Did Narendra Modi violate Indian foreign policy by endorsing Trump at 'Howdy, Modi'? PM isn't first world leader to back counterparts

  • Modi, who put a spin on his own slogan before the 2014 Lok Sabha election, said 'Abki baar, Trump sarkar' and introduced Trump as a 'very special person'

  • Anand Sharma was scathingly critical of Modi's statements on Trump, and sought to 'remind' him that he wasn't visiting the US as a 'star campaigner' for Trump

  • However, India's foreign policy notwithstanding, Modi's endorsement of Trump is not the first instance of international leaders giving the proverbial leg-up to candidates in the domestic elections of allied countries

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address at the massive 'Howdy, Modi' event organised in Houston has received reactions from across the spectrum, with supporters lauding him for taking a "decisive" stand against terrorism on the global platform and Opposition leaders criticising him for "violating" decades-old foreign policy by endorsing US president Donald Trump ahead of the US presidential election scheduled for 2020.

Modi, who put a spin on his own slogan before the 2014 Lok Sabha election, said "Abki baar, Trump sarkar!" and introduced Trump as a "very special person". Modi said, "We in India connected well with President Trump and with the words of candidate Trump, 'Abki Baar, Trump Sarkar', rang loud and clear."

The slogan 'Abki baar, Trump sarkar' was coined in 2016 by the Republican Hindu Coalition, which supported Trump and campaigned for him among the Indian-Americans. By using the 2016 campaign slogan ahead of the next year's presidential elections, many consider it as Modi's clear endorsement of Trump's candidature for the 2020 elections.

Modi's pitch will greatly help the Republican Trump in winning votes of nearly four million Indian-Americans who have traditionally voted for the Democratic Party.

Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Anand Sharma was scathingly critical of Modi's "endorsement" of Trump, and sought to "remind" him that he wasn't visiting the US as a "star campaigner" for Trump. He tweeted soon after Modi's speech at the event which reportedly saw a footfall of more than 50,000 people.

"Mr Prime Minister, you have violated the time-honoured principle of Indian foreign policy of not interfering in the domestic elections of another country. This is a singular disservice to the long-term strategic interests of India.

However, India's foreign policy notwithstanding, Modi's endorsement of Trump is not the first instance of international leaders giving the proverbial leg-up to presidential or prime ministerial candidates in the domestic elections of allied countries. Usually, these endorsements come on the back of vested interests, for instance, India and the US collaborate on trade and defence, among others.

Modi, who cruised to a new mandate in elections this year, is fond of mass gatherings on his travels overseas as he seeks to demonstrate his appeal. While no less fond of the limelight, Trump's presence is more unusual.

 Did Narendra Modi violate Indian foreign policy by endorsing Trump at Howdy, Modi? PM isnt first world leader to back counterparts

Donald Trump and Narendra Modi walk around NRG Stadium waving to the crowd during the 'Howdy, Modi'. AP

US presidents rarely join other countries' leaders before diaspora events, and Trump — with a hard line on immigration one of his signature issues — is hardly known for celebrating ethnic diversity.
But with US elections due in 14 months Trump's presence was intended to soften his image in Houston, one of the most multiethnic US cities and ground zero in the rival Democratic Party's recent gains in the state of Texas, a must-win bastion of his Republican Party, AFP reported.

The four-million-strong Indian-American community also forms an enticing pool of voters. With an average household income of $100,000, Indian-Americans are among the most prosperous US groups. They are also among the most solidly Democratic. Despite high-profile Indian-American Republicans such as Nikki Haley, Trump's first ambassador to the United Nations, more than 80 percent voted in 2016 for Democrat Hillary Clinton — more than almost any other group other than African-Americans.

2018 was reportedly a landmark year for the bilateral relations between two of the world's largest economies, The Economic Times reported, adding, "Notwithstanding irritants on trade issues, India and the US made "landmark" progress in 2018 to bolster their strategic and defence ties — from holding the maiden trilateral meeting with Japan to the first-ever 2+2 dialogue during which they signed the long-pending COMCASA agreement that would open the way for sales of more sensitive US military equipment to India."

