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Members of Australia's Indian diaspora share their views on the elections and Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Members of Australia's Indian diaspora share their views on the elections and Prime Minister Narendra Modi


Samantha Donovan: Well, there's just over a week left in the world's biggest democratic election. Indian voters in nearly 60 constituencies will go to the polls tomorrow for the penultimate phase of voting. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP party are expected to win a third term, despite his opponents' claims that the government is becoming increasingly autocratic and persecuting minorities. Here in Australia, members of the Indian diaspora are following the elections as Declan Gooch reports.

Declan Gooch: Harris Park in Sydney's west is home to one of Australia's most vibrant Indian communities. And in front of his restaurants and cafes, Narendra Modi has many supporters, like Mitul from Gujarat, the same state as the Indian Prime Minister. A lot of people in your circles talk about the elections?

The myth: Not really, because everyone, especially where we come from, we're all Gujaratis here, so we know he's going to win. He has planned for over 400 seats, I think he will get it.

Dinesh: In my entourage, 90% of people say yes, he is one of the best, and he will come back.

Declan Gooch: Dinesh says the leader of the ruling BJP has a proven track record and is not beholden to any vested interest.

Dinesh: First of all, he is the most honest person in Indian politics. He has no family behind him and he is not a person who takes care of his brothers and sisters. Whatever he does, he does it for the nation. He will do anything and everything, whatever he has, for the nation.

Declan Gooch: India is nearing the end of its national elections, a multi-stage process that lasted six weeks. Voting is taking place gradually by region, and the sixth and penultimate vote will take place tomorrow. Here at Harris Park, Anita is impressed by Narendra Modi's ability to connect with common people.

Anita: He actually listens to people, like in some of the small group meetings he's been to, for women and teachers and that sort of thing. He really listens to what people want and takes it into account. And sometimes I noticed that on the spot he made very good suggestions. So he seems to really want to do something for the people, and that's a great quality in a political leader. And he is definitely a statesman. He is admired all over the world.

Declan Gooch: It is very difficult to find anyone here who criticizes Narendra Modi. People say his reign made life more comfortable for those who stayed back home. Mitul says Indians have nothing to worry about and low-level corruption has reduced.

The myth: For example, if I need a police clearance to go abroad, before there was a lot of drama, you would go to the police station, you would bribe a police officer. They made this process so easy, every day. There is no bribe. I mean, the police are afraid to get it, even if you ask them, they say no. So it's a huge impact. It's just at ground level, everyday.

Declan Gooch: Narendra Modi has drawn international criticism over what many see as an increasingly polarized political and social landscape in India. They highlight the rise in anti-Muslim hate speech, which the Prime Minister has been accused of using himself. And even today, footage has emerged showing a BJP party worker plotting to bribe police and poll workers to intimidate Muslim voters. Sanjay Deshwal of the Little India Harris Park Business Association holds a meeting with local councilors at a cafe. He also supports Narendra Modi, but believes he should be more tolerant.

Sanjay Deswal: It's not acceptable. With great power comes great responsibility. And India is a country which has not only made Hindus, we are the majority there, I am Hindu, but I like to respect, see respect our Muslims, our Sikhs and our Christians. India is made up of a large number of people of all faiths. So I would like it to be more sober, or more, how do you say, open to all religions.

Declan Gooch: Others have no concerns about the BJP's Hindu nationalist policies or Narendra Modi's attitude towards minority groups.

Dinesh: He talks about general things and people present him as if he's talking about other communities. He is against other communities, only against Hindus. Naturally, it is a Hindu nation, he speaks about Hinduism and he is a Hindu. So I think it's not a bad thing. In every other country in the world they are Christian, Buddhist or whatever they are. So why can't he talk about Hinduism?

Declan Gooch: Even though many Indian Australians have political views, they will not be able to vote. Mitul is frustrated that Indians living abroad cannot participate in the event unless they return home.

The myth: This can change a lot of things for the government that is in power in India, because we are looking at the issue from a different perspective than the Indians. And a very large majority of the younger generation lives abroad. They want to get into politics, understand what is happening and what the Indian government can do better for future generations.

Surjeet Dhanji: They can buy land, start businesses, do everything except vote.

Declan Gooch: This is Surjeet Dhanji, researcher at the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne. She claims that members of the global Indian diaspora have never been allowed to vote from abroad.

Surjeet Dhanji: In Australia, the diaspora is very small, it represents only 4%. So it wouldn't have a huge impact. But if you look at the Indian diaspora around the world, yes, it will definitely have an impact. This could tilt the world one way or the other.

Declan Gooch: Dr Dhanji says the diaspora is polarized between those who believe Narendra Modi is good for India and those who worry about a shift away from democracy. And she says the range of views among Indian Australians is diverse.

Surjeet Dhanji: In Australia, Muslims are not the only ones who think what is happening in India is wrong. It is also a large part of the Hindu population, who are progressive, who believe that this goes against the philosophy of Hinduism.

Samantha Donovan: Dr Surjeet Dhanji from the University of Melbourne. This report from Declan Gooch.




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