Political Economy

‘Removing Poverty, Not the Poor, Will Make Delhi Beautiful’: Global Opinion on India’s G20 PR Blitz

In addition to the strategic beautification drive, New Delhi seems to have been taken by an advertising storm. 

New Delhi: With the G20 summit set to begin in New Delhi on September 9, the international community is eagerly watching India and its prime minister, Narendra Modi. The world has, naturally, taken note of the preparations in the run up to the two-day event. What they have also done is call out the prime minister’s bluff. 

“..Modi, who promised to make India the world’s third-largest power, has spared no expense in eradicating anything that might mar the landscape: informal vendors’ stalls, stray dogs, monkeys fond of upmarket neighbourhoods. An animal protection organisation accused the authorities of ‘illegally and cruelly’ capturing 1,000 stray dogs in early September. 

Even children begging at traffic lights have been asked to leave. At least 25 slums have been demolished, and hundreds of thousands of residents evacuated, with no alternative accommodation. They have lost their livelihoods,” French national daily, Le Monde wrote. 

Also read: What the World is Reading around India’s G20 Presidency

“This is not the first time the poor are being removed from sight ahead of an important international event,” Indu Prakash Singh, a member of a Supreme Court-appointed committee that monitors homeless shelters in the capital, told the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor (CSM). “The Indian government tries its best to hide its poverty, stripping the disadvantaged of dignity. They consider them an eyesore,” Singh added.

Indian Information Minister Anurag Thakur was quoted by US-based foreignpolicy.com saying that the country has hosted more than 200 meetings in more than 60 cities since taking the mantle from Indonesia last year. “India also aims to leverage its growing global footprint to serve as a bridge between wealthy economies and the global south” – all while rampaging over its own people, apparently. 

Former US President Donald Trump’s visit in 2020 was marked by similar hurried attempts to hide the country’s poor behind curtains of blue and green tarpaulin, and more recently, in different parts of the country, as part of the preparations for G20. But this time the authorities did not stop at raising walls, thousands of houses were razed and entire slums uprooted and moved to the city’s outskirts. 

While New Delhi busied itself in hiding the poor, in what may seem like a contradictory move, it also created a whole new population of homeless people through these demolition drives, CSM noted. 

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In addition to the strategic beatification attempts, “billboards and bus stops in every Indian city are plastered with images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” Japanese newspaper Nikkei Asia pointed out. “India has never seen an advertising blitz of this magnitude. A former finance secretary estimated the cost at Rs 10 billion ($121 million) and rising,” the report said.

All this for the visiting dignitaries? Surely, not.

“Critics who think Modi is trying to impress foreign visitors are clearly mistaken. This advertising blitz is aimed at financing the promotion of the prime minister in the election run-up, portraying him as a great leader of not just India but the world,” the Japanese newspaper said.

“It is of course convenient to have the government, rather than the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), pay for this ad campaign. Indian politicians of all stripes have done similar things in the past, but the scale of the current campaign beggars description,” it added.

Also read: The G20 Under Indian Presidency: Achievements, Challenges, and Unmet Expectations

Another report by the CNBC’s Martin Soong, standing a few metres away from the India Gate, said that the summit “threatens to be overshadowed by Modi”. “We’re talking about the criticism he has drawn for using the event as almost a way to start campaigning for the elections next year. And he’s pulled out all the stops, he’s made a real spectacle of the G20,” Soong said, adding that “it’s a train-ride of meetings that culminate in the summit and they’ve [India] has had 200 [of those]..we’ve never seen that kind of number of meetings before in the run up to any G20 summit.”

First G20 summit that may fail to produce a joint statement

Meanwhile The Economist has questioned what the prime minister has to show for all the PR buzz. “The prime minister’s smiling face has beamed down from these ads. What does he have to show for it? High-level G20 meetings over the past year have repeatedly failed to reach consensus. Summits of ministers on anything from finance to climate change ended without the customary joint statement. 

Instead they settled for an ‘outcome document’ that notes areas of agreement as well as discord – usually wording around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There is no reason to think that the summit of heads of state and government over the weekend will achieve what no ministerial grouping has done so far. That would make it the first G20 leaders’ summit to fail to issue a joint statement,” the UK-based paper said.