Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to make waves in world capitals with his charm offensive. In his recent and historic visit to Israel, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, he was given an unprecedented welcome. Israel has officially designated him as a world leader and accorded appropriate diplomatic protocol. He has been treated on par with the United States President and the Pope. This is a great honor for India and to PM Modi. All these indicate the slow but sure rise of Modi on the world scene.
The rise of India in the eyes of the world is something every Indian should be proud of. But many have not forgotten that India and Indian leaders were never considered to ever significantly impact global affairs. PM Modi, in particular, only attracted scorn and street protests during state visits. He was and continues to be hounded by established global media houses with their acerbic op-eds.
But the recent state visits of PM Modi – particularly to meet President Trump and then to Israel have been remarkable for a different reason. Unlike his previous visits to UK or the US, this time around, there were only symbolic protests in Washington DC and none in Israel. The almost total absence of street protest seems too obvious to ignore. Even the Arab countries did not seem to mind his visit to Israel.
The growing popularity of Modi as a world leader is only partially responsible for the dwindling protests. The sheer number of people at his venues to meet him have been legendary - the Madison Square Garden event is still fresh in memory. The overwhelming support he is able to generate at every venue and the credibility it has spawned, seems to have had an impact on the anti-Modi protesters. But as mentioned, that is only part of the reasons. It is worthwhile to examine some of the other key reasons that have led to a decline in the protest against Modi.
India is an economic power house today. Many nations including the US and the European Union are keen to foster trade and economic ties with India like never before. The global economic scene is at best dismal. China is leading the large economies in one of the darkest recessions the world is likely to witness. The Arab nations, with oil prices tanking to lowest levels in recent memory, are not far behind in riding the misery train to recession. In this scenario, India chugging along at 7% GDP growth rate is a sure savior and the world seems to be eager ally with India.
The Trump administration in the US is surely breaking away from the past and redefining international relations and is determined to create new diplomatic and trade alliances with friends and allies alike. The bedrock of the relationships is unadulterated economic and trade benefits for the US. President Trump is sincere in bringing home jobs for his people. In that context, India is seen as a unique player that could help re-ignite the US economy. It is fully plausible that for its purely selfish reasons the American administration has put a tight leash on the deep state and its notorious non-governmental organizations or NGOs that have been fronts for their agencies to create trouble for recalcitrant world leaders.
Pakistan based agencies that have been central to instigating and funding terror activities as well as protest against Modi have been effectively corralled. It is well known that Pakistani agencies use hawala transactions to move funds for their sinister operations against India. Like Modi’s killer media strategy, the Indian intelligence agencies and diplomatic establishment deserve full credit for quietly working behind the scenes to identify and track these activities. India is reported to developed a comprehensive financial crimes database using state-of-art computer technologies like big data – similar to the one that the US has in place. Any illegal financial / hawala transaction now runs the risk of being viewed as a potential terror funding transaction and could be shared worldwide. Even local politicians using hawala transactions will now be on their radar.
The demonetization in December of last year has had a tremendous impact on hawala transactions that fueled these protests. Not only has this killed the domestic hawala industry, but also provided sophisticated tracking of these transactions originating from key financial centers like Dubai and Singapore. Unfortunately, the Indian media, in their eagerness to shame Modi, seem to have missed the real story. Instead, they are barking up the wrong tree, trying hard to prove why the demonetization was a big disaster and economic blow to India.
Further the sharing of this database with the US and other Western powers means that a hawala transaction originating in Pakistan or Dubai with recipients in India or the US may automatically invite the simultaneous scrutiny of several intelligence agencies across the world. Data mining technologies now help agencies to locate problem zones and offending outlets in advance. This has been a big deterrent to hawala operations and the funding for protests is one important collateral damage.
The increasing terror strikes in Europe, specially the UK, has also in a sense been a blessing since these countries are now eager to co-operate with India.
In the last two years India has successfully stitched up good diplomatic relations with Middle east and Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and UAE. The new understanding provides for combating terrorism, regular sharing of intelligence and agreements to extradite prisoners and criminals who have specifically violated foreign exchange regulations. This diplomatic offensive has also brought down the funding for street protests elsewhere in the world.
Further, the political situation in the Middle East is fluid and the emergence of severe tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran has forced a change in their focus. This is evidenced by lack of even symbolic protests from the Arab world to Modi’s historic visit to Israel. With years of tanking oil prices, surplus petro-dollars seem to have vanished. This has greatly impacted the nefarious activities originating from Pakistan.
The anti-Modi protests have been orchestrated by several forces. For now, they seem to be at a disadvantage and are hence lying low. But the acerbic op-eds and distorted reporting by global media houses and their Indian cousins will continue as business as usual. On its part, India has to be vigilant and not let its guard down. There are vital lessons to be learnt in weaving together a diplomatic canvas, aided by technology, to combat illegal terror funding. Sometimes, the collateral benefits are the drying up of street protests against an emerging world leader.