December 19, 2021

Charade in the Name of Democracy

THE “Summit for Democracy” convened by US president, Joe Biden, on December 9-10 was ostensibly meant to strengthen democracy worldwide and to fend off the efforts by “autocrats” to undermine democracy. The focus of the summit, as put out by the US state department, was on three themes: Strengthening democracy and countering authoritarianism, fighting corruption and promoting respect for human rights. 

Altogether 100 leaders of governments were invited to the online summit, of which 89 responded.  A look at the list of those who attended makes it clear that it was not “strengthening democracy and countering authoritarianism”, that was the purpose of the summit,  but it was more an extension of the US strategy to counter China and Russia and to preserve its hegemony over the “democratic world”.

After talking about “pushing back on authoritarianism” in his opening remarks, Biden then went on to sit in conference with the likes of Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte, president of Philippines, elected leaders who have instituted authoritarian regimes in their countries.  Bolsonaro has become infamous for his policies violating the rights of the indigenous people, destruction of the Amazon rain forests and subjecting people to the ravages of Covid by refusing to acknowledge the danger of the virus.  Duterte has become notorious for the regime of extra-judicial killings of thousands in the name of fighting drugs and widespread repression by putting journalists and human rights activists in jail. 

That selected invitees were there to serve American interests was also seen by the invitation to Taiwan, violating its own “One China” policy and the presence of the so-called interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, who is being propped up by the US in its efforts to topple the legitimate government of Venezuela headed by President Maduro.

If the invited governments from South Asia are scanned, the US designs become clearer. Pakistan was invited (it declined to attend), but not Bangladesh, or, Sri Lanka. India, Nepal and Maldives were the other invitees. Is Bangladesh a less democratic country than Pakistan? Obviously, the exigencies of having access to Afghanistan were the determining factor in extending the invitation to Pakistan. 

Prime Minister Modi, in his statement to the summit, announced that he represented the world’s largest democracy and claimed that the “democratic spirit is integral to our civilization ethos”. In the self-congratulatory speech, there was no reference to any of the threats or problems faced by the democratic system in India. 

Biden, in his opening remarks, had cited Freedom House, a US government-funded NGO, which had reported in 2020 that it marked the 15th consecutive year of global freedom in retreat.  The same Freedom House had, in its report of 2021, downgraded India from being “free” to “partially free”. 

Another report cited by Biden about the decline of democracy was from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. This institute, in its report `The Global State of Democracy 2021’, has stated that “A noticeable continuation of a decline in democracy was recorded in India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka…..”

Obviously, such adverse reports on India’s democracy were not to be taken seriously as United States considers India a valuable partner in its fight against growing Chinese influence. The Hindutva authoritarian regime, which Modi has instituted and the systematic curtailing of the rights of citizens, the attacks on minorities, the intimidation of the media and using of preventive detention laws like UAPA against political activists and journalists can all be overlooked. What makes Sheikh Hasina more authoritarian than Narendra Modi can only be explained by the twisted logic of the US state department. 

Successive US administrations have been carrying forward the charade of democracy and human rights. During the time of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was set-up. The NED’s motto was “free markets sustain democracy” and it became an instrument of the US government to fund opposition groups in countries whose governments were considered hostile to the United States. 

This was followed by the Clinton administration floating a platform called the “Community of Democracies” (CoD).  The Vajpayee government, at that time in 1999-2000, enthusiastically joined the CoD and it was one of the core countries to sponsor the international conference of the CoD in Warsaw in June 2000.  After George Bush came to power, India joined the “Global Democracy Initiative”, which was announced in the joint communiqué issued by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Bush in 2005. 

The United States’ democracy enterprise consisted of toppling or destabilising popular governments around the world – Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Grenada, Iran, South Korea, Indonesia among a long list of countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia from the 1950s onwards. The other method has been to launch military attacks against countries, occupy them and seek to “implant democracy”, the latest instances were Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Biden announced at the conclusion of the summit that he would commit 424 million dollars for a Fund for Democratic Renewal and a Partnership for Democracy programme to be administered through the state department and the USAID.  Not much effort is needed to understand how these funds will be utilised to further America’s geopolitical interests.

It would have been better, if President Biden had focused on what is happening to the democratic system in the United States, instead of posing as a warrior for global democracy.  Biden had waxed eloquent about the “sacred right to vote” and how the right to vote freely “is the threshold of liberty for democracy” in his closing speech. It is this right to vote freely which is being curtailed and circumscribed in the US. This year alone, 19 states have passed voter restrictive laws in their Republican-dominated state legislatures.  These are barriers to voting rights of blacks and other sections of the deprived population. 

Biden has promised to call an in-person summit a year later to assess the progress made in the three spheres of democracy, fighting corruption and defending human rights. He expected the leaders to report back what progress had been achieved. The Modi government will have no worries about producing a performance report in the matter as it knows very well that its partnership with America is to fulfill something else. 


(December 15, 2021)