An icon abroad: Narendra Modi’s tour down under

By Our Reporter
Nick Attam (right) at the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney // Photo: Nick Attam

In a moment reminiscent of a rock concert, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese likened his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, to the American rock legend, Bruce Springsteen, during a recent event in Sydney. The applause that followed confirmed that Modi’s charisma had not been lost in transit over the Indian Ocean.

Modi’s visit to Australia, his first in nine years, came at a time when both nations are seeking to bolster their economic and strategic ties. The Asian giant, India, presents an attractive market for Australia, particularly at a time when the country’s relations with China have strained. With a population of 1.4 billion, India promises substantial opportunities for economic partnership.

The trip, originally planned as a summit for Quad leaders, including the United States and Japan, took on a more bilateral focus, with Modi showcasing the strength and potential of Indian-Australian relations. Speaking in the language of cricket, a sport loved by both nations, Modi described the ties as having entered the “T20 mode”, suggesting a more dynamic, fast-paced, and close-knit relationship between the two countries. He lauded the Indian community in Australia as a “living bridge” between the nations, acknowledging their crucial role in enhancing mutual understanding and cooperation.

Indian diaspora at the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney // Photo: Nick Attam

While in Australia, Modi also met with several prominent personalities, including international chef Sarah Todd and Australian singer Guy Sebastian. Their interactions underscored Modi’s warm public appeal among many Indians living overseas, as well as his emergence as a key player in the global order.

Despite Modi’s popularity, his leadership and the policies of his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have not been without controversy. The Australian visit came amid criticism of the BJP’s policies towards minority groups in India and perceived restrictions on free speech. However, these issues were diplomatically sidestepped during the visit, with Albanese emphasising his “respectful” relationship with Modi.

Modi’s diplomatic manoeuvres in Australia marked a busy week of international engagements, including a visit to Papua New Guinea and a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the G7 summit in Japan. These visits, along with India’s G20 presidency this year and an upcoming meeting with US President Joe Biden, suggest an active Indian foreign policy agenda ahead of the 2024 national elections.

Indian diaspora at the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney // Photo: Nick Attam

The global stage, however, does not insulate Modi from the political realities at home. His party recently lost its only stronghold in the country’s south, and he faces criticism over alleged human rights abuses. How these issues will play out in the coming election remains to be seen.

While the specifics of Modi’s engagements with the Indian community in Australia remain elusive, the broad contours of his visit suggest a leader keen on showcasing his country’s strength and his personal appeal. His interactions with the Indian diaspora, whether in Sydney or elsewhere, will likely continue to play a significant role in shaping his image both at home and abroad.

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