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World is no more in awe of Modi. His 2019 adventures have robbed India of all the goodwill

Modi govt's claim that everything – CAA, NRC, Internet shutdowns, police excesses – is a 'domestic' issue and therefore of no concern to the outside world is simply not credible.

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It was a year that began with whispers of concern about India and ended with loud criticism. The awe felt around world capitals for Narendra Modi’s massive electoral mandate vanished quickly in the face of his many domestic moves.

From bisecting Kashmir to enacting new citizenship laws, the world watched Modi’s relentless drive to alter the nature of things. When students and civil society rose in protest, they were branded as opposition stooges and thugs to be subdued.

The economy, meanwhile, kept sinking – it was as if the numbers weren’t reaching Modi. Delusions were the currency. The shine was rapidly coming off but nothing a rally of the faithful couldn’t fix or flat out denials couldn’t counter.

Diplomats from friendly countries asked worriedly, “Is India changing from a secular, pluralistic country to something else?” They were afraid to use the word “majoritarian” and still are.

This week Ken Juster, the US ambassador to India, pointedly changed background pictures on his Twitter profile which now catalogue his visits to important sites of all India’s major faiths. It was one way of sending a message.

As questions multiply, Indian diplomats have few real answers. And no one should blame them – they have the toughest job. Who can credibly answer why the UP police arrested minors or a chief minister called for “revenge” against protesters?

That’s where we are. It’s hard to deny that 2019 was the year when Modi’s domestic adventures robbed the bank of goodwill accumulated over time, including in the early years of his own tenure when many foreign governments saw him as an agent of India’s rise.

But today it’s a very different scenario. From India’s neighborhood to the “far” abroad, governments are wondering what the end game in Kashmir is, where India is really headed and whether it can rise and shine anytime soon. Because at this time, the Modi government seems mired in the pursuit of aims that won’t create jobs or modernize the military for real “chowkidaari” against real enemies. How long can the young be deployed in pointless “dadagiri” about the culture of cows and nostalgia about a distant past filled with miracles?

The claim that everything – Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens, continued detention of Kashmir’s former chief ministers, crackdown on protestors, Internet shutdowns, police excesses – is a “domestic” issue and therefore of no concern to the outside world is simply not credible.

In the end, the BJP does and must care about its image abroad or it wouldn’t deploy scores of Internet troops to denounce and denigrate critics with alacrity. The prime minister certainly seems to embrace his carefully cultivated image of a “world statesman” who is engaged from Africa to Asia, hobnobbing with leaders.

Also read: In 2020, don’t rely on routine rallies and marches. Modi’s India needs new ways to protest

But India’s image took a beating this year. The willingness to believe New Delhi’s version of events diminished in direct proportion to the ineptness and heavy-handedness on display across the country. Official versions simply don’t stand up after a point.

It actually began quietly earlier in the year when independent experts questioned the success of the Balakot operation while US officials twisted themselves into pretzels in order not to embarrass New Delhi. But it doesn’t mean they weren’t assessing Indian capabilities for real.

Official America even worked to deliver a big gift during Modi’s campaign – the timing of the Masood Azhar’s terrorist designation was not a coincidence. The Trump Administration calculated Modi was the strongman needed for the times as the Americans challenged China on the seas and on trade. Helping Modi was a good move.

The Trump Administration’s steady support for the Modi government, however, hides a big wart – trade disputes – and it’s not something that can be papered over too long. Things will come to a head in 2020 as Trump prepares for his re-election campaign and wants to list trade successes.

The question the Americans ask is if India finds China formidable and deceptive on trade, why doesn’t it resolve its trade problems with the US? They see themselves as the obvious choice and can’t understand why even a small trade deal has proved elusive after years of negotiations.

Tougher questions are in the offing. Here’s one: Was India pulling out of RCEP an anti-China move or an anti-trade move? Down the line, problems in the trade relationship could begin to affect the strategic partnership. Even on defense, Washington can see that there is little money in India’s budget to take spectacular initiatives or buy new systems.

