The media on some things are razor sharp and spot on, and on other things they get it totally wrong. It’s fascinating nonetheless.
Here is a story from today’s Economic Times on the NRI involvement in the Modi campaign. Will leave you to judge.
NEW DELHI: While Narendra Modi’s image managers keep up a high-voltage blitz to sell him as a development icon in India, a network of individuals and organisations is working quietly overseas to play down his Hindu hardliner image and pitch him as a leader with whom the world can do business.
Their work has all the makings of a track-II diplomatic effort, with the United States, which has denied Modi a visa since 2005 for his role in the 2002 communal riots, being particularly targeted. At work include professional lobbyists, opinion shapers, ex-diplomats, reputed think-tanks and influential NRI organisations, all of which are leaving no stone unturned to boost Modi’s international acceptability, especially in Western capitals.
Prominent names that came up during ET inquiries are of Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), a right-wing think-tank headed by former IB chief Ajit Doval, who has long been considered a potential NSA in a BJP-led government. The cast of characters and organisations include former US Ambassadors to India, notably Robert Blackwill, lobbying giant APCO Worldwide, Indian Americans for Freedom, RSS-linked Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and USIndia Political Action Committee (USINPAC), according to people familiar with the matter.
Coordinating these efforts is the BJP’s Overseas Affairs cell and influential NRIs through Overseas Friends of BJP. A substantial and influential Gujarati population, settled in the US, is also doing its bit.
“It is part of BJP’s larger strategy to rid Modi of the hardliner image. It is high time we countered the propaganda that projected Modi as a fascist… There is a strong perception in the US that minorities will be persecuted and their religious freedom curbed in government headed by Modi,” explains a person involved with the exercise.
The exercise started in a big way last year. In January last year, the pro-Modi lobbyists had their first major success when EU Ambassadors met Modi for lunch at the Chanakyapuri residence of German Ambassador Michael Steiner. Three months earlier, British High Commissioner Sir James Bevan met Modi in Gandhinagar.
A major behind-the-scenes operator in these efforts has been UK-based lawyer and a Whitehall insider Manoj Ladwa. Hailing from Porbandar in Gujarat, Ladwa, the convener of Europe India Chambers of Commerce, is credited by party insiders as having laid much of the groundwork that led to the UK’s change of heart about Modi.
Ladwa did not respond to an email query, but one of his recent blog posts titled “Modi-Mood in London” leaves no doubt where his sympathies lie. “A new BJP, a new political narrative…a new opportunity to spread the inclusive development that Gujarat has enjoyed to other parts of India,” he wrote.
After the EU, it was the turn of 20 Ambassadors of Latin America and Caribbean to break the ice with Modi, meeting him in June last year. Only the US remained steadfast in its boycott through last year. But in February this year that also crumbled, with US Ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, meeting Modi in Gandhinagar.