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Crude Antics Dent India’s Image Abroad

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By Shastri Ramahandaran* | IDN-InDepthNews Viewpoint

MUMBAI (IDN) - All these years, if India could bat above its league on the world stage, it is not only because of being favoured – over other, more powerful developing countries – by the Anglo-American axis. The dominance of English and, rightly or otherwise, the values and versatility associated with India’s English-speaking elite, including officials, have contributed greatly to India’s acceptance at high tables.

More than any of the above, India’s distinctive edge in world affairs is because it is a robust, if flawed, democracy: a liberal, tolerant, pluralistic Union with enviable political, social and cultural diversity. India may be a “Third World” economy, but it is valued as being home to minds and human resources that can match, if not excel, the best in “advanced countries”.

So when Narendra Modi rode to office on the promise of development and growth, the expectation abroad was that India would now add to its democratic strengths and attractions by improving economic performance and minimising corruption.

Understandably, in the first months after taking office, Prime Minister Modi was well received and feted in the many world capitals and regional and international forums to which he travelled. Change is refreshing and his foreign interlocutors were impressed by what he said and the way he conducted himself.

However, in recent weeks Modi’s shine is wearing off, and the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) seems to be losing the perception battle. To make matters worse, the BJP finds itself not only on the losing side but also on the wrong side by any standard of liberal, democratic and pluralistic values.

After President Obama’s rebuke on religious tolerance and the dubious gains of his Sri Lanka trip soon after President Sirisena’s visit to India, the BJP seems to be hostage to undiplomatic antics that do little credit to India’s image in the eyes of the world. Minister of State VK Singh, celebrating his own avowed dilemma of being caught between “duty and disgust” after attending Pakistan’s National Day reception in that country’s high commission in Delhi, was inappropriate and undiplomatic.

Further away, at the United Nations, in the General Assembly, India voted against the proposal to recognise gay marriages and relationships for UN officials. In this issue involving private (sexual) choice and personal freedom, India voted with Russia and China. At the least, India could have abstained. That would have saved the Modi Administration from exposing itself to charges of being anti-freedom, authoritarian and intolerant. It is not necessary to be a nation or party of gays to vote against discrimination on grounds of a person’s sexual preference.

Close on the heels of this came the stink of racism. In a crude racist slur aimed at Sonia Gandhi, Union Minister Giriraj Singh insulted Nigerian women by implying that they were inferior to women of other colours and races. The Nigerian High Commission has sought an “apology” for the Minister’s unacceptable comment.

Meanwhile, Singh is facing charges under IPC (Indian Penal Coe) sections 153 A (promoting enmity between classes), 295 A (maliciously insulting religion or religious beliefs of any class) and 298 (uttering any word or making any sound in the hearing or making any gesture, or placing any object in the sight of any person, with intention to wound his religious feelings).

But such conduct tarnishes India’s image and hurts Indian diplomacy. Giriraj’s remarks come even as preparations are afoot to host the India-Africa Summit, for which Syed Akbaruddin, Ministry of External Affairs’ Spokesman, would be the Chief Coordinator. He is one of India’s ablest diplomats and, perhaps, the best government spokesman in a long time: smooth but not evasive; forthcoming and accessible, he is no spin-doctor. Modi is said to have wanted him as Spokesman in the PMO, which offer he declined.

Akbaruddin is a face, and voice, of Official India, of which the nation can be proud. At some point the PM has to choose which face of India – Akbaruddin or Giriraj Singh –would serve the country better.

*The author is an independent political and foreign affairs commentator. This article first appeared in DNA on April 8, 2015 and is being reproduced by arrangement with the writer. [IDN-InDepthNews – April 11, 2015]

Photo: Prime Minister Narenda Modi of India | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Shastri Ramachandran's previous IDN articles: http://www.indepthnews.info/index.php/search?searchword=shastri ramachndran&ordering=newest&searchphrase=any

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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