Add to that, the idea that India will be friends with everyone based on issues in this era of multi-alignment. But it can work only up to a point – the idea of being a free-floating balancer in the world will not work. Some choices have to be made at some time because India can’t keep everyone “half happy or half unhappy” and maximize its gains.

Yes, the Trump Administration is committed to India and future administrations might be too, but India is not making it easy by letting the economy slide by refusing to make the hard decisions because one constituency or the other might be unhappy. Global downturn is not the complete answer for India’s slowdown and everyone knows it.

Then there’s the question of a change in the White House in 2020 – what if a Democrat wins? India’s troubles with the Democrats are well known and it would be foolhardy to believe things would be easy.

The larger compulsions of the strategic partnership will likely prevail in the end but cracks in the bipartisan support for India will take time to heal.

This is India’s problem as it prepares for 2020 vis-à-vis the US – rebuilding bridges with the Democrats that were burnt in haste during “Howdy Modi” and remembering that the US Congress is a co-equal branch of government. The irony – New Delhi always believed bipartisan Congressional support was a given and it got cavalier.

Democracies must honor the opposition, not tarnish it. It doesn’t come naturally to some but in the larger interest, it’s the only way.

Seema Sirohi is a columnist based in Washington DC. She writes on US foreign policy in relation to South Asia. Views are personal.

This article was first published by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF).

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  1. The Indian government are CHAMAR ” lowest class government in the world” they go to mandil and pray the cows as God and yet allowing the army and police to kill innocent people . They call themselves human being . Shame on India and the government .

  2. Some people were disgusting pre 2019 so disgusting post 2019. They never acknowledged that world is in awe of modi . How can they be neutral judge .


    yes , if you allow his haters to affect you. You will not see the good.



    SO my darling fan of Soniya Gandhi….don’t write wrong things against your PM.. Narendra Modi.

  4. America and their DC columnists think they can patronize India and get away with it. Apparently, India is failing to live up to America’s standards and America is “disappointed”. Those “standards” are BS and everyone knows it. America regularly uses drones to kill terrorists without any regard for collateral damage. The new age America seems to create one mess after other and expects others to clean it up. Iraq/Syria fallout caused refugee crisis and who knows how Afghanistan story is going to go. Here the author says India can not play two sides and maximize its gains but that is exactly what US is doing with India and Pakistan. If US wants India to have new systems against China then may be they should provide it. Nothing would please US more than India and China fighting each other. India should continue to resolve its long standing problems like Kashmir and make sure that its economy grows. These very diplomats who now facing “difficulties” will come around if India stands up for itself and stops seeking external approval.

  5. Those who are disgusting in Lahore,they are also disgusting in peshawar,isn’t it.
    Earlier you never acknowledged world is in awe of modi. And you were wrong , you confessed just now.
    Now again you are wrong about him post 2019.Have a bet .

  6. Author lives in cloud cuckoo land. The West US/UK was never pro-India in the last 70 years. The US even threatened India in 1971 and was whole heartedly pro-Pakistan and pro China. As far as India is concerned it needs to act in it’s own interests irrespective of what the world thinks.

    • This is 2019. And you give an example from 1971. Why do bhakts like to live in the past?

      Modi had a good reception in the West when he became PM – despite the Gujarat problem from 2002. It was not because of a sense of charity. It was because India is potentially a very large market.

      All that has now been frittered away after Modi 2.0.

      If this is explanation is difficult for the bhakts to understand (there are many comments from them below), then they should do some award wapasi, that of their school and college degrees. They are worthless.

    • Correct but all changed after economic liberalisation. World was changing to pro-India because of democratic values and economic potential. Both were lost in the last few years.

    • nice name, poison-tongue! a country needs its friends like any one else but unfortunately today we are counting the likes of Bolsanaro and Netanyahu and johnson in the ranks of friends. better friend-less that friends like that.

  7. Nehru was also an international fame leader but got a lesson from Chinese in 1962 and after that war with Pakistan in 1965,71,99 and also proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir from 1990 to today. China has many problems with his minority groups but he doesn’t care. No place for any democratic system in China but Indian secularists and leftists always praise him. Modi has decided to end many problems inherited from the Nehru era, causing uneasiness inside and outside India.

