PM's global image: Cultivated over six years, gone in three days

Greatness it seems will continue to elude Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Everything that could go wrong for him has done so, both internationally and at home. His “achhe din” (good days) may well be behind him.

None of the measures he introduced in his second coming, has played out as he may have hoped; whether it was the lockdown in Kashmir, the results of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam, the public response to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) or a nationwide NRC which threatens to turn undocumented citizens into illegal immigrants. The intense and targeted violence in the largely Muslim areas of North-East Delhi during the Trump visit shattered in just three days an image that Modi built assiduously over six years. Nor could the prime minister’s Man Friday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, rise to the occasion and save his boss from international embarrassment.

However, ‘black swan events’ like the Delhi riots alone are not responsible for the diminishing of Prime Minister Modi’s image. Nothing seems to be working under his stewardship. Elections have increasingly been converted by his cabinet colleagues into civil war between communities. Parliament no longer functions smoothly because the government routinely sabotages debates on burning national issues. Everyday those heading the institutional watchdogs of Indian democracy reveal themselves as third-rate toadies. And then there is the economy.

In 2014 the world saw Modi as an economic reformer and leader of a strong and united India. Today the international press describes him as authoritarian with a divisive and majoritarian agenda. External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar has had to put on a brave face with criticism of Modi’s domestic politics mounting internally, saying, that India was in the process of “knowing who our friends really are”.  

India’s forked tongue in dealing with with Dhaka – telling them that CAA will not affect Bangladesh in any way while domestic audiences are told that every last Bangladeshi “infiltrator” will be repatriated – has been called out. Massive protests are planned in Bangladesh on the eve of Prime Minister Modi’s visit on March 17. Afghanistan has objected to the assumption underlying the CAA that the nation discriminates against its minorities. Anti-India demonstrations against targeted violence on Muslims in the Delhi riots have also been held in Herat. 

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has advised India to “stop the massacre of Muslims” or face “isolation from the world of Islam” and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spoke strong words asking Indian authorities to “not let senseless thuggery prevail”. Relations with Malaysia are already strained after it spoke out against the government’s actions in J&K and India responded with a boycott of palm oil imports from that country. Indonesia, an important partner for India in its Act East policy and central to its Indo-Pacific strategy, has also expressed serious concern about the violence in Delhi. A day after the Delhi violence the hashtag #ShameOnYouIndia was trending on Twitter in Indonesia.

PM Narendra Modi ahead of US President Trump's reception at Rashtrapati Bhawan. (PTI)

In Britain MPs from across the political spectrum –the Labour party, Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, have criticised the Indian government for the CAA. British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, despite the support given him by Hindutva votaries in his recent election, told Parliament that his government believes that the CAA is divisive and that his government had raised its concerns with Indian authorities.

Although US President Trump may have avoided embarrassment to both sides in Delhi by mumbling that the change in citizenship laws was an internal matter of India, it has not prevented other US institutions and think-tanks from upbraiding India. Democratic Party leader and nomination hopeful, Bernie Sanders, was unequivocal in his criticism of President Trump for not speaking up on the violence against Muslims which took place under his nose in Delhi describing it as “failure of leadership on human rights”. That the criticism obviously singed the right quarters at least in India was apparent from the tweet (later deleted) of BJP general secretary  B L Santosh which threatened Sanders of consequences saying: “How much ever neutral we wish to be, you compel us to play a role in presidential elections...sorry to say so but you are compelling us."

Democracy watchdog, Freedom House has targeted India for changing its citizenship law, for the NRC in Assam which rendered millions stateless, the suppression of protests and the harassment of journalists and academics. It accused the Modi government of “threatening the democratic future of a country long seen as a potential bulwark of freedom in Asia.” 

In December last year, Jaishankar missed a meeting with a US House Foreign Affairs Committee after Democrat Congresswoman, Pramila Jayapal, introduced a resolution in the US Congress criticising Indian actions in Kashmir (House Resolution 745). As a signal of India’s displeasure to the US Congress, it does not seem to have worked – the number of Congressmen co-sponsoring it has gone up to 66 from just 10 in December. The Modi government has achieved what successive Pakistani regimes had failed to do upto now – internationalising the Kashmir issue. It has had to sponsor three conducted tours of foreign opinion makers – a group of right-wing Islamophobic members of European parliament and two groups of ambassadors based in Delhi.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom condemned the CAA and the violence against Muslims in Delhi and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which only last year had invited the Indian External Affairs Minister as its guest of honour in a rare gesture to Delhi, has now dubbed the violence in Delhi “anti-Muslim”. In fact, in a direct targeting of the Modi regime, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has moved an intervention application in the Supreme Court as an amicus curiae in the anti-CAA petititons before it by virtue of its mandate to protect and promote human rights.

The Indian government may keep counting its “real friends” and repeat ad nauseum that no foreign party has any locus standi on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty but international criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to grow and image continues to diminish.

Twitter: @Bharatitis

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