Modi in Australia: Of black money, selfies and koala
Highlights of first PM visit to Australia in 28 years after Rajiv Gandhi.
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Leading global charge against black money: The ministry of external affairs has gone on the front foot to project how the "forceful intervention" by PM Modi on the issue of black money led to a clause on combating tax evasion being included in the final communiqué. In his brief address at the G-20, Modi put black money at the centre of his agenda. He told world leaders: “Increased mobility of capital and technology has created new opportunities for avoiding tax and profit sharing. I urge every jurisdiction, especially tax havens, to provide information for tax purposes in accordance with treaty obligations.” Black money was originally not on the G-20 agenda. But soon after the PM’s address, the G-20 office shared a draft clause on black money with all the delegates. India’s position was welcomed by BRICS nations, especially Brazil and South Africa. The clause on Base Erosion and Profit Sharing (BEPS) Action Plan was finally included as paragraph 13 in the G-20 declaration and was touted as a major accomplishment of the prime minister during his first G-20 summit. The aim is to push for greater transparency in global tax laws and also greater uniformity in tax structure across countries. In addition, the plan is to make it compulsory for countries to share account information with tax authorities from other nations by 2017-18.
Architects who didn’t take Modi seriously: PM Modi unveiled the Gandhi statue in Brisbane after the G-20 summit concluded. But the construction of the statue has a fascinating backstory. Brisbane-based architects Hemant and Kalpana Jain told the India Today Group that Modi first asked them to construct a memorial for Mahatma Gandhi in Brisbane way back in 2001 when he had come to the city for a private visit. The Jains met Modi at dinner at the Counsel General’s residence. Modi was not even chief minister at the time. Sceptical of Indian politicians, the well-to-do Jains soon forgot about what a relatively unknown Modi had told them. The Jains then bumped into Modi after he became CM in 2003 and then in 2007 at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in Ahmedabad. Much to their surprise, Modi reminded the Jains about constructing a Gandhi memorial in Brisbane on both occasions. Modi was already CM, but the Jains went on with their business and still did not pay serious attention to Modi’s request. But after it became clear that Modi was the frontrunner to be PM, the Jains finally swung into action and started working on the statue in real earnest. During his speech before the unveiling of the statue, Modi remarked that people think that he’s become interested in Gandhi only after becoming the PM. But the Jains say they know that Modi was a Gandhi bhakt long before he started dominating the national agenda.
Remittance relief for Indians abroad: Another key success of the prime minister was to push the G-20 towards taking "strong practical measures" to reduce the global average cost of transferring remittances. India is the world’s largest recipient of remittances from non-residents. The figure is a staggering $71 billion every year, much more than the annual remittances by the Chinese and the Filipinos. But what irks Non-Resident Indians is the high transaction fees levied by banks, which can be as much as tenper cent of the total transaction amount. The threepage G-20 communiqué said: “We commit to take strong practical measures to reduce the global average cost of transferring remittances to five per cent and to enhance financial inclusion as a priority. The G-20 recognises the value of remittance flows in helping to drive strong, sustainable and balanced growth.” Modi’s Sherpa at the G-20 Suresh Prabhu told journalists that India had succeeded in convincing the Saudis to reduce the cost of remittances to three point five per cent. NRIs are now anxiously waiting for the agreement to be implemented.
Koala diplomacy wins hearts: Australia arranged a warm and fuzzy welcome for the world’s most powerful leaders at this weekend’s G-20 summit with a campaign dubbed “koala diplomacy”, in which top politicians cuddled the shy native marsupials. While there may have been sharp differences during policy discussions, G-20 leaders were unanimous in their desire to be photographed with the furry grey animals, which were brought in from a local wildlife park for the summit. Even host Tony Abbott’s pre-summit threat to aggressively “shirtfront” Russian leader Vladimir Putin was temporarily forgotten as the pair smiled and posed side-by-side cradling koalas in their arms. Koala’s are a species struggling with declining numbers as human development encroaches on their habitat and the attempt by the organisers was to draw global attention to their plight. While not listed as endangered, koalas are officially considered “vulnerable”, and efforts to boost their population have been stepped up in recent years. Koalas are known to spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping and the organisers had to give special training to the koalas brought to the summit to prevent them from dozing off.
Modi selfie craze grips Brisbane: PM Modi seems to be sparking off a selfie craze wherever he goes. Even the wellheeled professionals and industrialists at the tony reception organised at the Brisbane Town Hall were not immune to Modi’s charms. Middle-aged women draped in expensive silk saris competed with stylishly attired businessmen to click a selfie with the prime minister. A local later remarked that the scenes were similar to a rugby scrum with Modi becoming the ball that all the players were desperately scrambling to get their hands on. Most went away disappointed, but the few who succeeded in getting a selfie were seen exchanging high-fives and showing off their prized possession.
Organising the perfect photo opportunity: Every foreign sojourn of the prime minister seems a perfectly scripted photo opportunity. But as is the case with any good TV production, none of the offbeat moments are completely impromptu. They’ve been planned out to the last detail. In Sydney, former ANI-Reuters TV journalist Balesh Dhankar has been working closely with Indian TV crews, suggesting stories, arranging talking heads and even lining up visual sequences. The man who did the groundwork for Modi’s Australia visit is BJP general secretary Ram Madhav. Madhav brainstormed with members of the Indian community to come up with story ideas which would help project Modi’s agenda back home.
Bohra Muslims await Modi: Hundreds of Indians are flying in from all major Australian towns to listen to PM Modi’s speech at Sydney’s Olympic Park Arena. Among those in attendance will be a group of ten0 Dawoodi Bohra Muslims who have been invited by the Indian high commission. Most Bohra women are working professionals who seem impressed by Modi’s focus on women safety. The menfolk claim they like Modi because he stands for inclusive growth. The group of ten0 are now hoping to catch the PM’s attention at the Allphones Arena on Monday.
When F-18's were scrambled because of a security scare: While the world’s top leaders had assembled in Brisbane for the G-20 summit, security agencies had a major scare which led to fighter jets being scrambled to investigate an unknown radar track off Brisbane Island around 7.40 am, only to discover that it was just a boat. Two Hornets were launched from a nearby Australian air force bay to investigate unidentified radar signals. The defence ministry later put out a statement, saying, “Upon investigation the object was identified as a ship at sea.
Spring in Doordarshan’s feet: With the PM restricting access to private news channels at all his events, TV channels have been depending on Doordarshan and ANI to provide visuals of the PM’s engagements. The most hassled lot of journalists in Australia were the crew from the state-run public broadcaster Doordarshan, who were seen running around with a new spring in their feet. The days of complacency at Doordarshan seem long gone and there is now immense pressure on the DD staff to be live from all the key functions and not lag behind the private channels in beaming back inputs. DD has sent a mega crew to Australia comprising three reporters, three cameramen and two engineers. The crew from the private news agency ANI were heard remarking that they manage do deliver the same output with one-third the resources.