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Byron Shire
September 21, 2023

Matey with Modi

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PM Modi and his shadow. Cloudcatcher Media with Midjourney AI.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese has shown that he likes being publicly associated with popular figures, regardless of their negative associations for some Australians. Examples include Kyle Sandilands, Piers Morgan, and most recently the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi.

Albo and his minders appear to have decided that the tut tutting of progressives and old school lefties are outweighed by everyone else thinking that with friends like these, he must be a good bloke.

When the last planned Quad meeting in Sydney had to be abandoned, due to Joe Biden’s absence, it was thought initially that none of the other leaders would come to Australia, but then Prime Minister Modi decided to turn a negative into a positive, and go solo. He booked a rock arena at Olympic Park with chartered flights and buses from all over to fill it, and organised Albo as his support act.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House were illuminated with Indian flags, and a skywriter declared ‘Welcome Modi’.

On stage in Sydney before 20,000 people, our prime minister held Narendra Modi’s hand high, like a prizefighter, before describing Modi as ‘the boss’ and his ‘dear friend’ to a rapturous crowd. ‘You have brought the spirit of the world’s biggest democracy to Australia,’ said Mr Albanese.

The machinations of Mr Modi. Cloudcatcher Media with Midjourney AI.

What kind of democracy?

So what is the spirit of the world’s biggest democracy? PM Modi is the leader of the BJP, a powerful Hindu-nationalist party. Like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Boris Johnson and Recip Erdogan, he’s a populist leader, whose popularity has come via stoking conflict, and at the expense of minorities, independent media and civil society organisations.

Mr Modi first came to political prominence as the chief minister of Gujarat, with that government presiding over a series of anti-Muslim riots in 2002 which led to thousands of deaths, and 150,000 people being driven to refugee camps. Harvard scholar Martha Nussbaum wrote, ‘There is by now a broad consensus that the Gujarat violence was a form of ethnic cleansing, that in many ways it was premeditated, and that it was carried out with the complicity of the state government and officers of the law.’

As prime minister, Narendra Modi has overseen increasing centralisation of government power, growing political control of the judiciary, and the use of India’s Intelligence Bureau to stifle dissent and mount attacks on domestic civil society organisations and international humanitarian and environmental organisations, including Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Sierra Club. 32 media workers are thought to have been killed in the country since 2014.

Indian tycoon Gautam Adani’s business fortune has risen in parallel with PM Modi’s political rise, with numerous examples of laws being bent or broken in Adani’s favour, despite Modi’s election promises to clean up coal related corruption.

At the same time, there’s no doubt that Modi has presided over an era when a large number of people in his country have been elevated out of poverty, gained electricity and been given more options within India and internationally.

Under PM Modi’s leadership, India is currently the only G20 country on track to meet its climate change mitigation commitments under the Paris Agreement, even while many of its people continue to choke on smog.

Oi oi oi

For Anthony Albanese, Mr Modi’s visit to Sydney was a chance to deepen trading ties and bask in the reflected glory of a man extremely popular with many Indians at home and abroad. The large local diaspora was mostly happy (although there were protests from Sikh and Muslim Indian expats) and the random Australian cheer squad performed on cue.

A dear friend of Australia? Cloudcatcher Media with Midjourney AI.

On Instagram, Guy Sebastian described meeting Mr Modi as a ‘great honour’.

For his part, PM Modi had messages prepared for more than one audience, in more than one language. At one point he said, ‘India is the biggest talent factory’, to the roars of the crowd.

Both prime ministers talked about cricket, a joint inheritance from the British Empire. Mr Modi declared, ‘Our ties have entered the T20 mode. Our democratic values are the foundation of our ties. Our relations are based on mutual trust and respect. The Indian community in Australia is a living bridge between our countries.’

Difficult subjects were put off for another day (year?) with Mr Albanese saying he had a ‘respectful’ relationship with his Indian opposite number. He went on to say that Australia ‘always stands up for human rights, wherever it occurs anywhere in the world.’ Julian Assange, the people of West Papua and the asylum-seekers on Nauru must be very relieved to hear it.

While Narendra Modi continues to buy large amounts of Russian oil and refuses to vote against Vladimir Putin in the United Nations, the blaring subtext for Australia and the Quad is that India is a bulwark against the growing power of China.

For Mr Modi, Australia was an early stop in his 2024 re-election campaign. If successful, his reign will extend beyond ten years. His main political opponent, Rahul Gandhi, is currently in prison for defamation.

David Lowe
David Lowe. Photo Tree Faerie

Originally from Canberra, David Lowe is an award-winning film-maker, writer and photographer with particular interests in the environment and politics. He’s known for his campaigning work with Cloudcatcher Media.

Long ago, he did work experience in Parliament House with Mungo MacCallum.

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  1. It’s interesting how the same actions can be given quite different spins. Establishing positive relations with one of the world’s largest economies and populations could be seen as sensible international diplomacy and sensitive to the national interest.

    Would you prefer the Indian PM was snubbed. Should the PM refuse to meet with any leaders of countries lacking spotless histories and principles? Our export industries have surely suffered enough from putting offside one mega trading partner?

    Tough stances and explicit speech can be seen by some as war mongering.

    Taking up invitations from a traditionally unsympathetic media source could be considered confronting issues head on rather than hiding from accountability?

    Hold the press – politicians are concerned with PR! But Albo has courted equal controversy for bar-b-quing with Lindsay Fox and Daniel Andrews as well – hardly in the Kyle Sandilands circle. With whom is he allowed to socialise? Are any of these occasions of earth shattering consequence?

    Maybe there could be some mention of the restoration of Australia’s relations and reputation by this government?

    We will greatly anticipate the next topic of “political comment”. Perhaps whether Albo arranges the toilet rolls to be unrolled from above or underneath.

    • When Trump is President again, we will light up the Opera House like a MAGA hat, and let him hold a MAGA rally in a stadium when he visits, right?

      • Depends on who “we” is. The reception wasn’t provided by the Australian Government but organised by the Indian Australian Diaspora Association. If any US expats felt so inclined to organise one I’m sure Albo would attend.

        • Good to see you are coming to your senses. Most of those Indians were born here, but you liken them to US expats. Very good.

          • Hardly. Just thought they’d be more likely to be Trump enthusiasts than the Australian born offspring of US born parents that I know.

            Irrelevant really to what I wrote.

            What’s with the garlic? A cure for Covid?

  2. Nothing wrong with having a good trading and political relationship with India and Indians make great citizen when they migrate to Australia.
    But, Albo did go ‘over the top’ in his effusive praise of the controversial Indian PM.

  3. David,

    It is a pity that amongst all this criticism aimed at the individuals (the PMs), you have failed to even mention the fact that some kind of agreement was made to facilitate easier migration by Indians to Australia.

    Given there are 1500 million Indians, this is a serious issue for Australia’s people and environment.

    Could you please do some investigation of the detail of this agreement and its implications, and report the outcome in the Echo for us all.


  4. David, if there was a prize for indulging in triviality you would win it hands down, how about writing some decent unbiased article’s commending Albo and the Labor Govt for all the great positive things they have done since being elected.


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