When Queen Elizabeth’s grandson Prince William and his wife Kate called on Narendra Modi in 2016, two interpreters needed to be in attendance. In such a cumbersome setup, exchanges were perforce restricted. Besides, Modi’s telephonic tete-a-tete with opposite numbers had then been occasional.
But from 11 March this year though, there has been a spike in the Indian PM’s garrulity via international calls. This began with a buzz (returned by Modi on 3 April) from caretaker Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson rang Modi. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) shared, “The two leaders expressed their desire to strengthen the India-UK Strategic Partnership in the new decade. They agreed that it would be useful to formulate a comprehensive roadmap towards this objective.”
It was about time since Indo-UK trade has been shrinking and the broader relationship suffering from neglect, because of Britain’s preoccupation with the Brexit process since 2016. The country’s departure from the European Union will not take place until the end of this year, with a good chance there will be a postponement because of the suspension in negotiations caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Modi also spoke to President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan. The Afghans harbour the greatest goodwill towards India, historically and in the 21st century arising out of India’s generous aid to the civil war-ravaged country. Yet this genuine friend of India was indelicately insulted by the Citizenship Amendment Act contrived by Modi. This effectively accused Afghanistan of persecuting Hindus and Sikhs. Extremist non-state actors have of course intermittently attacked the Sikh community there; but this, other than during the Taliban regime, has not been state policy.
Modi phoned the controversial crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. Thereafter dialled the crown prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Amir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al Thani, the Prime Minister of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, the King of Bahrain Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tarik and Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the President of Uganda. The outreach to the Gulf was imperative, for a section of the Indian diaspora are insecure for more reasons than one.
Indian nationals in Dubai. On 19 April the Indian Consulate General in the emirate tweeted: “Our Consulate has been providing food to the needy Indians directly and through community organisations and Indian associations for past several days. 1500 people were given food packets in last two days.”
More worryingly, the previous day the Indian Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Pavan Kapoor attempted to preempt any backlash against Indian Hindus, some of whom had joined the bandwagon of unchecked anti-Muslim fervour in India, even in connection with COVID-19.
On the same day as Kapoor’s message the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) tweeted: “Urge the Indian Govt to take urgent steps to stop the growing tide of Islamophobia in India and protect the rights of its persecuted Muslim minority as per its obligations under international Human Rights law.”
In March 2019 the Modi government had trumpeted a major diplomatic victory when the late External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was invited to address an OIC meeting of foreign ministers - for the first time since India’s eviction from the body in 1969 - in Abu Dhabi. It was touted as resulting from Modi’s embrace of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
What his government camouflaged and compliant Indian media concealed was India was not re-admitted into the body. Today, there’s a danger of Islamic nations in West Asia embarking on selectively but injuriously retaliating against Indian Hindus in view of the treatment of Muslims in India.
MEA summaries of the telephonic contacts record only a few instances of Modi offering modern medicines manufactured by Indian pharmas in India’s economic interest. Indeed, Modi’s persuasions and unsolicited advice in a number of cases descended from the acceptable to the ridiculous.
He suggested to French President Emmanuel Macron “that the practice of yoga offers a convenient means of ensuring mental and physical well-being, for people confined to their homes by the pandemic”.
Is there scientific evidence of this? Modi should have been aware European countries in lockdown have permitted people to venture out for food shopping and to pharmacies, even for walks in order to exercise.
Modi informed German Chancellor Angela Merkel “about the recent Indian initiatives to disseminate simple yoga exercises and immunity-enhancing Ayurvedic remedies for people of the world”. While some argue yoga is a soft-power tool for India, what is the level of revenue accruing from this for India?
To assert Ayurveda provides immunity from COVID-19 is as baseless as United States President Donald Trump prescribing hydroxychloroquine as an antidote for the virus. A contention that Ayurvedic treatment cured the heir to the British throne Prince Charles had been promptly contradicted by his office.
He explained to Charles “the recent Indian initiative aimed at teaching basic yoga exercises through short animation videos (as if this was a rocket science invention!)and disseminating easy home-made traditional remedies for enhancing immunity (again an unscientific affirmation)”.
Modi discussed with the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez Perez-Castejon “the utility of yoga and traditional herbal medicines for providing an easily accessible means of ensuring the psychological and physical health of people confined to their homes due to the pandemic”.
And with Trump, Modi “touched upon the significance of practices such as Yoga and Ayurveda (traditional Indian herbal medicine practice) for ensuring physical and mental well-being in these difficult times”.
He also reached out to the President of the European Union Ursula von der Leyen, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Brazilian President Jair MessiasBolsonaro, a rank rightist who has been in denial about the threat posed by COVID-19, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Lofven, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Nepal K P Sharma Oli, Prime Minister of Vietnam Nguyen Xuan, President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine, King Abdullah of Jordan, Prime Minister of Bhutan, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of Maldives.
The bottom line is, is it an Indian Prime minister’s job to sell yoga and Ayurveda? Isn’t such pursuit a waste of Indian taxpayers’ money and time?
At the inauguration of a hospital in Mumbai in 2014, Modi fantasied the implant of an elephant’s head on the Hindu God Ganesh was a marvel of Indian cosmetic surgery – this in mythical times!! The same man is purveying – to India’s acute embarrassment – fanciful remedies in the gravest health crisis confronting the earth.