M Chuba Ao
BJP National Vice President
A tiny nation called Papua New Guinea is very popular these days in social media and has hit headlines in the mainstream media -- both electronic and print.
Never in history has perhaps a Christian Prime Minister of such a small nation - touched the feet of a 'Hindu' PM - Narendra Modi.
Modi detractors, traditional BJP bashing clubs and a section of intellectuals are stumped. Somein fact got shockers when such a thing happened when they always thought only Sonia Gandhi is entitled to 'sainthood' and the Crown Prince Rahul Gandhi ought to be rewarded with the post of India's Prime Ministership.
But while waiting in the wings frustrated in more ways than one that we find there are others who want to become 'more Congressman' than the most. Former Union Minister under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Chandrashekhar -- Yashwant Sinha wrote on Twitter: “I plan to contest my next Lok Sabha election from Papua New Guinea on a Modi ticket which I hope he will give.”
Yashwant ji is a senior and old colleague in the BJP and I used to interact with him on various matters including economy and politics of north east. As a former IAS officer, he was also a well informed person. That is why I am a bit surprised by what he has been stating and doing for the last few years.
Sinha wrote that he wants to contest next Lok Sabha election from Papua New Guinea. This is a statement in frustration who was surprised not to become Finance Minister once Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014.
The problem is more with 'neo-converts' as always and Yashwant Sinha ji's remarks suggest he is desperate to please the parties like Trinamool Congress and the Congress. If he wanted to ridicule BJP for the episode in Papua New Guinea, I only wonder at his wisdom today. This is to submit respectfully.
Hope, he does not end up becoming a laughing stock himself. In 2021, Sinha ji joined Trinamool Congress and perhaps wanted a Rajya Sabha berth. However, he left in June 2022 as he was selected by the Opposition parties as their presidential candidate last year. He lost the election to BJP-led NDA candidate Madam Droupadi Murmu. So, that's frustration we find in Yashwant Sinha.
Many others among BJP's opponents and Narendra Modi's critics too would have been rendered in a shockingstate of mind after Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea James Marape welcomed PM Modi by touching his feet.
We as Indians and as BJP karyakartas feel proud of the occasion as in this country we have seen 'touch your feet' exercise used to be often in the political circle a symbol of sycophancy. The Congress party is well known for sycophancy and a number of stories of 'picking up shoes' episodes by Congress leaders even from Indira Gandhi days. Other regional parties also tried the game.
But in Modi's case, the Prime Minister himself discouraged these at personal levels on a number of occasions. Here, I may also add that 'touching feet' is a typical ritual as the respect for Modi ji comes ‘naturally’ to his admirers both within India and also outside. Prime Minister James Marape has proved that.
The visit of Modi to that small nation also witnessed historical moments with Papua New Guinea PM Marape welcoming Modi and touching his feet on his arrival.
Moreover, Papua New Guinea generally does not accord a ceremonial welcome to any leader or visitorcoming after the sunset. But an exception was made for Modi ji yet again.
I will say all these prove the emerging power of India and the unprecedented leadership offered by Modi ji during these turbulent times in South Asian and also globally.
China has had great influence on Papua New Guinea and there have been reports in western media that dozens of serious issues including mechanical, electrical and fire safety concerns were found with lapses in at some major buildings constructed by China in that country.
We must take note that the Noble Centre, the tallest building on Port Moresby was built by a Chinese state-owned enterprise, and is today 'empty' because of safety issues. The 23-storey tower has been deemed uninhabitable after the discovery of more than 70 defects.
This is the 'China story of benevolence' for those who often like to defame India and think Beijing can play saviour to their fortunes. The reality is bit harsh and we must be having the wisdom in the new century to discover that.
In terms of India-Papua New Guinea relations, we have to realise that country is not Mauritius or Nepal.
The citizens of that country are 98 percent Christians and now the people are being asked whether they want the country to be officially declared “a Christian nation”. Hence, PM Marape knew exactly what he was doing at the airport. He is actually being a 'good Prime Minister' for his tiny nation as he has discovered that
India and the Indian Prime Minister's friendship and assistance to his country have been genuine and not guided by self-seeking motives.
Now the explanation on 'touching feet gestures'. Marape as reported in the media comes from the Huli tribe, one of PNG’s largest ethnic groups. His father was a Seventh-day Adventist pastor.
Kindly note, Adventist Protestants believes that God created the earth in six days and observed the seventh day as a day of rest. We in Nagaland also believe 7th day as the day of rest.
Governor of West New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea, Sasindran Muthuvel, explained the gesture of PM Marape by stating that: “Genuflecting or touching an elderly person’s knee or feet is an old tradition in the South-western Pacific country. There is nothing new to it in our country, and that is what Marape did despite being a Christian'.
Of course PM Modi is now 72 plus and Marape at 52 years is much younger than PM Modi.
In fact, while welcoming PM Modi, two other members of the Marape cabinet were in a queue and
also touched PM Modi’s feet.
We have always believed that once PM Modi ji took over, there was a need for 'reinvention' of Indian foreign policy. Prior to 2014, Congress leaders generally loved to present India as a weak player and as a safe-playing contender at the global stage.
India’s international relations had been 'mismanaged' by the previous governments. In 2014 election manifesto and various media conferences, we tried to underline that Congress leaders have failed abroad, as they have at home, because they followed ‘western models’.
Now, the 'New India' has a new vision and a new strategy. India is determined, decisive and very clear about concepts and perceptions.
India has emerged as a genuine voice of the Global South and this is fact countries such as Papua New Guinea appreciates this.
Prime Minister Modi during his visit there rightly said, “Those whom we considered trustworthy, it turned out that they were not standing by our side in times of need. During these challenging times, an old saying has proven true: “A Friend in need is a friend indeed.”
“I am glad that India stood with its Pacific island friends during this challenging time. Whether it was vaccines or essential medicines, wheat or sugar; India, in line with its capabilities, has been assisting all partner countries.” PM Modi said.
It is true the challenges in diplomacy are new now. PM Modi, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and their team have made it possible to appreciate globally that New Delhi disapproves NATO expansion. It did not back the Russian line that Moscow faces existential threats. India abstained from UNSC and UNGA voting and made it clear that Russia’s concerns also ought to be understood. This has made a big difference globally.
Today, many global players that hitherto underestimated New Delhi's position has started showing a 'new variety of respect' for India. This was amply clear in recent Hiroshima meets at G-7 Summit and the meeting of Quad leaders including the US.
PM Modi’s repeated stance that there is a need for “immediate cessation of violence and end to hostilities”, and a return to the path of dialogue and diplomacy is appreciated at the world stage. Hence Modi’s foreign policy is a runaway success and India rocks.