeal directly in his support to arguably the biggest gathering of Indian diaspora in the US.
It is generally believed that the majority of Indian Americans vote for Democrats. But observing the near-ecstatic reception Modi received at the rally, Republican Trump might have been persuaded to believe that his pal Modi would have swung the support of many Indian Americans away from their traditional preference. Of course, it cannot be said at this stage if that will actually turn out to be the case.
No one can be blind to the fact that despite all the euphoria over Modi and his alleged personal bonding with Trump, the fact is that in recent days the global image of India has taken a beating on at least three counts: intolerance that has taken many ugly shapes like ill-treatment of minorities and Dalits as well as mob lynching; the lockdown in Kashmir, and declaring nearly two million people in Assam as stateless as part of the NRC exercise.
Modi has been found wanting in doing anything to undo the damage to the country’s image because he evidently has a one-dimensional narcissist vision in which he is incapable of seeing anything beyond him.
His misleading self-glorifying statements may be lapped up by a domestic audience held in trance by publicity blitz and threats of ‘draconian’ laws. But the foreign audience and foreign leaders cannot be held under the spell of an Indian demagogue. He may form a mutual admiration club with Trump but its restricted impact will not repair India’s image globally.
Back in India, we might like to question the propriety of Modi’s advocacy of Trump’s candidature. Does it or does it not amount to ‘interference’ in an internal matter of a foreign country? A related and more important question is that if Modi sees nothing wrong in canvassing for leaders of a foreign country, isn’t he opening the door for the foreign leader to ‘mediate’ in a ‘purely internal matter’ of India?
Modi’s defence could be that he spoke in support of Trump in recognition of his claim that he is India’s ‘best friend’. That is a claim that will not stand any objective scrutiny in India; certainly not when it comes from someone as unpredictable as Trump.
But Modi seemed to have taken a narrow and short-term view of Indo-US relations. He has made an astonishing assumption that he needs to cultivate friendship only with Republican Trump, completing oblivious of the fact that the US has a vigorous two-party system which faces no danger, unlike India, of being trampled upon by one party which follows an inclusive agenda and appears restless in sabotaging the multi-party system.
Modi might be aware that a strong challenger of Trump, Senator Bernie Sanders of the Democratic Party greeted him on his arrival at Houston with a stinging article in a prominent newspaper that, among other things, denounced the lockdown in Kashmir and questioned the human rights situation in the troubled valley. And we are not even talking about the ‘anti-Modi’ demonstration outside the venue of the much-publicised ‘Modi event’ in a large football stadium in Houston.
Modi could not have but felt greatly embarrassed when a senior lawmaker from the Democratic Party at his rally quoted some liberal views of Jawaharlal Nehru, something that acts as the red rag for the ‘Hindu Hridya Samrat’ and his worshippers. Implied in the reference to Nehru was the fact that at least the Democrats in the US were not happy with the bigoted path towards which Modi was leading India.
The Democrats in the US would not have been pleased to find a foreign leader openly express his preference for a candidate from the rival party. Imagine such a thing happening in India! Modi and his army would have paralysed the country in protest if a visiting leader had endorsed a candidate from an Opposition party at a public rally.
Wisdom and diplomacy demand that visiting foreign leaders avoid commenting on strictly internal matters of another country or if they have an urge to say something they should choose their words carefully.
Trump may be re-elected in 2020, or he may not be. But Democrats taking over the occupancy of the White in a not too distant future is a certainty, looking at the graph of the fortunes of the two principal parties of the US. Modi or his successor—though he thinks he is prime minister for life—might have a job in rekindling warmth with the Democrats of the type witnessed after the initial years of the 10-year presidency of Bill Clinton.
The problem is that a crawling media and the official and privately-controlled propaganda machinery has led Indians to believe that Modi’s chartering of foreign policy has been flawless which is false. The precarious state of relations with Pakistan is actually hailed as a sign of ‘strength’!
India has some ‘problems’ with the US which will not go away by Modi displaying exuberance for Trump. Nobody wants him to disown friendship with Trump or, for that matter, any other foreign leader, but it cannot be like a teenager gushing before his idol. It looks more like genuflection before a ‘superior’. It would look very distasteful to a country that according to the ‘Bhakts’ nearly conquered the moon with the blessings of Modi and is on way to becoming a $5 trillion economy—at least in imagination.