Modi and Trump aren't the first world leaders to have endorsed each other for domestic elections. Former US vice-president Joe Biden had several world leaders backing him for the upcoming presidential elections. In the past, Trump has shown support to former Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the April 2019 elections.

Following are the instances of world leaders endorsing candidates who have spoken in line keeping with their own domestic interests:

World leaders support Joe Biden's run for president in 2020

Former vice-president Joe Biden, who held the post during Barack Obama's tenure as the President of the United States, was reportedly asked by world leaders, including from leaders from Armenia, Denmark, and other European nations to file his nomination as one of the Democratic candidates to run for the White House in the 2020 US presidential election.

The support for Biden from across the Atlantic Ocean was also strengthened by Europe's growing frustration with Trump's whirlwind approach to foreign policy. At a news conference in Munich in February 2019, Biden met the leaders from Ukraine, Greece, Kosovo, and North Macedonia, who asked him to contest the polls, Politico reported.

"Foreign leaders view Biden as a safe and consistent pair of hands-on foreign policy and that’s what they’re looking for,” said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group was quoted by the report as saying. "They’re comfortable with him. It’s plausible he can win. He’s a known face on foreign policy.”

The report added, "Nicholas Burns, a former undersecretary of state in the George Bush administration who introduced Biden before his speech in Munich and interviewed him on stage, noted that “Biden is deeply respected by European leaders and respected not just for the many and many decades of service but for the quality of it."

Donald Trump endorses Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of April 2019 election

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, was given a boost before the April 2019 general elections in the restive country, when Trump autographed a new State Department map of Israel, on which he had marked the Golan Heights area as a part of Israel and had written "Nice" on it.

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"Jared Kushner brought me the updated map that includes the Golan Heights within Israeli sovereignty — here is the signature of President Trump and he writes here 'Nice,'" Netanyahu said in a televised address in May. Golan Heights was taken by Israel from Syria in the course of the Six-Day War in 1967 and had annexed it in 1981 to use as a "strategic military post".

"In March, Trump recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, reversing more than 50 years of American policy and putting the US at odds with the international consensus, which regards the land as occupied Syrian territory. The President took the step just two weeks before Israel's general election on April 9th, giving Netanyahu an enormous political boost," CNN reported.

However, it is worth noting that Trump has since made a U-turn after Netanyahu was on shaky ground post the re-election this month. Despite having reportedly made his support for Netanyahu "clear" back in April, Trump is speculated to have distanced himself from the embattled Israeli leader, as Opposition calls for Benny Gantz to take over as prime minister.

"Netanyahu made his close relationship with Trump a centerpiece of his reelection campaign, erecting billboards across the country showing him with the US president and other foreign leaders and casting aspersions on his rivals’ ability to match his diplomatic achievements," The Times of Israel reported.

However as the election results indicated a tight race between Netanyahu's Likud party and Gantz's Blue and White alliance, Trump said, "Those results are coming in and it’s very close. Everybody knew it’s going to be very close. I said we’ll see what happens. Look, our relationship is with Israel. We’ll see what happens."

In addition to Netanyahu, Trump has also supported controversial world leaders like North Korea premier Kim Jong-un and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Barack Obama supported Emmanuel Macron's presidential bid in 2017

In 2017, Obama made a "last-minute intervention" to speak in support of current French president Emmanuel Macron ahead of the French election in May. Obama, who after his tenure as president had said that he would only get involved in public life if "core values may be at stake", said he endorsed Macron because "the success of France matters to the entire world."

“I’m not planning to get involved in many elections now that I don’t have to run for office but the French election is very important to the future of France and the values that we care so much about,” he said. Obama also said he supported Macron "because he appealed to people’s hopes and not their fears". He ended his message with the words "Vive la France", The Guardian reported.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Sep 24, 2019 13:17:23 IST