Modi ‘scolding’ Albanese on temple vandalism smacks of double standards

An Australian newspaper unambiguously stated that their Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, “received a public scolding from another world leader while conducting business overseas”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Indian PM Narendra Modi, Khalistan, Australia Hindu temple vandalism
Australian PM Anthony Albanese with Indian PM Narendra Modi on the first day of the fourth India-Australia Test at Narendra Modi Stadium on March 9 | Pic: Twitter/Anthony Albanese

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to publicly raise the issue of some incidents in recent weeks, such as acts of vandalism on Hindu temples in Australia by alleged pro-Khalistan groups, is, first and foremost, an instance of boorish diplomacy.

Barely a day after exhibiting the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the cricket stadium named after him in Ahmedabad to bolster his popularity, Modi’s decision to rake up the issue at a joint press conference in New Delhi smacks of double standards and is simultaneously a conspicuous violation of the much-repeated saying, Atithi Devo Bhava (Guest is akin to God).

This was the second time that Modi staged a grandiose event with an international leader at the erstwhile Motera Stadium. He mounted such a theatrical extravaganza for the first time in February 2020 when then American President Donald Trump visited India and joined a rally that pledged support to Modi who was weathering the political storm created by the anti-CAA agitation.

Reaction in Australia


Unhappy with Modi’s treatment of their prime minister, at least one Australian newspaper and leading website, The Australian, in a news report headlined ‘Indian PM criticises Albanese over recent Melbourne Hindu temple attacks’, unambiguously stated that Albanese “received a public scolding from another world leader while conducting business overseas.”

Also read: PM Albanese in Delhi: Australia won’t tolerate attacks on religious buildings

The writer of the report pointed out that after the Aussie premier “was welcomed into India with a shower of flower petals” before the start of the fourth Test match with Australia, he “received stern words” from Modi, barely a day later.

The public reaction in Australia when Albanese returns after this public admonishment is anyone’s guess. It will also have to be seen if the incident, and Modi’s hallmark style of messaging his majoritarian supporters, has any impact on the tricky situation in Australia involving Sikh separatist groups and the equally boisterous response of Hindu rightwing forces who draw strength from Modi and his political ecosystem in India.

Temples partially defaced

The issue of attacks on Hindu temples has cast a shadow over India-Australia ties since the attacks began earlier this year. At least three temples in Brisbane, Melbourne, and in Carrum Downs were partially defaced since January and anti-India, along with pro-Khalistani, graffiti was painted on the walls of the shrines.

In the wake of these incidents, senior Indian officials are reported to have raised the issue with the Australian federal government. News reports mention that a polite warning was conveyed to Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Home Affairs Minister Claire O’Neil about pro-Khalistan terrorists groups becoming active in the country.

Also read: India, Australia aim for early conclusion of trade pact talks, target $100 bn trade

The Indian government’s ire was also conveyed to journalists by Indian officials in Australia. These officials conveyed that New Delhi was particularly piqued over the decision of the Socialist Left faction within the Australian Labour Party in Victoria ALP to employ a prominent member of the Khalistani state campaign, who is alleged to have carried a flag associated with the separatist movement, at a major Indian event.

Albanese mollifies Modi

After having repeatedly flagged the issue through diplomatic and media channels in recent weeks, it would have been prudent for Modi to stop by drawing the attention of Albanese to his sentiments. He however, chose to make the issue public at a press conference while standing next to Albanese, thereby making public a point of disagreement between him and his Australian counterpart.

At the media interaction, Modi, while referring to the incidents, said that it is but “natural that such news worries the people in India, and disturbs our mind. I conveyed these feelings and concerns to Prime Minister Albanese and he has assured me that the safety of the Indian community is of special priority for him.”

It is evident that Modi was infuriated with Albanese for his response. Australian media reported that he conveyed to Modi his country’s “speech commitment”. However, the Australian premier sought to mollify his Indian counterpart by reassuring his commitment to deal with incidents of violence and other hate speech.

Sikh separatist activity in Australia

India’s ire is not just against fundamentalist vandals targeting Hindu temple but is actually directed at several non-binding referendums on an independent Sikh state that are being organized by the US-based group, Sikhs for Justice, in countries with high Sikh populations, like Canada and Australia.

Also read: PM Modi raises temple attacks issue with Australian PM Albanese

The Indian government obviously does not appreciate the Australian establishment’s decision to underplay the activities of the Sikh separatist groups. During Albanese’s visit, the Australia’s High Commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell, also stressed that these “so-called referendums” had no legal standing.

Undoubtedly, Canberra has been caught off guard by the sudden emergence of widespread Sikh separatist activity in Australia. The Australian government is privately concerned about the appearance of Sikh separatism.

Modi rakes up an emotive chord

It is not surprising for those adept in understanding how Hindu rightwing forces create fear psychosis among the majority community that Australia has witnessed a near-simultaneous political response on this issue from local Hindu nationalists with possible links to the Sangh Parivar.

New Delhi could have remained realistic regarding the extent of threat to Hindus from these active Sikh separatist groups. It could also have limited drawing attention in public to activities of these radical groups that work according to the Indian state’s perception of political reality in Punjab and the issue of alleged Sikh marginalization.

Also read: India vs Australia: PMs Modi, Albanese watch Ahmedabad Test

Modi could have personally pledged support to Albanese and sought more information on global networks of Sikh separatists. Instead, Modi decided to rake up a more emotive chord — that Hindus and their places of worship are being targeted by anti-India forces with support of foreign regimes.

Undermining efforts of PIOs

All this is not just part of a much-repeated electoral template, but also undermines efforts of Indians who have made Australia, Canada, and other countries their homes to integrate with the mainstream in these countries and stop living as minorities. Indians who choose to immigrate to other countries cannot be treated by the Indian government as “primarily” Indians.

Instead, they should be considered nationals of that country who are of Indian origin. The government should be aware that the more it speaks up for Persons of Indian origin on false issues, the more would other inhabitants of those countries be suspicious of their loyalty.

Modi flagging the issue of these alleged attacks on the temples and saying that this indicated lack of safety for “Indian people” is also a duplicitous argument, for India under Modi does not have a good track record at ensuring protection and safeguarding constitutional rights of religious minorities.

Also read: Aussie PM arrives on 4-day visit; Modi ‘looks forward’ to productive talks

In the past, India has come down heavily against other nations whenever it was shown the mirror following attacks on religious minorities in India, especially Muslims and Christians.

Hindu Hriday Samrat

Modi raked up the issue of vandalism of Hindu temples because there are electoral benefits to be harvested during the run-up to next year’s parliamentary polls. Modi, in any case, addresses the Hindu diaspora not as the prime minister of this country but primarily as the Hindu Hriday Samrat, or the Emperor of Hindu Hearts.

Albanese, in his response to Modi when the issue was discussed between the two, also reminded the Indian strongman that “Australia is a country that respects people’s faith” and that the government does not “tolerate the sort of extreme actions and attacks on religious buildings; Hindu temples, mosques, synagogues, or churches.”

For a leader who is aware of the deficiencies of the Indian regime in protecting places of worship belonging to minority communities, such words will not be music.

Furthermore, the assertion of the Australian PM that “we are a tolerant multicultural nation” would not have been pleasing to a leader who believes India is home to one people and one culture.

Does this explain Modi’s decision to admonish the Australian premier in the presence of the global media?

(Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is an NCR-based author and journalist. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin)

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