Diaspora cold feet

PM to be cautious closer home

By Radhika Ramaseshan
  • Published 4.06.15
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New Delhi, June 3: Narendra Modi will not interact with people of Indian origin separately on his foreign tours in the neighbourhood because of the potential impact such events may have on bilateral equations, according to a policy crystallised over time by the Prime Minister's Office and his backroom strategists.

Although there were entreaties for Modi to interact exclusively with an audience of Hindus in Dhaka when he goes to Bangladesh this week, the PMO and the Prime Minister's resource-providers decided against it.

"Bangladesh is very sensitive. We do not wish to make a move that could possibly fuel social tensions and affect our bilateral relationship. The objective of the Prime Minister's visit has been spelt out and there is no place for a meeting with the Bengali-speaking Hindus," a political source said.

It is not certain whether Modi would give time to small groups of Hindus wanting to call on him.

Although Modi's diaspora outreaches often became the highpoints of his overseas travels, he decided it was "politic" to maintain a "distance" from PIOs or Hindus living in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan or groups in Nepal that "loosely" identify themselves with India.

"India and Nepal are socially and culturally similar. But the political situation is so fluid that he wanted to emphasise on internal unification rather than address a larger public," a source said.

When Modi had put Jaffna on his Sri Lankan itinerary, Tamil leaders had sought time to organise an interaction between the Prime Minister and the Tamils of the peninsula that has still to undo the ravages of the civil war. Again, Modi's response was a "no". "The Jaffna visit was a symbolic event. He wanted to keep it low-key," a source said.

Besides, given the past when India was left with a bloodied nose each time it dabbled in the island's internal politics, the Prime Minister thought it expedient not to take a step that might appear "partisan" to India and Sri Lanka's mutual interests.

Sources said if Modi were ever to visit Pakistan and possibly Afghanistan, the same policy would be in place. "I guess, in Afghanistan, the people of Indian origin are very small and, as such, a meeting with them would not have larger political ramifications. But security will be an issue," a source said.

Indeed, security was a consideration that mattered. "It would mean putting the host through a lot of trouble... putting in place security infrastructure, mobilising crowds and managing them and so on. These countries are beset with a lot of security tensions at the best of times," the source said.

Typically, the Overseas Friends of the BJP, which has its chapters in several countries, does the spadework for a US Madison Square Garden kind of show with the host establishment coming into the picture in the last stages.

Discouraged by the BJP brass, the Overseas Friends has no presence in India's neighbourhood.

When the Vishwa Hindu Parishad tried to intensify its activities in Nepal, the BJP had frowned upon its endeavours because it realised by then that the kingdom was on the cusp of change to democracy and it would be "inexpedient" for an Indian outfit to work under the king's patronage.

A former Overseas Friends official wanted to set up a chapter in Sri Lanka among the Tamils but his BJP bosses reined him in.

A source in the BJP's foreign cell explained that bereft of local sympathisers or friends, it becomes "difficult" to organise even a "small" gathering if and when Modi called on these countries.

"It was easy to do spectacular shows in the US and Canada where we have a large number of dedicated activists and where Modiji has a big fan following. They navigated the events," the source said.