Democracy and Nationalism in India: Global Image
As violence in Manipur continues to maim the innocents (July 2023) and displace the hapless victims to refugee camps, Mr. Modi’s global jaunts continue unabated. In his previous reign of 2014 to 2019, he must have held an awesome record of visits to most of the countries of the World. After his second innings these slowed down mainly due to Covid 19 but are resuming yet again. These are accompanied by the propaganda that he has taken India’s image to higher levels, he is the great leader of the World and that India is not only the ‘mother of democracy’ but also a ‘thriving democracy’.
World has seen the rise of independent institutions which do monitor the democratic freedoms and India’s record on these indices continues to fall and has been closer to the lower rung of the bottom in most of the indices. Also he has been honored by many Muslim majority countries, most of which are dictatorships and are tying up with India for trade and strategic concerns. The case with Western democracies like the United States and France is not comparable. Here one can see the dilemmas of these countries. These on one hand relate with India for economic–political reasons and other have to underplay the human rights conditions of India, those of minorities in particular.
In previous Governments the relationship with Western World was upright. India pursued the path of Non alignment; but as its democracy was getting rooted and minorities did not have such a rough time, India could shake hands with these powers in an upright manner. Starting from Nehru’s brilliant articulations and pursuit towards democracy in a sincere way down to Manmohan Singh, Western Media and institutions were not so critical of the internal situation in India. Not anymore. Currently while countries like the US and France are rolling the red carpet for our Prime Minister, at the same time there are severe protests in these countries against the policies of the Indian ruling party which is intimidating and frightening to the religious minorities and weaker in particular.
The recent trips of the PM to America and France, while drawing accolades from those in high office witnessed the protests, edits of major papers and resolutions by organizations like the European parliament. While those protesting or asking uncomfortable questions have been trolled or criticized for interfering in the internal matters of India, the point is that the atrocious treatment meted to our weaker sections of society can no longer be put under the carpet in the era of internet, which has shrunken the World, and the ground reports of courageous journalists and activists who have tried to bring forth the truth of the violations of human rights faced by large sections of society along with the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators and state looking the other way around, if not directly encouraging these injustices.
In America, while the President Joe Biden was the recipient of the bear hug from our PM, he could convince Mr. Modi to give a Press conference in the white House. Mr. Modi reluctantly agreed to answering two questions. And the cat was out of the bag. Sabrina Siddiqui of Wall Street journal asked him what his government was doing to prevent discrimination against minorities, particularly Muslims, given the worsening abuses against Muslims and also of Christians in his country. Biden could not have asked this as he is cultivating India to be its next ally in South Asia, replacing Pakistan, whose utility for America is now over as it has already accomplished most of its goals in West Asia to control the oil wealth.
Now India is groomed to ally with Uncle Sam to counter the emerging prowess of China in the region. To Siddiqui’s question Mr. Modi mumbled few non significant, ‘we are democracy, we don’t discriminate’ etc. and in response the well cultivated troll army here at home was unleashed against her. The trolling was so intense that White House spokesperson had to come in her defense, reiterating that they don’t approve of such harassment to journalists.
What Biden could not say was left to Barack Obama, his predecessor to state. Obama in an interview to Christiane Amanpour of CNN stated that if minorities are not protected in India, it might fall apart. He in due course was trolled by none other than the ‘Johnny come lately’ in BJP pantheon, Hemant Biswa Sarma, who added Husain to Obama and said that there are many Husain Obamas here in India who will be dealt with. To cap it all apart from many protests against Modi, Arundhati Roy's article, detailing the atrocities against Muslims, Christians, dalits and Adivasis found a prominent place in New York Times.
She also commented on the choice of allies by America, “The enchanting folks that the U.S. government has cultivated as partners include the Shah of Iran, Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan, the Afghan mujahideen, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, a series of tin-pot dictators in South Vietnam and Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile. A central tenet of U.S. foreign policy has, too often, been democracy for the United States, dictatorship for its (nonwhite) friends.”
The case in France was no different, President Macron receiving him warmly and praised the friendship of two thriving democracies, the European Parliament in a session in Strasbourg, pained by the plight of minorities in India and particularly at the time when Manipur continues to burn from over couple of months, took up six motions relating to the violence in the northeastern state and passed a resolution. They talked of “persecution” of Christians and other minorities, and also about Hindu majoritarianism.
And Le Monde, the foremost paper of France was forthright in condemning the worsening plight of minorities and democratic freedom in India. Commented Le Monde, “But can we ignore the fact that India, under Modi's leadership, is going through a serious crisis, with attacks on human rights activists, NGOs and journalists on the rise?”
Should we take these comments of leading Newspapers, protests and opinions of the likes of Barack Obama as an external interference or should we introspect to rectify the democratic norms and culture in our country? This is the question which people have to come up with in times to come.