/ 24 May 2023

More Modi than you can handle

Image source: AAP
Image source: AAP

India’s PM Narendra Modi spoke to an excited crowd of 20,000 last night, on the first day of his 2-day official visit to Sydney. Modi was joined on stage at Sydney Olympic Park by PM Anthony Albanese to celebrate “Australia’s large and vibrant Indian community”. Modi thanked the crowd, saying “mutual trust and respect have not developed only due to the diplomatic relations of India-Australia. The real reason, the real power is all of you Indians who live here in Australia.” Note: in 2021, more than 710,000 Indian-born people were living in Australia, making them our 2nd largest group of overseas-born residents in Australia. During Modi’s lightning visit (scheduled for the Quad meeting that was abandoned when US President Joe Biden prioritised domestic issues), he’s seen a procession of politicians, business people, and community leaders and will sit down with Albanese for talks today.

Modi is the leader of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and came from a humble background to become PM in 2014 in a political sphere usually exclusive to the elite. Unashamedly for the Hindu majority of India, the spiritual Modi has focused on India’s economy (but hasn’t been able to deliver at the pace he promised) and important social programs, like providing more than 100 million toilets to improve sanitation and public health across the country. As the leader of the world’s largest democracy that’s overtaken China to have the world’s largest population, Modi steers a big country many believe holds great opportunities for Australia, including our exporters. And with its arsenal of nuclear weapons, India is a power that’s largely on the same page as Oz regarding security matters. So there’s that…

Even Qantas renamed a Melbourne-to-Sydney flight “Modi Airways”, and “Modi Express” buses collected supporters from Canberra and Brisbane for last night’s stadium event… But not everyone’s onboard with protests in Sydney last night and human rights advocates hosting a Parliament House screening of a doco that links Modi to deadly anti-Muslim riots in 2002… Meanwhile, some commentators reckon Modi’s Sydney trip is a show for the Indians back home as his popularity fades. Modi’s party recently lost a big state election, and a national election looms – it’s scheduled for April-May next year. And Modi’s here to shore up defence ties with Australia as we prepare for joint naval exercises later this year, along with talks to increase trade to lessen our reliance on China. Stay tuned for some developments on those fronts today…

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