৭ মার্চ ২০২৩
India’s presidency of G20 could not have probably come at a worse time when the world is sharply divided over the Russia-Ukraine war. The foreign ministers’ meeting on last Thursday failed to reach on a consensus to finalize a joint communique due to the sharp differences between the West and Russia. In a face-saving effort, the meeting concluded with a Chair’s Summary. Even the Chair’s Summary is not unanimous. There is a footnote in the document which says that Russia and China do not agree with the wording of the two paragraphs that mention the war. The G20 finance ministers’ meeting that preceded the foreign ministers’ conclave also had a similar acrimonious outcome. Now the wait for the big event in September when the world leaders are supposed to rub shoulders centered around the highly controversial Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has grabbed the routine opportunity of the G20 presidency with both hands to project the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Gujarat massacre as self-styled “Vishwa Guru”, the global leader. The organizers have designed posters of the G20 Summit that resemble a flowering lotus, the insignia of the BJP.
India is not only a viciously fractured nation today, where extreme hatred for minorities is spread by those in power, its Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also accused of guiding the country towards authoritarianism. With democratic space shrinking, freedom of speech and expression has come under coordinated and persistent attack by the administration and Hindutva brigades. The recent harassment of BBC by the Indian government for committing the ‘crime’ to remind the world about the involvement of the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat Muslim minority pogrom has shredded another veneer of media freedom. An eminent Indian media describes the state of the country, “Where any poor Muslim is dubbed a terrorist; where any Christian is arrested for the ‘crime’ of converting Hindus to Christianity; where a Dalit is still an ‘untouchable’ and dare not complain when her or his daughters are raped by ‘upper caste men” (The Wire, Jan 10, 2023, “Before ‘One World, One Family, One Future’, There needs to be ‘One India’”).
A glaring fact exposes New Delhi’s hollow claim of unity: BJP has no Muslim lawmaker in the Lok Sabha, a first in the parliamentary history of India. It is to be seen how President Biden carries his message of democracy, human rights and press freedom during the New Delhi Summit. After all, since the beginning of Russian naked aggression against Ukraine, the so-called South Asian strategic ally of the United States has conveniently jumped into the lap of Putin. During the recently concluded G20 foreign ministers’ meeting, the Russian Foreign Minister offered his good office to bring Beijing and New Delhi closer. A Russia-China-India axis to challenge the US-led West may not remain a utopia for long. Time has arrived for the Indo-romantics among Washington policymakers to blush.
India has been included among the top 10 ‘automatizing’ countries in the last 10 years where democratic governance has nosedived in the 2023 report released by Sweden’s V-Dem. India’s ranking dipped from the 100th position in 2022 to 108th this year in Electoral Democracy Index. India is now one of those countries where disinformation, polarization, and autocratization reinforce each other with the blessing of the ruling government. Economist Intelligence Unit reported India falling under ‘flawed democracy’. Freedom House downgraded the self-styled ‘largest democracy’ in the world to ‘partly free’ from ‘free’. V-Dem and other less charitable research institutions and political analysts are more blunts in describing India as an ‘electoral autocracy’. A cult system has arisen in the most populous country on earth in which the new Avatar Modi has become the embodiment of India itself. Any criticism against the supreme leader is considered an attack on India. It is becoming difficult to differentiate between Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Narendra Modi.
Nearly five decades ago, India witnessed similar hero worship during the Indira Gandhi era that descended to a notorious period of Emergency from 1975 to 1977. Opposition leaders and dissident voices were arrested under the draconian law, Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) as part of widespread state atrocities. If Indira Gandhi had MISA, Narendra Modi has the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). A single tweet critical of government policy can trigger non-bailable UAPA and the accused can be left in pre-trial detention for years. An eighty-four years old, seriously ill, Catholic priest and eminent social worker, Stan Swamy was left to die in prison without medical attention after being charged under UAPA. Following a declining trend in democracy, India’s international ranking in media freedom has also deteriorated. According to the 2022 report released by Reporters Without Borders, India plummeted to the 150th position out of 180 countries, the lowest ever, from 142, a year earlier. Police brutality and hate campaigns against minority Muslims by Hindutva activists on social media have been cited by the independent journalist organization in the report. After the recent government crackdown on BBC, we may expect the Indian ranking on press freedom to go down further in the 2023 report.
India is now ruled by a political party influenced by Nazi philosophy. RSS, the fountainhead of Hindutva philosophy was created with the belief that races, religions, and cultures cannot coexist. The current prime minister of India is also a seasoned RSS ideologue. Savarkar, Hedgewar, Golwalkar, and other founders of RSS during the British colonial era generally endorsed the xenophobic philosophy of cleansing alien cultures according to their worldview. Golwalkar declared in 1939, “The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights.” (Golwalker, “We or Our Nationhood Defined”, Nagpur, 1939). Golwalkar later founded Vishva Hindu Parishad in 1964 as a member of the Sangh Parivar group led by RSS, the parent organization.
It is, therefore, well-nigh impossible to find any common ideological meeting point between democracy and Hindutva as defined by RSS ideologues. It is to be seen how much stress President Biden can give on the importance of democracy, human rights, media freedom, and the rights of the minorities during his interaction with Narendra Modi, a disciple of Golwalker and Savarkar in the 2023 September, New Delhi G20 Summit.
Editor, Amar Desh