Scott Morrison’s hand-picked candidate in McMahon accused Narendra Modi of causing “hatred [and] fear” in India and accused him of being “unable to do a press conference at all for fear of being asked a Gujrat or Delhi or All India genocide question”.
Although Vivek Singha’s social media advocacy is unlikely to be decisive in the relatively safe New South Wales Labor seat, the strident criticism of the Indian prime minister could be a source of a significant embarrassment for Morrison, who has closely courted Modi.
Singha, a tax specialist at PepsiCo, contested the seat for the Liberals in 2019, achieving a 5.5% swing against the incumbent, shadow climate change minister Chris Bowen.
He was one of the nine candidates selected by a three-person committee including Morrison and the New South Wales premier, Dominic Perrottet, just a week before the 21 May election was called.
In April 2019 when Modi’s official account tweeted that Covid “does not see race, religion, colour caste, [or] creed”, Singha replied “shame that you have divided the country to such an extent that you had to resort to tweeting this”.
“Sad how much hatred, fear, hunger [and] disappointment you have caused.”
Modi is a Hindu nationalist who came to power in 2014, despite questions over his complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots that killed at least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, while he was chief minister. Modi has always denied any wrongdoing.
Ethnic and religious violence have been on the rise in India, where there are accusations that state police are “mercenaries” of the hardline Hindu nationalist government, and have murdered Muslims and Dalits.
On 21 April 2020, Singha suggested that Modi was “unable to do a press conference at all for fear of being asked a Gujrat or Delhi or All India genocide question”.
A day earlier, when another tweeter said that “since 2002 fame Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, India has lost its virtues”, Singha replied: “True.”
Singha also repeatedly criticised Modi’s Covid policies, including, on 22 March 2020, a 14-hour curfew to prepare the nation for later lockdowns.
Singha questioned why Modi was “so fearful of closing down the country” and why he had imposed a “practice” when India was facing a “real test”.
“He is cheating the nation … lulling people into a false sense of security.”
“This looks like [it] is turning into a huge fundraiser from [Modi’s] tweets,” Singha posted in reference to the curfew.
“Is this a corona mitigation measure or an invite to corona,” he queried, in reference to large crowds at train stations and airports before the curfew.
In July 2020, when the Bharatiya Janata Party tweeted images of Modi purportedly visiting the “Nimu forward post in Ladakh”, Singha replied with a Google maps search suggesting that the prime minister was five hours and 45 minutes drive away.
In April 2020, Singha congratulated communist candidate Rakesh Singha, a family member, on his election to the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly.
Morrison has lavished praise on Modi, including describing him as “an empowered and visionary leader” at a virtual summit with the Indian PM in June 2020.
In November, Morrison described Modi as his “very good friend”, “a great leader, internationally” and “a strong leader who believes passionately in the principles of democracy and the future of his country”.
Earlier in April, Morrison defended his intervention in the NSW Liberal branch, boasting that taking control of preselections had resulted in half of all candidates being women.
“Of those, they came from Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese backgrounds, as well as Sri Lankan and Croatian.
“I think the candidates that we’ve chosen, I’d like the members to be able to do that, but we were running out of time. The job had to get done.”
A Liberal Party spokesman said: “Mr Singha is a strong supporter of Australia’s close and warm relationship with the nation of India and its government.”