    • do they pay you extra to be extra incoherent? or is it that the ideas of bhakts’ are so illogical that it is hard to write coherently?

  8. I have lived in the US for 30 years. If the US thinks about India at all, ( which is very rarely) it is mostly about IT companies and how they are taking away jobs or about exotic items from the past.
    China and Saudi Arabia have ahown that economoic oower trumps any “goodwill”.
    Modi should be faulted for weakening economic lwverage. The reason to object to BJP activites has to be based on its meritsas you see it… not some ideaof “ooh what will the west think” . Who gives a F…. .
    It is not as if the ” goodwill” ( which I doubt there was) was of any use anyway.
    Even the British , whom we parted as “friends” has hwvy pakistan tilt due to its demographics … where is the goodwill.

    • What exactly have you been doing in the US for the last 30 years? It’s obvious that what the US has to offer is important for you. Do we need to really discuss that?

      And it’s obvious that Indians are well thought of in the US. Otherwise there is no way to explain why you have two Indians as heads of two of the largest companies of the world.

      All this will be dramatically affected if Modi has his way. The reputation of Indians as coming from a pluralistic society will suffer.

      And remember that India needs a LOT of foreign investment. Even that will be affected. Even China will see this happening because of it becoming a more closed society.

  9. Utter nonsense!Right through Independance of India,we have been eating an humble pie throughtour history. The world has never thought India of any consequence, it is our foolishness to harm our national interests just to be in good will of the so called world. First pritority of any gov is the nation and national interests. This has been given a kick boot by congress and the big example of it is Sonia an Italian ruling India ,how shameful it is. The same shiv sena taking orders from sonia how disgraceful it is. It is Modi who has brougth some sense of direction in protecting our national interests by tackling the age old problems created by anti national policies of congress and its crony left.While doing so,if countries like Malysia,turkey,pakistan get piqued ,then it is good only. India needs to be a strong state so that its enemies dare not play games with us.

    • in what way has modi done anything for india? in any case, modi is now finished – it is all engineered by shah now and he is clearly a thug!

  10. I have been reading news papers , news magazines since 1965. I don t remember having read that world is/ was of in way or time in awe of India at any time during last five decades. — yes I am particularly referring to the period when India was under tutelage of your darling Nehruvian dynasty and their offspring . So why this type of misleading headline in Theprint ? The author seems to have graduated from some madrasa in Afghanistan run by Taliban producing knowledge factory or ardent follower of Religious material from across the western borders where by Hate India- Hate Modi – is only readable served to faithfuls.

    • What about your hate for Nehru. That is justified. Your political god has given the right to hate to only people of your specific genes. You have nothing else to offer.

    • You are a little bit wrong here. During 1971, the american public and press were solidly in india’s favour even though Nixon and kissinger favoured pakistan. That helped India control the american govt reaction.
      Today it is doubtful that in a similar 1971 situation, the american public will be so unanimous in favor of india as in 1971.

    • no pint hating Modi any more – he is a has-been! it is all about Shah now. Do you love Shah as well?

  11. In this so called ‘article’, we find a lot of assertions but no substantiation. It is tweet blown to about a thousand words.
    The writer makes two assertions. (1) the world was in awe of Modi and (2) it no longer is. There is substantiation for neither. This is poor journalism.
    Truth is, Modi has always evoked two different feelings–love and hatred. Those who loved him, love him more; those who hated him, hate him more.
    The author, apparently, belongs to the latter category, which is fine. But for her to let her personal feelings out in the form of a journalistic article is silly and it falls flat.

  12. Nehru’s pathological need for his colonial masters’ approval landed us in existential crises that we are still suffering from. On matters of vital national interests, we have to do what is best for us irrespective of what others think. We hire diplomats to convey our point of view and use whatever leverages we have to manage the external relations. It is a delicate balance, which tilts more in our favor as we become stronger economically. The nehruvian leftists are brought up on a diet of empty slogans and imaginary “moral” posturings in exchange for a pat on the back from from outsiders, while sacrificing our vital national interests. We have had enough of their balderdash for seven decades. Let’s hope the current administration is ushering in a cultural shift in our country’s governance from the nehruvian model of empty slogans and inaction. While we are dreaming, let’s hope the Congress party gets rid of the Nehru family, which is the fountainhead of most ills that ail India.

