PM Modi played drums while Kashmir burned
Prime Minister Narendra Modi may still lose the battle of perception despite benefitting India strategically and politically by his just-concluded Africa visit. The reason is simple. He shouldn’t have done a simple thing which he did: Playing drums in Tanzania while back home Kashmir was burning. The imageries got terribly mixed up.
PM Modi has just concluded his whirlwind four-nation Africa tour in five days which took him to Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. The visit was a grand success indeed as he played catch-up with never-announced strategic rival China as all the four African countries he visited were Indian Ocean maritime states, a region where China has been enlarging its footprints of late. Besides, Modi’s visit ensured greater returns for India in terms of trade, economy and diplomacy.
But from the viewpoint of politicians, ultimately every good thing can be adjudged good only in terms of public perception. Therein lies a problem for PM Modi.
His Africa visit coincided with drastic deterioration of law and order situation in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. More than 30 people died and 1,200 were injured in clashes between security forces and irate demonstrators who were demonstrating against the killing of a 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces in the Kashmir valley on July 8.
Jammu and Kashmir was on the boil when Modi was in Africa. Worse, the images of Modi playing drums in Tanzania during his traditional welcome filled the space in the Indian media — electronic, print and digital.
These images conjured up negative message back home. His detractors were outraged as to how could the Indian prime minister turn into a percussionist and beat drums when a sensitive border state like Jammu and Kashmir was burning!
Worse, from the viewpoint of the common Indian man’s psyche, Pakistan waded into the Kashmir picture and poked India for its alleged sins of omission and commission and, much to the chagrin of New Delhi, referred to Burhan Wani as “a Kashmiri leader.”
Thus all the good work done by Modi in Africa was not only nullified but here was a hardworking prime minister who was being hauled over coals for being crassly insensitive in playing drums on the foreign soil when his country’s most politically-sensitive state was burning.
Expectedly, the main opposition party the Congress launched a frontal attack on Modi and lampooned him for playing drums in Africa while Kashmir was burning.
This was the half-glass empty moment for PM Modi. He had done such a good work in Africa and yet one small gesture by him was turned into a major controversy by the opposition.
Modi’s Africa tour was very useful for larger national interests as he took onChina whose robust presence in the continent for decades has made Beijing a formidable power. So much so that even the United States is worried about the lengthening Chinese shadows in Africa. For years the US and its allies in the developed world have been egging on India to increase its footprints in Africa to rein in the Chinese influence.
Though India is nowhere close to the kind of hands-on and pro-active involvement of China with the 55-nation African continent, PM Modi’s Africa visit was very useful in demonstrating to the Africans that India cares for Africa.
It was a carefully planned visit as the Modi dispensation projected India as a better and more caring friend of China by promising local farmers to buy back up to ten million tons of pulses without trying to own their lands, a far cry from the Chinese practices of buying up vast tracts of land and importing Chinese labor. Modi played another smart move by assuring African farmers guaranteed minimum quantity of pulses to be purchased for next decade and that too giving the local farmers the benefit of minimum support price for pulses which India has offered to its domestic market.
PM Modi did one more very important thing. On the last leg of his Africa tour, he also underlined his government’s stand toward so-called preachers who are nothing but agents of spreading hatred in the name of religion.
In Kenya, Modi castigated the preachers who are spreading hatred in India, taking to task all those Hindu preachers or leaders who have vitiated the communal atmosphere in the country by spewing hatred that have resulted in a spate of incidents of violence in the country.
And yet the opposition put Modi in the dock over the Kashmir situation. This brings us to the vital political requirement of managing public perceptions.
While PM Modi beating drums as part of a traditional ceremony in Tanzania may be good in terms of foreign policy, this imagery got transposed in a domestic context like the Kashmir situation and produced a contrary effect!
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