Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera 6 Oct 2019

Modi's mega-rallies; political spectacle for the Indian diaspora

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India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, has honed the art of the political spectacle - the rallies, the rousing speeches.

One recent rally in Houston, Texas, attracted 50,000 people, including President Donald Trump. Although Modi supporters with foreign citizenship cannot vote in Indian elections, they do have money, Indians being among the wealthiest immigrant communities in the United States.

It also reflects well on the prime minister when emigrants seen as successful support him, and it all feeds into a well-oiled Modi messaging machine.

If you were India's prime minister, which images would you rather see on television screens back home; hundreds of farmers descending on New Delhi in protest? Soldiers deployed across a Kashmir in lockdown, trying to keep a lid on a geopolitical powder keg? Crowds of people protesting against you and your party's ideology and policies?

Or, 50,000 supporters, mostly Indian-Americans, filling a giant stadium and cheering you at your rally? The American president standing alongside, waving at supporters and walking hand in hand with you? Which pictures would you choose?

"Modi is currently besieged on a number of fronts," says Rohit Chopra, associate professor at Santa Clara University.

"The economy is in a shambles, Kashmiris another burning issue - increasingly, you're getting a fair amount of negative international attention. So this was a show of strength for Modi."

The so-called "Howdy Modi!" rally in Houston was just the latest of 15 foreign rallies Modi has headlined since coming to power in 2014.

As prime minister, Modi has travelled out of India nearly 100 times, visiting some 60 countries. Whether it is New York, Johannesburg or Bahrain, he spends an inordinate amount of time on the road with diaspora communities, building political ties, and forging political narratives.

"He's trying to bring everyone together - you know we might be British, we might be American, but we're still Indian and have Indian heritage," says Prerna Bhardwaj, CEO and founder of Vaahan magazine.

"Seeing Prime Minister Modi go out to different countries ... it just makes people feel proud to be Indian."

Nikita Sud, associate professor at the University of Oxford, sees it differently.

"I think Mr Modi and his BJP have understood the power of the diaspora very well and they have been able to tap into this power like nobody else has."

According to Sud, the message of Modi's ruling party to Indians abroad is "that India is your motherland and you have gone elsewhere to work, and you can be loyal to both".

In this year's general election, the BJP harnessed the diaspora constituency, and it delivered; staging pro-Modi flash mobs in cities around the world and donating dollars, pounds, and other currencies to the cause.

Campaigning in the world's largest democracy is an expensive business and when it comes to fundraising, the BJP runs circles around its Congress party competition.

But the official reason for all these foreign trips is not to boost the Modi brand; it is to attract more investment in India, boost the country's exports and iron out better trade deals - and those things have not quite materialised.

Sud calls it the "Modi spectacle". "The populist leaders of the world coming together and building constituencies through each other … This is about a certain global politics which we all need to keep an eye on."

Produced by: Meenakshi Ravi

Contributors:

Rohit Chopra - associate professor, Santa Clara University

Prerna Bhardwaj - CEO & founder, Vaahan magazine

Nikita Sud - associate professor, University of Oxford

Radhika Iyer - reporter, NDTV


On The Listening Post this week: Faced with an impeachment inquiry in Congress, is President Donald Trump losing friends at Fox News? Plus, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's global charm offensive.

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As the impeachment inquiry in Washington gathers steam, President Trump tweets about a coup, and talk of a looming civil war, there are signs of unrest at the biggest and most influential news network in the country, Fox News.

The complaint at the centre of the impeachment story, filed by an anonymous whistle-blower, alleges Trump abused his powers by asking President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, a potential opponent in next year's presidential election.

Although Fox has been a bedrock of support for this president, there have long been signs of dissent at the network as to where Fox should draw the line in its support of Trump.

But this story has exposed those divisions like never before and on-air arguments between hosts reflect a deeper split among Fox executives and within the network's owners, the Murdoch family.

As Fox's best-known viewer, Trump has certainly noticed that some of those angry tweets he used to reserve for CNN and the New York Times are now heading Fox's way.

Contributors:

David Folkenflik - media Correspondent, NPR News and author of Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires

Aaron Rupar - associate editor, Vox

Alayna Treene - White House reporter, Axios

Luke O'Neil - contributing writer, The Guardian US and author of Welcome to Hell World: Dispatches from the American Dystopia

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Modi's mega-rallies; political spectacle for the Indian diaspora
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has honed the art of the political spectacle - the rallies, the rousing speeches.

One recent rally in Houston, Texas attracted 50,000 people, including US President Donald Trump.

Although Modi supporters with foreign citizenship cannot vote in Indian elections, they do have money - Indians being among the wealthiest immigrant communities in the United States.

It also reflects well on the prime minister when emigrants seen as successful support him, and it all feeds into a well-oiled Modi messaging machine.

The Listening Post's Meenakshi Ravi discusses Modi's careful and clever use of overseas Indians to appeal to voters at home.

Contributors:

Rohit Chopra - associate professor, Santa Clara University

Prerna Bhardwaj - CEO and founder, Vaahan Magazine

Nikita Sud - associate professor, University of Oxford

Radhika Iyer - reporter, NDTV
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