Modi's Davos speech ignored reality, say critics

Indian premier's address to the World Economic Forum draws a mixed reaction as religious divisions increase back home
Modi's Davos speech ignored reality, say critics

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers a speech on the opening day of the World Economic Forum on Jan. 23 in Davos, Switzerland. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

ucanews.com reporters, New Delhi 
India
January 25, 2018
Narendra Modi, the first Indian prime minister to address the World Economic Forum in 20 years, has pitched for an economic strategy that would not allow social divisions at at time when many in India see him as a Hindu hardliner pushing for religion-based nationalism.

Modi's one-hour speech in Hindi, punctuated with Sanskrit quotes from ancient sacred texts of Hinduism, presented India as a land of wisdom and understanding, above all a fast-growing economy and an ideal destination for global investment.

"An unfortunate part of human life is that we allow things to be broken … We first tear it, then put the stitch. By that time, many times, it is too late ... The real strategy would be not to let the fracture happen to the extent it does," the leader of India's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) told the Jan. 23 Davos gathering.

Quoting ancient philosophical texts, Modi pitched India as a nation that believes in equity, inclusiveness, freedom and fullness and fraternity. India always stood for global peace, while democracy and diversity have been its inherent strength, he said.

Modi's address at Davos was significant because it came 20 years after one by then premier H.D. Deve Gowda in 1997.

It evoked mixed reaction back home, where opposition parties and leaders of religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims continue to accuse his BJP-led government of tacitly supporting Hindu hardline actions across the country.

"The fractures have widened within the country in the last few years" after Modi's BJP came to power in New Delhi in May 2014, said opposition Congress party senior leader Anand Sharma, alluding to religion-based tensions.

Modi's message "will hold value only when his government takes steps for the world to see that what the prime minister spoke in Davos is being implemented back in India," Sharma said.

Modi has expressed concerns on the "fissures and divisions in the world. We urge him to address this burning national concern over the disturbing and deepening of the divisions and fissures … He must tell the world that now he is going to practice what he has preached," Sharma said.

Modi has missed a chance to tell the world effectively about the economic situation in the country, opposition Congress general secretary Mohan Prakash told ucanews.com.

"He missed a chance. In an economic forum where statesmen and nation heads meet, he should have spoken more about economics, kept his speech focused on hard statistics and investment mood," Prakash told ucanews.com.

"Unfortunately, more than economics, the prime minister lectured about global social tensions and also philosophical and religious discourses in the country," Prakash said.

Catholic leaders in the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh state, which in recent months has reported a series of attacks on the Christian community from hard-line Hindus, have dismissed Modi's speech as political hyperbolism for international consumption.

He is making "a political statement," said Bishop Anthony Chirayath of Sagar Diocese, where a Catholic mission was sealed off, allegedly under pressure from hard-line Hindu groups two months ago.

"As prime minister, he always makes such statements and the reality in the country is known to everybody," the bishop said, referring to the numerous cases of attacks against Christians and Muslims, including incidents of lynching and attacks by vigilantes committed to protecting cows, a revered animal in orthodox Hinduism.

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Bishop Chirayth's diocese is seeking protection for its education institutions after open threats from hard-line Hindus to storm them as part of their agenda of enforcing Hindu religious worship on Christian education institutions in the name of promoting patriotism.

"An atmosphere of fear exists among the religious minorities and among the socially and economically poor Dalits (formerly untouchable) people," whom hardliners do not consider as part of the Hindu nation they envisage, Bishop Chirayath said.

Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh disagreed with Modi's description of India as a land of peace. "There is a kind of controlled dictatorship where the rights of minorities and other weaker sections are under serious threat," he said.

During Christmas week, a carol team of 32 priests and seminarians were attacked. Police later arrested them and forced them to spend the winter night in a police station as Hindu groups burned their vehicle in front of police.

"Regularly Christian schools are attacked, prayer services are disrupted, pastors are killed … all with impunity," Bishop Almeida said, noting that Modi's presentation of India contrasts hugely with realities.

However, BJP leaders told ucanews.com that Modi is attracting criticism back home because of the global attention he and India get now more than any other time in history.

BJP spokesman Gaurav Bhatia described Modi's speech as highly pointed and inspirational.

"The speech concretizes the achievement of modern India and also lays the roadmap for the future India and the world," he said.

"Congress leaders are getting frustrated by Modi's growing global stature. They are trying to pick up matters which hardly have relevance either in politics or in economics. His speech underlined the need for unity and inclusiveness at all levels."

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