The leaders of major world economies will converge in Brisbane for the G20 meeting on 15 November. A few of these leaders are not seen favourably in the West as they do not pass the credentials of being democratically elected leaders. They include leaders of communist China, controversial Russia, royals of Saudi Arabia and leaders of a few Muslim countries. However one of the most controversial leaders will be the Prime Minister of India, despite being elected to the office by the largest democracy in the world.
The current Indian PM, Mr Narendra Modi was denied a diplomatic visa to US for more than 10 years, then the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat. In addition, the B1/B2 visa that had previously been granted to him was also revoked. This was under a section which makes any foreign government official who was responsible or “directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom” ineligible for the visa to enter USA. Interestingly Narendra Modi is the only person ever denied a visa to the U.S. under this provision. The backdrop of this decision was the massacre of more than 1000 people, mostly Muslims, during his rule in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002. Many international human right agencies blamed his administration for failing to act to prevent the riots. Indian courts gave Modi clearance, however many, both at home and overseas, see it with suspicion and have questioned the independence of Indian legal system in this case.
On the other hand, Modi is highly regarded for his economic policies. Many admire him for creating an environment of high economic growth in Gujarat during his 13 years rule. However, this achievement is also surrounded by many controversies. Many opponents including Arvind Kejriwal who is regarded as the prominent reformist in Indian politics, have criticised Modi for failing to make a significant positive impact upon the human development of the state. They blame him for favouring big industrialists and exploiting poor farmers and small business. Indian media, backed by the major corporations, turned Modi into a great hero during elections early this year. Extreme right wing within the BJP successfully launched him as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the party ignoring senior political stalwarts.
BJP achieved a landslide victory and swearing in of Modi as Prime Minister created great excitement in Indian stock markets. Major world economies looked for an opportunity to grab market share in India’s future growth and prepared to roll out the red carpet for the new Indian PM. They suddenly forgot about his past record. His recent US visit is proving to be the catalyst in economic ties between the two largest democracies.
Australia does not want to leave this opportunity and has been keen to grant rousing reception to India’s new Prime Minister. He will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Australia in 28 years and the first Indian leader ever to address the Australian parliament.
While Tony Abbott is willing to shirtfront the Russian leader Vladimir Putin for his adventures in Ukraine, he has no reservations in embracing the Indian leader and offering him the podium at the Nation’s Parliament.
During a visit to India in September, Tony Abbot signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with Narendra Modi in New Delhi, overturning a longstanding ban on uranium exports to the subcontinent. The agreement is controversial as India has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty despite possessing an arsenal of atomic weapons. The India-Australia relationship is rapidly moving beyond the mutual fondness and rivalry on cricket grounds.
A decade ago, India wasn’t in the top ten destinations for Australian exports. Today India is Australia’s fifth largest exporter partner. India accounts for $A11.4 billion or 3.6% of Australian exports which is expected to grow exponentially in coming years. Despite being a major emerging economy, India continues to suffer from bureaucratic deficiencies of a third world country. As an embarrassment for the Narendra Modi government, even allowing for the short time it has been in office, India dropped two places to stand 142nd out of 189 countries ranked by the World Bank for ease of doing business in its annual report released a few days back.
Indian diaspora in Australia has grown significantly over the past 10 years. Australia became a favourite destination in India after US and European economies suffered heavily during global financial crisis. Australian economy continued to grow during this period due to China’s boom. This diaspora is planning huge reception for Modi as was done by American Indians a few weeks ago.