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Modi’s ‘India First’ call a tried-and-tested strategy

From JFK during the Vietnam War that divided America and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, to former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, leaders of all political shades have used the nation first call to tap support. Charu Sudan Kasturi reports.

delhi Updated: Mar 12, 2013 12:01 IST
Charu Sudan Kasturi
Charu Sudan Kasturi
Hindustan Times

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s call to US-based NRIs on Sunday to put “India First” bears shades of slogans used by political leaders across ideologies and generations to tap support from an otherwise divided population.

Ranging from the Democrat US President John F Kennedy to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, leaders spanning the political spectrum have used the idea of putting nation before individuals to try and galvanize support for their respective political visions. And the most recent leader – before Modi – to use the concept is former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, a man Modi derisively referred to as “Mian Musharraf” in 2002.

“I have a very simple definition of secularism: India First,” Modi told NRIs in Edison, New Jersey and Chicago, Illinois – both cities with massive Indian American populations – while speaking to them through a video-conference. “In whatever we do or decide India must get priority.”

It’s an idea that has worked for political leaders in the past.

Inheriting the Vietnam War that would divide America, and Cold War hysteria, US President John F Kennedy famously ended his 1961 inauguration speech with the words: “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

That sentence inspired a generation of Americans and made Kennedy one of that country’s all-time most popular presidents – though some reports suggest he may have plagiarized the sentence from schooldays.

Speaking to supporters in Munich in 1941, in the middle of the Second World War, Hitler too had invoked the idea of placing the nation before self to persuade a people increasingly tired of war to keep battling for his empire. Referring to the treaties imposed on Germany after its defeat in WWI, which fuelled a sense of injustice that Hitler tapped for support, the Nazi leader argued that his country would win the war “once every German individual stood up for the nation and not for himself.”

Musharraf, currently in exile but planning to return to Pakistan soon, also uses “Pakistan First” as the slogan on his blog.

Modi -- criticized for his handling of the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, but a four-time chief minister of the state – will hope his call works too.

First Published: Mar 12, 2013 11:55 IST