Berliner TageBlatt - Australia fetes India's Modi as 'the boss'

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Australia fetes India's Modi as 'the boss'
Australia fetes India's Modi as 'the boss' / Foto: © AFP

Australia fetes India's Modi as 'the boss'

Australia offered Narendra Modi a rock-star welcome Tuesday, lavishing praise on the Indian leader during a visit heavy on trade and light on criticism.


Modi held a campaign-style rally at a 21,000-capacity Sydney arena on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese playing emcee.

Lured by the world's most populous market and a counterweight to China's growing military, diplomatic and economic clout, Australia's government is layering on the charm.

To chants of "Modi! Modi! Modi!" Albanese introduced his "dear friend" to a jazzed-up crowd of Indian-Australians, who he praised for making Australia "stronger and more inclusive".

"The last time I saw someone on the stage here was Bruce Springsteen and he didn't get the welcome that Prime Minister Modi has got," Albanese said.

"Prime Minister Modi is the boss!" he said, breaking into a broad smile and boasting the pair had met six times in the past year.

It was an unusually personal show of support for Modi, a nationalist leader who faces re-election next year and has been criticised for democratic backsliding and discrimination against India's non-Hindus.

Modi reciprocated his host's praise, offering a long list of interests that bind the two countries: from cricket to curry, yoga to Masterchef.

"The most important foundation of our ties is mutual trust and mutual respect," he said.

Modi on Monday started his first visit to Australia since 2014, his first year in office.

Behind the flattery and mutual backslapping lie some hardheaded strategy and politics.

As Australia struggles with a more assertive China, it is looking for economic and political partners in an increasingly rough-and-tumble neighbourhood.

India's economic performance has been mixed in the past decade, with missteps curbing growth. But hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty.

It is now the second-fastest growing economy in the G20 and a multi-trillion-dollar market.

And for both Modi and Albanese, the Indian diaspora offers a rich font of votes and campaign donations, according to Ian Hall, an international relations professor at Brisbane’s Griffith University.

"What we saw with this joint appearance in Sydney is an intermingling of Australian and Indian domestic and foreign policy," he told AFP.

"Both leaders are looking for funds and support, with the Indian diaspora centre-stage, and using the bilateral partnership almost as leverage."

Indian-Australians make up the country's fastest-growing and second-largest diaspora, with 673,000 Indian-born citizens in a population of 26 million.

- 'Blatant' targeting of minorities -

But Albanese's warm embrace of Modi has raised questions, too.

Under Modi "the world's largest democracy" has become less free and more dangerous for his critics, according to Human Rights Watch's Elaine Pearson.

"Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has been tightening its grip on civil society, using draconian laws to arrest and intimidate activists, journalists, opposition leaders, academics, peaceful protesters, and critics of government policies," she said.

Rights groups say India's 200 million Muslims have also faced increased discrimination and violence since Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP swept to power in 2014.

There are "large pockets" within the Indian community who oppose Modi's treatment of minorities, said Bilal Rauf, spokesperson for the Australian National Imams Council.

"We are deeply concerned about his visit, and the manner in which he has been welcomed without any of the issues of concern in his own country being raised," Rauf told AFP.

"Those issues of concern relate to the very blatant and overt measures taken against minority groups, Muslims in particular, and people in Kashmir," he said, referring to the disputed Himalayan region claimed by both India and Pakistan.

"We're hopeful that our leaders will raise it as an issue."