        • That comment was tongue in cheek.

          I hope that this storm blows over quickly and that Indians get down to solving the real problems that India faces. And there are many of them.

  13. I will add to my earlier comment: The world was NEVER in awe of Modi. It is a perception you (media) have created, and it is a perception you are now bent on destroying. These headlines are merely for attracting readership. Pick up any foreign newspaper, most of all NYT and the prestigious Financial Times from 2013-14, and you will only find articles critical of Modi. That’s media; its job is to be critical.

  14. there are so many CIA agents in India. lol when USA/UK banned NaMo from entering their respective countries, were they respecting opposition in the world’s largest democracy? nobody gives a F about ‘image’. it is all about hard power. Hope Indian economy comes back on the track and India R&D improves and we get out of CIA sphere of influence.

    • Absolutely brilliant. You have hit the nail on the head. These journalists would be unemployed without Modi. And retired ashok would languish in his armchair.

    • When people start talking about the CIA, that is an indication that their brain has sagged into their socks. 2. Languish toh economy kar rahi hai. Ijaazat le kar uske baare mein bhi ek aadha semi literate comment post kijiye. Foreign Affairs se kuchh cut paste hi kar dijiye.

    • kuch logon ko comments padh kar samajh nahin aa raha…economy or foreign policy ki kichchdi bana kar apni frustration nikalte hain apne iPad par. Foreign country mein kuch saal rahiye, wahan ke akhbaar padiye, kuch kitaben padiye, tab baat kariye. Cut-paste karna zaroori hai un logon ke liye jo foreign words ko sone mein tolte hain and apne goalpost badalte hain.

    • Forget CIA, but this fact “when USA/UK banned NaMo from entering their respective countries, were they respecting opposition in the world’s largest democracy?” will not be acknowledged by Modi haters adept at twisting arguments.

  15. “Add to that, the idea that India will be friends with everyone based on issues in this era of multi-alignment. But it can work only up to a point – the idea of being a free-floating balancer in the world will not work. Some choices have to be made at some time because India can’t keep everyone “half happy or half unhappy” and maximize its gains.” – precisely, the answer lies here in this statement.

    Modi needs to decide now which camp is best suited to India’s strategic interests. My personal view is to go for QUAD and dump RCEP. Align whole-heartedly with the West, encouraging FDI and making tax reforms. China and Pakistan are natural adversaries whose only motive is to keep India unbalanced till eternity. The only question is that if India takes that detour from ‘free floating balancer’ – one way or another, will media be satisfied?

    • And rightly so, since all those that have named are engaging in destroying the economy and tearing the social fabric of the country.

      • Seema JI – then what’s opposition doing? If the country is being torn apart, doesn’t the opposition have the responsibility towards Indian citizens to initiate a NO-CONFIDENCE motion in the Parliament? Evading police, pillion riding on a two-wheeler – that too by a headline grabbing, non-elected, senior party functionary of the most important opposition party – won’t save the country, don’t you agree? Or would you say that the opposition parties in India are imbecile?

        • You have problems remaining on the topic under discussion. So let me start by saying that I agree with you: the opposition is not doing its job. I think that is clear even to an imbecile.

          But that does not justify not criticising what Modi and Shah are doing. This is what is being discussed in this article. SO why are you dragging in other things – even if they are indirectly related.

          These are elementary errors of logic. That is why you can’t stomach what Ashok writes. He has logic in what he writes. You may or may not agree with what he says. Unfortunately, you don’t.

          Please now get our of your mental prison.

