Howdy Modi: Was PM Modi’s Endorsement Of Trump A Diplomatic Faux Pas?

So, the ‘Howdy, Modi: Shared Dreams, Bright Futures’ event in Houston was an out-and-out success. India was made to shine bright on the global stage by PM Modi, yet again. There were cheers, there were claps, there was chest-thumping, and common enemies terrorism and illegal immigration were rightly targeted in no uncertain terms, and the matter of human rights was conveniently brushed under the carpet. After the two ‘great’ leaders addressed more than 50,000 spectators at the NRG stadium about the great things they had done in their term, and how many more great things were in the pipeline, there were more cheers, there were more claps.

The fact of the matter is that Indian-Americans are concentrated in four American states. A majority, around 7.5 lakh, live in California, while the rest, about 4 lakh each, are spread across Texas, New Jersey, and New York. Notably, according to polls conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in the 2016 presidential election, over 80% Indian-Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate.

Prez Trump at Howdy, Modi
President Trump at ‘Howdy, Modi’

With President Trump, a Republican, seeking a second term at the White House in the general elections in 2020, it seems like he is targeting the Indian immigrant population to compensate for the predicted loss of his existing vote base. The Mexico border wall and the ‘Muslim ban‘ being two of his most debated decisions, anti-immigrant policies have been the bedrock of Donald Trump’s political ideology. That fact that Trump agreed to take part in a diaspora event itself reveals that there are already early signs of desperation emerging after trailing Joe Biden in national polls.

We in India connected well with President Trump and with the words of candidate Trump, ‘Abki Baar, Trump Sarkar’, rang loud and clear,” PM Modi said at the Texas event, rephrasing his popular election slogan “Abki Baar, Modi Sarkar”.

As Indians, we are all in favour of the country’s rise internationally. The presence of the President of the United States, the most powerful person of the free world, alongside PM Modi at an event aimed at the Indian diaspora is certainly a matter of pride. It is a matter of pride, till domestic partisanship is not blended with diplomacy. It is one thing to appreciate the role of the Indian diaspora in the development of the U.S, and hence attending an event. It is a completely different thing to fire from the shoulder of an Indian PM to get some brownie points in the upcoming U.S elections.

It is questionable then, that the Indian PM, despite being aware of the subtleties of American politics and the two-party system, allowed Trump to do so. Not only was he willing to share the stage with President Trump in an event that took on the flavour of a political rally more than a diplomatic event, but also endorsed his campaign slogan. This, one can say, is a bit of a stretch, and is a point at which you start seeing the red flag.

The Congress was understandably miffed at the PM’s departure from the long-held Indian convention of not taking sides in the polls of other countries. “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,” Congress Rajya Sabha MP Anand Sharma tweeted.

But, I feel that the Congress, more than anyone, should understand by now that, right or wrong, there is little convention or protocol that PM Modi honours anyway. That being said, the Indian PM is not the first one to dip his hands into American politics. Even in the previous U.S. election, Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin made open vote appeals for Donald Trump.

A statesman like Modi, however, should have been more cautious while owning up to something that might well backfire in the recent future. The Right may have sharply risen to capture the Indian imagination in the last decade, and the Indian media might give his follies a pass, but as things stand in the U.S, both the media and the opposition are yet to get toothless and continue to voice their opinions against the establishment. In case the Democrats come into power in 2020, which seems more and more of a possibility, the Modi-led NDA government might find itself in catch-22.

One must remember that PM Modi spoke in the U.S not in his individual capacity or as the leader of a political party. What he said was the statement of an Indian PM and one that will be documented and become a part of history. Saying then, that his loyalties were well in place, even in eight regional languages, I feel, won’t undo this endorsement.

Featured Image Credit: Thomas.B.Shea, AFP/Getty Images
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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