Anthony Albanese was left scrambling for words on national breakfast TV on Wednesday morning, after he was questioned about his relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Less than 24 hours after the Labor Party leader welcomed Mr Modi in a spectacular event at Sydney Olympic Park’s Qudos Bank Arena, the Prime Minister was forced to defend his comradeship with the international leader.
As anti-Modi protesters rallied outside Kirribilli House, Mr Albanese was quizzed on Mr Modi’s “tyrant” behaviour with Sunrise host David Koch and ABC Breakfast host Michael Rowland.
They raised the Indian Prime Minister’s “anti-democratic” past in separate interviews.
Mr Albanese first appeared on Sunrise with Koch doing a little digging into Mr Modi’s “popularity”.
“Not to put a downer on it PM, but like a lot of Australians, I was wondering how can this bloke have 80 per cent popularity in his own country?,” the veteran journalist asked.
Mr Modi came to Australia on Monday for a three-day visit. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Swift
Koch admitted Mr Modi’s history had him “worried” — particularly due to his suppression of press freedoms, “discrimination against minorities” and accusations made that he had “watered down democracy”.
“He sort of, he seems a bit of a tyrant?” Koch asked.
In response, Mr Albanese said about India having the “world’s largest democracy”, and how Mr Modi helped reduce poverty and increase opportunities for Indian citizens at an “extraordinary level”.
“The economic growth that we’ve seen in India is extraordinary. And Prime Minister Modi is certainly popular, not with everyone, it’s a democracy, but he’s popular with a majority of people,” Mr Albanese said.
Koch summarised Mr Albanese’s comments by asking: “so he’s had to be tough to do that, in other words?”
The Australian leader refused to discuss India’s internal politics however reiterated it was a democracy.
“It’s not up to me to pass a comment …(but) India, as a democracy, has a range of views which is a good thing.”
David Koch grilled PM Anthony Albanese on Wednesday morning. Picture: Channel 7 /SunriseMr Albanese spoke to Sunrise after his celebrations with Mr Modi on Tuesday night. Picture: Channel 7 / Sunrise
While their conversation moved on, Mr Albanese wasn’t let off the hook just yet with ABC’s Michael Rowland posing a similar question later in the morning.
After highlighting the protest at Kirribilli House and an earlier protest which occurred outside Sydney Olympic Park last night, Rowland said it was “clear” Mr Modi didn’t have universal support from the Indian community.
“He’s accused of repressing his political opponents, he’s accused of repressing the media, he’s accused of discriminating against Muslims. Does any of that trouble you?” he asked Mr Albanese.
The Prime Minister took inspiration from his earlier answer on Sunrise, restating that India had the “world’s largest democracy” before going on a tangent about Australia’s democratic processes.
“Here in Australia … people have a right to express their views in a peaceful way … and we all have different views about people in politics,” he said.
“Australia, of course, always stands up for human rights, wherever it occurs anywhere in the world.”
On this point, Rowland asked if Mr Albanese would raise such issues with Mr Modi.
Mr Albanese responded saying he communicates with people directly and consistently, rather than “leaking text messages” with other world leaders.
Michael Rowland (right) also interviewed Mr Albanese. Picture: Supplied
It’s understood Mr Albanese was alluding to an incident where former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office allegedly leaked texts from French President Emmanuel Macron, regarding the $90 billion submarine deal prior to the AUKUS pact being announced.
“I have a respectful relationship with Prime Minister Modi and with other leaders,” Mr Albanese said.
Unlike Koch, Rowland chose to dig a little deeper, asking Mr Albanese if he was concerned about Mr Modi “refusing” to criticise Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Taking notes from his interview with Koch, Mr Albanese responded by sharing his “respect” for India, arguing it is accountable for its own international relations.
“India has been a leader of the non-aligned movement for such a long period of time. But Indian is a great supporter of peace and security and stability in our region,” he said, before referencing Mr Modi’s participation in the G7 summit, Quad Leaders meeting and the G20 which India will host later this year.
“I’m sure hopefully (the war with Ukraine) will be resolved by then. If not, I expect that there’ll be a similar statement to which there was at the G20 last year to which India participated.”
Mr Modi was celebrated at an event at Sydney Olympic Park. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams /Getty Images
Mr Modi arrived in Australia on Monday for a three-day official for the first time in almost a decade.
About 20,000 supporters attended Qudos Bank Arena on Tuesday night to celebrate the Indian Prime Minister, with several performances put on for him and Sydney’s Indian community.
Pop star Guy Sebastian, whose mum grew up in India, even put on a show for Mr Modi before taking to Instagram to share a photo of the pair meeting, which Sebastian described as a “great honour”.
Mr Modi’s visit to Australia comes after the cancellation of the scheduled Quad meeting, which was set to bring together leaders from the United States, Australia, Japan, and India.
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US President Joe Biden’s decision to prioritise American national debt issues led to the cancellation.
Mr Albanese hopes Mr Modi’s visit will expand trade ties between the nations and build on the country’s security and defence relationship.
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