January 16 Tuesday 7:15:24 PM

Singapore restricts its citizens of Indian origin from attending Modi's event

Singapore restricts its citizens of Indian origin from attending Modi's event

The government of Singapore will regulate its citizens’ access to a Madison Square Garden-style reception for Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the massive 100,000sqm, column-free arena of Singapore Expo on November 24.

The city state’s decision to restrict participation to Indian passport holders with visas to visit or live in Singapore and permanent residents of the city has thrown the organisers of the mega reception into a quandary.

They are now desperately looking for ways to fill the large space at the venue to avoid the impression on TV screens back in India that the much-trumpeted event was thinly attended.

Singapore’s decision is the first official articulation of a growing unease in many governments over Modi’s unconventional foreign policy initiative of reaching out to their citizens over the heads of these governments, even though such citizens were Indians once upon a time by virtue of their birth and ethnicity.

As one of the finest practitioners of diplomacy, Singapore has walked a fine line in this matter to avoid offending the Indian government or signalling the virtual ban as an affront to an honoured visitor from a very friendly country like India.

It has, therefore, only made clear to the organisers that Singapore citizens wishing to attend the November 24 public reception will have to take permission to do so. Such tight-rope walking by the city state’s authorities has prompted Indian associations in Singapore to let their members read between the lines of their event announcements instead of publicly declaring the ban on Singapore citizens.

The Singapore Telugu Samajam, for example, has sent a circular to its members that “all the non-resident Indian (NRI) members of our organisation including permanent residents (PRs) are welcome to register online by visiting ‘www.namoinsingapore.org’ and expressing interest to take part in the event.”

As in New York’s Madison Square Garden and more recently in San Jose in California, each participating Indian organisation in Singapore has been given a code by the main organiser of the public reception, “NAMO in Singapore”, to register its individual members. The Telugu Samajam’s code, for instance, is “028”.

The circular, dated October 19, adds that “if any of our members who are citizens of Singapore are interested in attending the event, please contact the organisers to express your interest. Please note that such registration is only an expression of interest to attend the event and it doesn’t guarantee an entry pass.”

In plain language, what it means is that the Singapore authorities reserve the right to order that passes may not be issued to Singapore citizens as and when permission is sought for individual applications for participation.

Usually, in such situations, a formal ban is not necessary. Expatriates of all ethnicity – not merely Indians – are timid by nature even after they adopt their host country’s nationality because, more often than not, they are minorities in such countries.

Even in a free society like the US, if the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicates that it looks upon with disfavour some action by a citizen who is not the son of the soil, in a manner of speaking, minority citizens are unlikely to pursue such a course of action.

Therefore, the presumption is that in Singapore, where the government runs a tight ship in such matters, no citizen will apply for permission to attend Modi’s event and risk the displeasure of the authorities.

The Maharashtra Mandal of Singapore is a little more explicit than the Telugu Samajam in its circular dated October 13.

“If any of our members who are citizens of Singapore (are) interested in attending the event, (they) can express their interest online on the same (registration) form by marking ‘Nationality’ as ‘Others’ and country as ‘Singapore’. This event is mainly aimed at NRIs, i.e. people carrying Indian passport.”

In other words, Singapore citizens need not bother. The registration form of the Singapore NRI Forum, an umbrella organisation of sub-national Indian associations, which in turn has created “NAMO in Singapore”, explicitly says that “registration is open only for non-resident Indians”, to be read in this context as Indian passport holders.

To insulate themselves, they have further urged those who register to “declare that the particulars given herewith are true and accurate (and) also agree to abide by the rules and regulations as determined by the organisers of the event”.

Without explicitly mentioning the virtual exclusion of Singapore citizens from the reception, some of the Indian organisations have formally communicated to their members the ban in words that are pregnant with hidden meaning.

“The organisers will make all arrangements in accordance with the regulations and stipulations conveyed by the government of Singapore and all of the participants need to strictly adhere to the local laws and the guidelines,” according to one such circular.

Singapore authorities would not speak on record about their policy on Modi’s non-official events in their country. But they confirmed on condition of anonymity that their government had extensively consulted countries where Modi had spoken at similar events in the past one year.

They said China had imposed a similar ban on its citizens – which was not made public – when Modi addressed Indians during his visit. There were many Chinese in Modi’s audience but they were all secret agents who spoke Indian languages and were actually spying on the participants.

Efforts are under way to bring Indians from Indonesia to fill the Singapore Expo when Modi speaks there. Attempts to get Malaysian Indians to travel to Singapore met with lukewarm support because Modi is addressing Indians in Kuala Lumpur the same week./ The Telegraph Calcutta


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