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Friday, April 16, 2021

Has the recent Indo-China row impacted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of the most popular leaders in the world now. Indians have rallied behind their favourite leader since 2014 and there has been no looking back for him since then. However, has the recent brutal clash at Ladakh’s Galwan Valley changed certain perspectives for the citizens of our country? What is the more important question is whether the recent Indo-China row has impacted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image? Let’s find out a bit more about what could have happened.


Modi’s Ladakh visit a publicity stunt?

The recent conflict with China would have had a detrimental effect on any political persona’s image but it did not affect Modi and it is quite clear. Within weeks of the standoff in Galwan Valley that witnessed the death of 20 Indian Armed force personnel, Modi was seen in India’s farthest territory — Ladakh. China was also seen withdrawing its troops a day later.

While his critics called the visit a publicity stunt, most Indians along with a lion’s share of the media agreed that that will definitely boost the soldiers’ morale and also send a strong message to the other side of the border. Previously, Modi was in a fix when he had said that no one had violated anyone’s border. But he did not allow the Congress and others in the opposition much time to come up with a strategy to capitalise on that. His Ladakh visit turned the tables. The opposition did try to bring in the narrative that Modi was inside a hospital disturbing the peace of the patients but the Army clarified that they had converted an ‘audiovisual’ hall to temporarily put up the soldiers there and it was time for their counselling.

When Chinese Premier Xi Jingping visited India and spent a day at Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, Modi had told him how he wants to forward a peaceful and friendly relationship with the immediate northern neighbour to “further strengthen ties between India and China”. His speech at Ladakh’s Nimu last week was a stark contrast to his warm greeting. “Bharat Mata’s enemies have seen your fire and fury,” he said and added that any form of expansionism will not be tolerated by India. He also said that history has examples of such expansionist forces in abundance and have they have either lost their battles or have been forced to turn back. But it is pertinent to point out here that India hs lost every time it has faced China which still poses to be a bigger armed power. Modi did consider that argument when he said that India wants peace. But added that it is not because it is weak. “Those who are weak can never initiate peace, bravery is a prerequisite for peace,” he said.

“Your arms are as strong as the mountains you are surrounded by. Your confidence, determination and belief are as strong as the peaks here,” Modi said with vigour as he addressed the soldiers on Friday. “I once again pay my tributes to the brave soldiers martyred in the Galwan Valley. The resolve of a self-reliant India becomes stronger because of your sacrifices,” he said pointing at his Atmanirbhar Bharat Campaign. “We are the same people, who pray to the flute-playing Lord Krishna, but we are also the people who idolise and follow the same Lord Krishna who carries the ‘Sudarshana Chakra’,” he added in what can be understood as a ‘not-so-veiled’ warning to India’s neighbour. “Today, India is becoming stronger, be it in naval might, airpower, space power and the strength of our army. Modernisation of weapons and up-gradation of infrastructure has enhanced our defence capabilities multi-fold,” said Modi.

Will the Indo-China row impact Modi's image?
Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi speaks onstage at the 2014 Global Citizen Festival to end extreme poverty by 2030 in Central Park on September 27, 2014, in New York City (Photo: shutterstock.com/Debby Wong)


Undying popularity

Even though Modi has almost an undepletable fan base in India and across the world in the form of NRIs, his image had taken a hit after India saw spikes in the number of cases and the migrant exodus which left innumerable suffering on the country’s roads. While the blame for all internal trouble can be shifted to either another minister or even better to the bureaucrats, what does one do as the Prime Minister when there is an attack from the outside. They reply as firmly as possible but without taking any rash steps that can endanger their position or the country. That’s exactly what Modi did. One might call it a publicity stunt but it is almost undeniable that this will have a positive effect on the soldiers’ morale. But this raises the question of why India has not been able to come up with strong opposition in the past six years? If people are frustrated with this government or its antics where do they go who do they turn to for guidance? Because a country like any mob needs a leader and there is no other leader in this country other than Modi and no one can be seen for miles to come.

Narendra Modi has not only retained his seat a the Prime Minister of the country but also in every debate, good or bad, for or against him — he is there in every conversation and that helps him stay in the discourse, be relevant. Which the leaders of the opposition have not been able to do. Until India builds a stronger opposition, Modi, his popularity and his image are all safe on the common man, chaiwala pedestal that people have put him on. He has earned it.


What next?

No doubt that the people are angry when there is mismanagement or a decision that goes wrong, but that does not affect him as there is no one to lead that anger into a structured way which might result in a movement or even a change in the Parliament. The Lok Sabha too has a resounding majority of BJP and that means something very important — if they wish for a law they get it passed. The Indian Parliament in the middle years had become a place for just fruitless debates. The coalition governments could never decide on anything and they never ended up passing too many laws or acts. General Election of 2014 changed that. The Parliament was again active but now it is just one-sided, say critics. Which form is better is for the public to decide.


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