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India’s Ireland envoy’s political comments sparks controversy

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New Delhi: India’s envoy in Dublin has mounted a defence of the country’s leadership in the face of criticism by Ireland’s media, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys “unprecedented popularity” globally and inspires millions around the world because he doesn’t belong to “any elite political family”.

Indian Ambassador to Ireland Akhilesh Mishra. (X/ @AkhileshIFS)

Ambassador Akhilesh Mishra made the comments in a letter to The Irish Times in response to the daily’s criticism of the Indian government’s “widespread crackdown on free speech and opposition parties” in an editorial last week. Mishra, a career diplomat with more than three decades of experience, characterised The Irish Times’ description of India as an “80 per cent Hindu nation” as stereotypical and misleading.

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The envoy’s letter, especially his tacit denunciation of the main opposition Congress, attracted criticism from the party’s leaders, with former minister Jairam Ramesh saying Mishra’s comments are “shameful, disgraceful and completely unacceptable”.

While it is not unusual for Indian envoys to defend the government in the face of criticism in their host nations, it is rare for diplomats to single out and target any of India’s political parties.

The Irish Times, in its editorial on India’s upcoming general election titled “Modi tightens his grip”, acknowledged there is little doubt the Indian premier will “sweep easily to a comfortable third term”.

However, the editorial said India’s democratic credentials had been “severely tarnished” as the premier has “leant heavily on a widespread crackdown on free speech and opposition parties, with hundreds of politically targeted corruption and tax cases filed against opposition MPs and leaders”.

The editorial referred to the arrest of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal “over an alleged ‘scam’ involving alcohol sales” and the freezing of bank accounts of the Congress, crippling its ability to campaign. It also contended nationalism has “stoked anti-Muslim tensions” and “seriously eroded the traditional Nehru-inspired secularism”.

Mishra, in his letter, said Modi enjoys “unprecedented popularity…not only in India but globally because of his impeccable personal character and integrity”, and that his personal life inspires millions in India and other developing countries as “he does not belong to any elite political family”.

“The fight against the deeply entrenched ecosystem of corruption (created by the 55-year rule, including first 30 years, by a single dynastic party in India) is a major factor behind Mr Modi’s ever-growing popularity,” Mishra wrote, in an apparent reference to the Congress party.

“There is huge sense of relief at the grass-root level to witness action being taken and recoveries made from the rich and powerful elites who operated with a sense of entitlement of impunity,” he added.

All corruption cases are pursued in line with established procedure and with availability of usual judicial remedies, he said. The “stereotypical description” of India as an 80 per cent Hindu nation is misleading because Hinduism is inherently inclusive and fundamentally pluralistic, he added.

India’s Hindus possess “incredible diversity of thought…and political beliefs, covering the entire spectrum from extreme left to extreme right, Mishra said. “Even now Mr Modi’s BJP rules only in 12 out of 28 states of India. This can happen only in ‘Hindu majority’ India,” he said.

Reacting to the letter, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said in a post on X: “Defending the Government of India is one thing and is to be expected. But to attack Opposition parties openly in thus manner like a party apparatchik is not expected from an Ambassador…”

Ramesh added: “This Ambassador is actually a career diplomat which makes his comments even more shameful, disgraceful and completely unacceptable. He has actually breached service rules and should be sacked right away.”

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