By Ashok Kumar
Was the euphoria over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Australia a natural public adoration or by design? Riding high on his meteoric rise in politics, Mr. Modi is the first Prime Minister in the Indian history to have “pulled” large crowds whichever country he has visited. In comparison, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, in 2003, addressed just 3,000 NRIs in New York. Dr. Manmohan Singh restricted himself to meeting the NRIs in ballrooms of five star hotels. So what made Mr. Modi to do a barrel roll?
It seems the ambitious Modi has been smitten by the publicity bug. He wants more and more people in the world know about him. The PR Company that Modi had hired has come out with a new approach to popularity similar to the one which propelled him to the highest pedestal in politics. The company has spent millions to get its client succeed at the elections with a record number of seats in Parliament. But, now, they were faced the challenge of transforming him from “Maut ka Saudagar” to a public-loving man.
For the Australian visit the RSS national spokesman Ram Madhav was camping in Sydney. Madhav has emerged as Modi’s ‘ambassador at large’. He is credited with playing a key role in organising Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in mid-September, Modi’s speeches at Madison Square Garden in New York in end-September and the November 17 speech at the Allphones Arena in Sydney.
According to reports, after the US visit which was going to be a disaster given the ego clashes of US Indian outfits, Madhav waded through a minefield of competing egos and spheres of influence among non-resident Indians in Australia as he prepared for the Modi’s mid-November visit to the country. The man from Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari district was in Australia in the third week of October to bring these warring factions to work with a common purpose. Having learnt his lessons from the New York event, Madhav tried to involve all sections of the Indian community.
The Overseas Friends of BJP, the party’s outreach wing for people of Indian origin, was asked to stay in the background. Similarly, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the overseas affiliate of RSS, was also asked to keep away from the spotlight. Modi’s New York event had, at one point in time, looked set to be a disaster. These outfits, and their leaders, were thought to have contributed to the mess. In Australia, Madhav and the others pushed the Indian community to set up a more ‘secular’ Indian Australian Community Foundation as the platform to organise Modi’s address to NRIs in Sydney. This helped attract a cross section of the Indian community to Modi’s function, even though the people managing the new outfit were primarily associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Australia.
But the fact is the OFBJP played a rather bigger role and so did the Hindu Council of Australia, as both were the major or the only members of ICAF. It was the responsibility of the diplomatic mission to oversee the arrangements instead of the religious or political outfits.
In such an exercise, funds are never a problem. Going by the details collected from the diplomatic circles, money for organising such rallies comes from the Government of India. Everywhere, the governments have roped in several big Gujarati businessmen who have contributed lavishly towards the popularity of Modi.
The IST’s queries to Mr. Rahul Jethi, Convenor of OFBJP and the man supposed to be in charge of raising funds for the Modi Rally in Sydney, on how the money was raised and how much was spent and what was and where is the balance amount or if there was a deficit how it was covered, have been left unanswered.
Clearly, Mr. Modi has taken the reigns in his hands. He stopped seven of his ministers — Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari, Anand Geete, Narendra Singh Tomar, Piyush Goyal and Nirmala Sitharaman — from going to New York to attend various trade conferences and forums though they had confirmed their participation. “They pulled out at the Prime Minister’s request as he himself will make travel decisions for the Ministers and control how India is projected,” said one of the event organisers in New York.
It is said love and respect is always commanded and not demanded. But with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that is other way round. The whole exercise in New York and in Sydney was aimed at this. Now, that the heat and dust has settled down after the visit to Australia more and more skeletons are coming out of the cupboard.
The role of RSS and VHP became more prominent due the facts that came to the fore. Despite Mr. Madhav’s efforts to keep them at bay, they played a prominent role. Like the reception committee in Sydney was composed of by people only from two outfits –the Hindu Council of Australia and OFBJP (Overseas Friends of BJP). This composition of the committee, it is reliably learnt, was at the insistence of factors in the PMO and the RSS. This became evident with the fact and contrary to claim and efforts by Ram Madhav still several community organisations were ignored contrary to Madhav’s claim of resolving the differences. And, they began to raise objections albeit covertly. The IST had written a critical analysis http://www.theistimes.com/sydney-indians-brush-aside-diplomats-bid-to-divide-and-rule-indians-are-one/ soon after the formation of the ICAF (Indian Australian Community Foundation.) Some toed the line of IACF-OFBJP but at the same time openly expressed dissent.
“We have been really disappointed by the organisers as they did not send us an invitation to register for reception for Mr Narendra Modi,” said an audibly anguished secretary of Sikh Council of Australia Bawa Jagdev Singh in a communication with a news agency.
“Even though the invitation was extended to us when we questioned the organisers, we have decided not to attend the event as an organisation. Some members of our community would be attending the event to honour the guest of Australia but they would do so in their individual capacity,” Jagdev says.
Sikh Council of Australia had, however, disassociated itself from any public protest against the Indian PM.
“Nothing is achieved by such protests,” says Jagdev while asserting that his organisation would give a petition to Modi through Indian diplomatic mission.
His sentiment is shared by a Melbournian car dealer Narinder Singh when he says: “Instead of staging protests against Narendra Modi, we should seek solution by sitting across the table.”
There are number of other so-called community leaders who have expressed dissatisfaction against the organisers in the media but, as pointed out by some senior Diaspora figures, their protest is because they were not invited to event. Several members of the media community too are sore with the organisers for not inviting them or denying media passes for the event. People in the OFBJP who were given charge of ‘selecting’ media outlets refused to entertain the queries. Rather they shamefully laughed of the serious questions with “LOL” remark.
It is believed the funding for a show of this magnitude could not have been possible without the funding from the PMO. It is also speculated that the PMO in Australia also had a role to play since there were other dignitaries as well visiting Australia, why was Mr. Modi singled out for such a grand reception? It seems the euphoria over Modi visit was not adoration but by design?
The situation in Melbourne was no different. Neeraj Nanda, Editor of South Asia Times writes:
The Prime Minister Modi’s visit had much to do with publicity that can be gauged by the fact that public rallies were beamed live by most TV news channels in India, whereas the main stream media had mostly not bothered to report.
Of the three venues where the events had taken place, Indian Australian media was very selectively invited. At the CEOs meeting with Modi in the Government House, the media was ignored and there was no media briefing of the event. The community members are sore as they did not get any opportunity to convey their grievances to Modi. Issues related to dual citizenship, OCI and voting rights remained unanswered. The reception at the MCG seemed to be a Liberal Party affair to many who were present as the invitees being mainly from the Party.
The G20 summit, for which Modi had ostensibly come to Australia, no one in the community talked about it. The recent much publicised Uranium deal also came under cloud in a joint Parliamentary committee meeting where doubts were expressed over safeguards and the issue of spent fuel.