The Modi government is losing its shine abroad
Posted on April 19th, 2015

By Shastri Ramachandaran Courtesy dna

After the proverbial nine months in office, Narendra Modi — the ‘outsider’ who moved to Delhi as Prime Minister — remains on top of the political game. There is no challenge in sight to his supremacy. His stature has not been diminished in any way by the opposition. Nor has he been weakened by the challenges to his government, especially in Parliament, such as on the land Bill. Yet there is a loss of shine, a denting of India’s image in the neighbourhood as well as on the world stage and subtle but significant shifts in the perception of Modi sarkar. However, neither his critics nor the opposition can claim credit for any of these. The BJP-led government alone is responsible for the situation in which it finds itself.

The contradictory positions on autonomy and federalism — such as rooting for the 13th Amendment in Sri Lanka but opposing Article 370 at home — is all too glaring to be glossed over. Prime Minister Modi calling for equal respect for all citizens in Sri Lanka actually serves as a reminder of President Barack Obama’s repeated references to religious intolerance in India; and, the urgent need to end the attacks on minorities. In spite of the Prime Minister’s emphasis on reforms for liberalising the economy, the continuing clampdown on freedoms, expressions and movement smacks of illiberal political and bureaucratic tendencies.

These events and developments undermine India’s avowedly pluralistic culture and seriously damage the country’s image in the eyes of a world that views Modi’s India as a rising power on the cusp of unprecedented development.

Getting Obama as the R-Day chief guest was seen as a diplomatic coup that would floor his opponents at home and make the world sit up. However, Obama’s graceless parting shot — India will succeed so long it is not splintered on religious lines — stirred an unsavoury debate that did little for Modi sarkar or India-US relations. Even before the uproar over his January 27 remark had abated, Obama dropped another pebble on February 6 in Washington: India…where, in past years, religious faiths have been targeted: intolerance that would’ve shocked Gandhi”.

This set off new ripples, which drew even more unwanted attention to the Hindutva-driven valourising of Gandhi’s assassin, Godse, and the attempts to install his statues. Far from a diplomatic triumph, Obama’s visit had turned out to be a political cross. The Prime Minister has — more than once — condemned and expressed concern over the attacks on Christians and churches. Nevertheless, incidents and tension are rising. Alongside such religious intolerance, there is also heavy-handed suppression of individual freedom as evident in activist Priya Pillai being prevented from going abroad to testify before a group of British MPs. Ironically, instead of her aborted testimony — which authorities claimed would negatively impact India’s image — it is the bar on her travelling that discredited the government.  Similarly, another threat to free expression that has attracted attention abroad are the dictatorial ways” of the new chief of the film censor board. At a different level, two other points are being debated in diplomatic circles. One, if Obama’s remarks on religious intolerance in India were out of place, by the same logic, is Modi’s call for equitable development and respect for all citizens in Sri Lanka — a clear reference to the Tamils — appropriate? Two, while the BJP and Sangh parivar are all for scrapping Article 370 that grants special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir, while in Jaffna, Modi made a strong pitch for greater autonomy to the Tamil-dominated Northern Province. There is a thin line that divides acceptable concern from meddlesome interest when it comes to issues in another country.

(The author is a political and foreign affairs commentator and analyst for dna news and  Executive Director, National Centre for Advocacy Studies )

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