        • Initiate a NO-CONFIDENCE motion in the Parliament? Why this nonsense? Don’t you even know tht the opposition has NO-CONFIDENCE in the current dispensation that runs the country? Do they have to do a stupid, suicidal exercise of initiating a NO-CONFIDENCE motion in the Parliament where as you know the Modi government has an absolute majority? WHY THE OPPOSITION SHOULD INITIATE A FIGHT WITHOUT A DECENT CHANCE OF WINNING, AND WASTE ITS MEAGRE RESOURCES? WHY YOU INSIST THAT THE OPPOSITION SHOULD DO SUCH A STUPID THING?

          Instead of pontificating nad preaching sermons, why don’t you, as one of the owner of the country, and hence as a stakeholder in the street, and challenge the government? You think you can save the country from being torn apart by calling the opposition parties imbecile, and abusing the Family at every turn? Aren’t you one of the bosses, and Modi your PRADHAN SEVAK? What happens in the country tells a lot about people like you. You deserve whatever is coming to you. Here is the deal, just in case you don’t understand: (1) YOU SHALL BE GOVERNED NO BETTER THAN YOU DESERVE. (2) WHIPPING SHALL MERCILESSLY CONTINUE UNTIL YOUR MORALS IMPROVE. AMEN!

      • I will add to my comment. Let’s assume BJP is a vulture feeding on Indian political, economic and social fabric. Then, in that sense, the opposition parties are also vultures, siting and waiting for the vulture-in-power to finish, and then grab the remaining booty. This coalition in Maharashtra is NOT to transform Mumbai into Singapore and uplift the PER CAPITA to Switzerland levels. It is just an example of that vulture like behaviour and rule that runs the jungle. Wake up.

        • Agree with you on all those perspectives. If the BJP are the primary predators, the opposition are simply behaving like scavengers. The entire body politic of the country is thoroughly rotten. But the main condemnation should be reserved for the ruling dispensation as they are the chief drivers of these disruptive processes as the economy nosedives. A part of the condemnation should be given to the political opposition as well.

        • you should read Prachette – he has this concept of “ordinary evil” and evil that is beyond the ordinary… we can live with ordinary every-day evil – we can try to make it better but to get rid of it entirely is usually not possible. but rssnis beyond that – when evil beyond ordinary begins to dominate, the earth itself rises up in rebellion.

          • Thanks for suggesting, and being straightforward in calling out the diabolical by its name (though NOT in capital letters). There are two points: (1) are you suggesting that a combo of Sonia-Pawar-Akhilesh-Mamta is “ordinary evil” and will govern India better? and (2) the article is about India acting as a “free floating balancer” (in the midst of US-China rivalry) on which my view is that India should dump China and align whole-heartedly with Western interests. Will some of the readers on this website – who talk Capitol Hill and Huawei alternatively to support their arguments against this government – take a clear stance?

            No one is objecting to the rebellion. No one is contesting human rights situation in Kashmir. But these cannot be discussed and criticised by taking cover of what foreign media is saying. They are condemnable on their own merit. The world is NOT obsessed with India. Barring regular articles – as critical as these are of domestic politics in their own homeland, India hardly exists. The policy makers fuss partly due to the risk of a nuclear war and partly because of traditional pressure tactics. I assure you that as of today, ‘The World’ (that matters so much to some readers on this website) is discussing Australian bush fires more than it is discussing India, and criticising the Australian government for not acknowledging the role of climate change.

  16. I regularly read Ms Seema Sirohi’s columns in ET. Takes care to use loads of sugar coating. This one dispenses with the formalities. Contrary to what the apologists might say, what the world thinks of us matters one helluva lot. One big reason Mrs G lifted the emergency, called fresh elections, was the disdain her foreign friends expressed for what Nehru’s daughter had done to India’s democracy. So this steady build up of dreadful coverage in the global media is getting under our skins. Foreign governments must be adding their disappointment. It will all register and lead to changes which the emotions of the Kashmiris or the Muslims of Meerut will not.

    • Did pre modi so called good image of India, convinced world that Kashmir was attacked by Pakistan & they became advocate of India, no.

      World never was in awe of Indian image.

      • You are talking to an echo chamber who gets up in the morning and starts typing on any anti-establishment article barring askhileshbabu, mamta didi and shri pawar JI.

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