June 20, 2021

A Command Performance

PRIME Minister Narendra Modi has an inordinate capacity for doublespeak and hypocritical posturing. Even then, his performance at the outreach meeting of the G7 Summit at Cornwall reached new heights. 

At the session on “open societies” to which four guest countries were invited – South Africa, South Korea, Australia and India – Modi proclaimed India’s “civilisational commitment to democracy, freedom of thought and liberty”.  Invoking the cliché of being “the world’s largest democracy”, he declared that India is “a natural ally for the G7 and guest partners to defend their shared values from a host of threats stemming” from such evils as “authoritarianism”.  This was said without a trace of irony by one of the most authoritarian rulers in the world.

The prime minister became a signatory to the “Open Societies Statement”, which talked of “human rights for all both online and offline”, “right to assemble, organise and associate peacefully” and so on. 

The statement goes on to say that “We are at a critical juncture, facing threats to freedom and democracy” from various quarters such as “rising authoritarianism”, “human rights violations and abuses” and “politically motivated internet shutdowns”. 

The Modi government has a dismal and bleak record regarding all the virtues of democracy and the threats to it listed out in the statement. Modi was lauding “freedom of thought and liberty” while presiding over a regime which has set a record in preventive detentions.  According to the official figures, there were 5,128 cases under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in the five year period between 2015 and 2019.  There was a 72 per cent increase in arrests under UAPA in 2019 as compared to 2015.  The number of sedition cases rose to 229 in this period and it has continued to increase in the year 2020 and the first five months of 2021.

Even after the scathing remarks of the Delhi High Court on the misuse of the UAPA while granting bail to three student activists, the government refuses to relent.  The Delhi police, which is under the union home ministry, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the bail verdict.

As far as “online freedom” and “internet shutdowns” are concerned, India accounted for 109 of the 155 internet shutdowns around the world, which amounts to 70 per cent of total shutdowns.  Yet, Modi blithely subscribes to the claim that “politically motivated internet shutdowns” are a threat to freedom and democracy.

As for press freedom, India ranks 142 out of 180 countries in the world press freedom index as per Reporters Without Borders.  The new IT rules, which have come into force, criminalise dissent, violate citizens’ right to privacy and encourage self-censorship.  Online news portals and websites have now been brought under government regulation and censorship.  As for human rights abuses – mob lynchings and hate crimes are carried out brazenly with most such crimes not being brought to justice. 

By the standards set out in the “Open Societies Statement”, the authoritarian Modi regime should be identified as a threat to freedom and democracy.

The rich men’s club, which is the G7, must have appreciated this command performance of the Indian prime minister.  Because, the focus of this G7 Summit was China.  The Summit communique, signed by the leaders of the group of seven countries, has quite a few references critical about China with regard to the origins of the Covid virus outbreak, unfair non-market policies, disregard for human rights and the need to meet the challenge of its growing economic and military power.

It is in this context that India, under Modi, is a welcome but subordinate ally for the US-led western alliance.  In Western eyes, petty foibles such as locking up political prisoners, suppressing the media and shutting down the internet are a small price to pay for the larger fight to defend “shared values”. 

While Modi may take pride at having been invited to participate in the Summit, albeit at a lower table, the fact remains that the G7 is a club of the imperialist rich nations. This became abundantly clear to all when the Summit made the “grand” decision to provide one billion doses of vaccine for the developing countries. As pointed out by several international health and civil society organisations, this is just a fraction of what is required – the G7 could have easily donated 10 billion doses of vaccine. But the leaders of the rich capitalist countries cannot put people’s health above profits.

The G7 Summit and the subsequent meeting of the NATO allies in Brussels have made it clear that maintaining imperialist hegemony is the priority, not fighting the pandemic. 
(June 17, 2021)