The African Safari of Indian Prime Minister Narendera Modi was noticeable by being different in his interaction with the Indian Diaspora.
During his whirlwind visit to the four countries of Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya, PM Modi veered away from his normal discourse to the Diaspora.
These addresses start with praising the success and contribution of the Indian community abroad and highlighting their links with India. He goes on to acquaint them with the progress the country has made and invites them to visit, invest and contribute to India’s progress. He announces any new perks for the Indian diaspora. Normally, he ends on a high note by leading them in hailing ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai!’. Not in Africa. No perks for overseas Indians because these have been announced. No invitation to invest in India. No hailing India to indicate the local Indians to be loyal to their adopted lands.
His first stop in Mozambique was basically centred mostly on bilateral ties in trade, investment and technical cooperation.
In South Africa, his visit was dominated by Mahatma Gandhi. He donned a typical printed shirt favoured by Nelson Mandela for his address to the Indians of South Africa. This elicited great ovation from the huge gathering and his photo was widely published. He paid well deserved tribute to Mandela and placed him on the same pedestal as Mahatma Gandhi. Fresh from visiting the cell of Mandela in Robben Island prison, he was deeply touched and met five Indians who were also jailed with Mandela in the same prison. Recalling their names, he said Indians had sacrificed for freedom and Mohandas Gandhi became Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa.
On his journey to Pietermaritzburg Railway Station, Modi relived the incident in 1893 when 24-year old lawyer Mohandas Gandhi with a valid ticket was forcibly ejected from the first class carriage in the middle of the cold winter night, his luggage hastily thrown after him. After reaching this platform, Modi paid tribute to Gandhi and inaugurated an exhibition in the waiting room where the Father of the Indian nation spent the cold night. This ordeal inspired him for his non-violent struggle against racism and freedom. Later, Modi visited the ‘ashram’ or commune established by Gandhi.
Brisk drumming with the Tanzanian President John Magufuli in the brief stopover in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam became the top photo-op for both leaders. Matching the African leader beat by beat, Modi even intruded on Magufuli’s drum for climax. Of course, bilateral agreements were signed but the tour of an exhibition of Barefoot College and Solar Mammas of Africa was the highlight. Thirty rural women solar engineers from six African countries have been trained for harnessing solar energy at Barefoot College in Rajasthan’s Tilonia village. He interacted with each woman trained to fabricate, install, use, repair and maintain solar lanterns and household solar lighting in their villages. Presented with his trademark Modi jacket, he smiled as the fabric had a very bold Afro print!
Soon after landing at the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, he proceeded to Kasarani Stadium where over 20,000 Kenya Indians awaited him. In a surprise move, he was introduced by no less than the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. What wowed the crowd were the hefty repeated hugs both leaders indulged in before Kenyatta left the stage to him.
Paying hearty tribute to the pioneers who came to Kenya over a century and some who stayed on, Modi said many fourth generation Indians had not visited India and yet remained in touch. Kenya has 42 tribes and the 43rd was Indians, he said to loud cheers in a clear hint of the integration of Indians with African society. After the bilateral business was over, he visited Nairobi University where he delivered perhaps his most well-crafted speech hailing outstanding Kenyan women like Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai and Oscar winning actress Lupika Nyong’o, much to the applause of the listeners. He mentioned Mahatma Gandhi’s link with this university and paid homage at the life size statute on the campus. Quoting a Sanskrit proverb on the utility of knowledge, he charmed everyone by quoting a similar proverb in Swahili!
At the state luncheon, President Kenyatta praised the contribution of the Indian community in choicest praise like of which has never been made by any Kenyan leader so far. Starting with Indian influence in Kenyan food, music and culture, Kenyatta lauded Indian editor GL Vidyarthi, trade unionist Makhan Singh and martyr Pio Gama Pinto for going to jail during their freedom struggle; and Indian lawyers Diwan Chaman Lall, A.R Kapila, Fitz D’Souza and Jaswant Singh for having represented his father Jomo Kenyatta, the first Kenyan president.
Soon it was time to say goodbye. In the safari paradise of Kenya, Modi had no time to go on safari to watch wildlife.
Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi
1. Trademark Nelson Mandela shirt wowed crowd in South Africa
2. Drumming with Tanzanian President, beat for beat
3. Rangoli with Kenya wildlife and flags by Gujarati women in Nairobi
4. Massive crowd in Nairobi stadium with Kenyan and Indian colours
* Published in print edition on 15 July 2016