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Modi plays pro-poor card in WTO row
- PM accuses rich nations of trying to ‘isolate’ India for refusing to toe their line

New Delhi, Aug. 9: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today accused the developed nations of a “disinformation campaign” to “isolate” India for refusing to toe their line at the World Trade Organisation, painting his government before a domestic political audience as a champion of the poor.

Addressing a party meeting weeks before his US trip next month, Modi pitched the recent controversy at the global trade body as a battle between the haves and the have-nots.

“What should we do?” the Prime Minister asked the BJP’s national council meeting at the Nehru Stadium today. “Take the bread off the plate of the poor to earn kudos from editorials in international papers?”

Last week, India had blocked a WTO treaty for streamlining worldwide goods movement, insisting progress must first be made on a dispute on stockpiling food. India essentially linked the two issues to retain its bargaining power.

New Delhi wants an existing exemption from a rule that bars countries from stockpiling more than a tenth of the value of the food they produce to be extended till a permanent solution is found. It fears that such a cap, on hold till 2017 as of now, would undermine its food security programme that requires large stocks to feed the poor.

Trade diplomats who believe such stockpiling artificially skews global food prices have accused India of taking a “suicidal” stand that, in the words of a US state department official, “undermined the very image Prime Minister Modi is trying to send about India”.

Today, the Prime Minister appeared to disparage the tendency of overvaluing praise from the West. He noted that his slogan “Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” (together with all, development for all) became a talking point in India only after US secretary of state John Kerry had lauded it.

“I had used this slogan for a long time. Maybe people here did not understand it. But when the US appreciated it, it became a talking point in India,” he said.

Modi portrayed the BJP as a confident party that cared more about advancing India’s glory than about fawning on affluent foreign nations.

“I confidently state that Hindustan ka danka puri tarah bajega (India’s glory will fully resonate),” he said. Modi then went on to explain India’s stand at the WTO.

“The world has several wealthy countries. We have a new government that could have opted to earn praise from them. It was a choice between earning shreya (credit) and working for one’s priya (beloved ones). We chose our priya,” he said.

Inevitably, the Prime Minister accused the UPA government of “bartering away the food security bill” at a previous WTO conference “almost as though they had a desire to extract the blood of the poor”.

Modi’s message from the political platform played on national pride and self-reliance, the pet themes of the BJP’s core constituency and the Sangh parivar. He compared the WTO controversy with the Pokhran nuclear tests conducted by the previous NDA government.

“When (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee conducted the nuclear tests, the world powers were upset: they enforced harsh economic sanctions against us. But India walked tall because we found the strength to look each and every country straight in the eye,” Modi said.

“The BJP is committed to the country and this commitment forms the touchstone of every policy we adopt, every programme we implement. We have two questions to answer. ‘Will India benefit?’ (and) ‘Will our poor benefit?’”

Modi suggested that one reason he had been able to take on the rich nations was his party’s huge electoral mandate that had “left a big impact” on a world that knew his government was “armed to make decisive moves”.

“Once an election is over, a new aspect emerges and I ponder over it. After this government came to power, the world’s perception of India has begun to change. You can see it, you can sense it in their attitude towards India,” he said.

Modi signed off by plugging the old Sangh exhortation about linking political activity with social service.

“I have a grand idea…. The BJP is different; therefore… we can create a separate identity. For that, can we resolve to dedicate one year to one issue, one activity that is not confined to politics but is connected more holistically to society?” he said.

He cited the examples of energy conservation and “a toilet in every home” and urged party workers to use these issues to “connect with each home, each family, each individual”.

“Sometimes, non-government endeavours can be more effective than direct politics. This is a good way of digging the BJP’s roots deeper into society,” the Prime Minister said.

In his book RSS: A Vision in Action, the late Sangh general secretary H.V. Seshadri had written: “Yet another manifestation of the intense love of society inculcated in swayamsevaks is in the field of social service. Swayamsevaks are trained to look upon society as one single, vast country-wide family.”

Modi also borrowed an idea from the Aam Aadmi Party today, stressing it was time that India moved away from “representative democracy” to “participative democracy”.