Direct-dialling Modi overreaches on Kenya

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By CHARU SUDAN KASTURI
  • Published 24.09.13
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New Delhi, Sept. 23: Kenya’s security forces and al Shabaab terrorists aren’t the only ones locked in a battle to gain the upper hand following Nairobi’s bloodstained Westgate mall.

Over 4,500km away, Gujarat chief minister and prime ministerial-hopeful Narendra Modi has found a new battlefront against the ruling UPA.

Modi today wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggesting the Centre had failed to deliver a sense of security to the Indian and Indian-origin population in Kenya, left frightened by Saturday’s attack.

“I stressfully urge that the central government should use all the resources available to it to provide safety and security to families of those Indians and Gujaratis who are victims of the terror attack,” Modi wrote.

“This inhuman act has put many Indian origin family in insecure position and they expect help from Indian government immediately.”

The letter came on the back of what seasoned diplomats called a surprising overreach by Modi, when he called the Indian high commissioner in Nairobi, Sibabrata Tripathi, on Sunday to virtually “ask” him to protect Indians in the country.

Four people of Gujarati origin have died in the attack but individual chief ministers simply have “no business” calling missions directly and virtually instructing them, multiple diplomats — both serving and retired — told The Telegraph.

“We were quite taken aback ourselves,” a diplomat at the Indian mission in Nairobi said over the phone.

“It is completely understandable for a political leader to be worried about the security of Indians, but our job is to take instructions from New Delhi, not Gandhinagar.”

In Nairobi, Tripathi, deputy high commissioner Tanmay Lal and others at the Indian mission had fanned out across hospitals on Saturday evening, tracking down all Indians and Indian-origin patients.

It is diplomatic practice for chief ministers concerned about nationals from their state who are overseas to turn to the Centre for any assistance, and to route any concerns to specific missions abroad through the foreign ministry.

Modi has in the past too targeted the UPA government on its foreign policy, accusing it of being soft on China over border tensions, on Pakistan over terrorism and even on Italy over the killing of Indian fishermen by Italian marines.

But the Prime Minister, frequently accused by Modi’s BJP of being indecisive and slow, was prompt both in reaching out to Kenya and in reacting to the death of Indians in the Westgate mall attack.

“India condemns in the strongest terms this heinous and senseless assault, which has snuffed out so many innocent lives, including nationals of both our countries,” Singh wrote on Sunday to the Kenyan President.

Singh promised Kenya any assistance it may need, and India, officials said, is seeking real-time information on the attacks and will collaborate with Nairobi for updates on the probe.

The foreign ministry had on Saturday instructed Tripathi and his team to establish contact with all key Indian community leaders in Nairobi and ensure they had access to the cellphone numbers of the high commissioner and other senior officials.