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Prime Minister Shree Narendra Modi was in the United States in September 2019 to attend a "Howdy Modi" event, where he said:

“Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar.” The phrase means: “This time it's the turn of the Trump administration.”

The opposition Congress party has accused Prime Minister Modi of violating the time-honored principles of foreign policy, which dictate that one should not interfere in the domestic elections of another country. Congress also stated that Modi was supposed to be in the US as the Indian Prime Minister, not as a star campaigner in US elections.

This raises the following questions:

  1. Did Modi violate the principles of Indian foreign policy?
  2. What does Indian foreign policy says about this?
  3. What instances there have been in the past of a foreign Prime Minister or President being invited as a star campaigner in the US election campaign?

3 Answers 3

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It is defiantly condemn-able for a foreign head of state to meddle in another country's local government. Although Modi's call for 'Aab ki baar Trump Sarkar' is the most benign compared to the list mentioned here

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Explictly, No he did not. Implicitly, Yes.

When PM Modi said those words, he was just quoting Trump's words. The context is extremely important.

Full context of Modi's speech is (see video of speech here):

... Friends, we in India have connected well with President Trump, the words of candidate Trump "Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar" rang loud and clear, and his celebration of Diwali at white house ...

Many media reports have morphed this sentence by either selectively reporting only the quote or breaking down the sentence just after the quote to completely change the meaning of the sentence.

If you actually see the context, the whole sentence - he was only informing the audience about Trump's India connection - his use of the hindi language through that quote.

He was speaking of Trump's contribution to increasing India-US ties, and what he meant to mean was that Trump is so well connected with India that he(Trump) is using an Indian election slogan, in an Indian Language, "Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar" for campaigning in the US. He then added stuff about Diwali celebration at the White House. After that, he had also said something along the lines of "India has a true friend in the White House in the form of President Trump".

The existence of this technicality means that officially no principle of foreign policy was broken - Modi was only speaking of Indo-US ties and giving credit to Trump by outlining Trump's actions, and thus not in any way campaigning for him. However, the Modi-Trump "chemistry" was well known and this rally (Howdy Modi) was de facto an election campaign for Trump which Modi attended.

India's foreign policy

The foundations of the Indian foreign policy were laid by Congress's Nehru and have since not been challenged even by the non-Congress governments. Nehru set five guiding principles, called the Panchasheel for India's foreign relations, one of which was "mutual non-interference".
So yes, India's foreign policy explicitly does mention that India shouldn't interfere in other countries' affairs as such.

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  • 1
    Is this policy codified in law? If it's just a principle I suppose any incumbent government can reset their own policy. Jan 11, 2023 at 8:42
  • @QuantumWalnut The principles were not challenged by any other government yet, including PM Modi's. Laws and constitutions can be amended just like policies. And countries don't exactly follow non-interference, India interfered in 1971 Pakistan Civil War for example.
    – whoisit
    Jan 11, 2023 at 11:59
  • @QuantumWalnut Yes, they can. But following conventions are important in a democracy. And this one is a no-brainer because if you interfere in the election process of another country by siding with a candidate, what standing do you have when they too start interfering in your elections? Moreover, it obviously harms your country's interest too when the other candidate wins.
    – sfxedit
    Jan 11, 2023 at 23:24
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Yes, he did.

“He has already made the American economy strong again,” Mr Modi said. “He has achieved much for the US and the world. Friends, we in India have connected well with President Trump.” With a smile, he added: “In the words of candidate Trump: Abki baar Trump sarkar (This time, [a] Trump government).” (Backlash against Modi as Indian PM 'endorses Trump for 2020 in breach of diplomatic convention')

As is evident from the praise lavished on Trump and the use of Trump's election ad slogan, it is hard to interpret this as anything other than an endorsement of Trump during a US election year.

As the article points out,

This wasn’t a foreign policy focused event or one dominated by the Indian-American relationship. While both leaders nodded to the connections between the two countries, the bulk of their speeches was focused on their own individual achievements and their electoral popularity.

Unless one is ready to accept the claim that Narendra Modi is stupid about politics, anyone political savvy can clearly see that Modi had been invited by Trump to a rally of Indian-American diaspora to win their support for Trump's election. Moreover, the use of Trump's election ad slogan by Modi - Ab ki baar, Trump Sarkar - would ofcourse obviously be interpreted as an endorsement of Trump by Narendra Modi during a US election year!

The BBC also points this out:

This rally has been called a win-win for both the leaders. For President Trump, it was a chance to court Indian-Americans for the 2020 presidential election race where Texas could emerge as a battleground state. For Mr Modi, a PR triumph and picture with the president of the United States may help him shrug off the criticism over his recent strong-arm polices at home.

... The US has a population of about 4 million Indians who are seen as an increasingly important vote bank in the country. The 2010 US census shows that Texas is home to the fourth-largest Indian-American population in the country after California, New York and New Jersey. Analysis of voting patterns shows the community tends overwhelmingly to support the Democrat party.

To add to this, Trump later released political ads with Modi featuring in them - PM Modi features in US elections! Trump campaign releases commercial to woo Indian-American voters - making it very clear that Modi was indeed an important part of his election campaign.

Did Modi violate the principles of Indian foreign policy?

Yes, he did.

What does Indian foreign policy says about this?

"But, there is a time-honoured convention of India's foreign policy that when we engage with the foreign governments or the President or Prime Minister when on foreign soil, we do not take part in the domestic electoral politics. Prime Minister should have honoured that," Sharma told reporters. (Modi violated India's foreign policy principles by 'campaigning' for Trump: Congress).

What instances there have been in the past of a foreign Prime Minister or President being invited as a star campaigner in the US election campaign?

None. No indian PM, before Modi, has campaigned for any US candidate in any US elections.

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