Opinions on the internal affairs of another country can be either ideologically or politically motivated. Sometime back, Britain’s Labour Party and the Democratic Party in the US had ruffled the Indian government’s feathers with their purported ‘interference in our internal affairs’ when they expressed concerns on the developments in Jammu & Kashmir. The Indian government responded to the Labour Party by slamming it for ‘pandering to vote-bank interests’ and to the US Democrats by the External Affairs Minister publicly refusing to meet a Democrat Congresswoman who had a role in drafting the resolution perceived to be inimical to the Indian government. There were clarifications and reassurances from Labour and Democrats that their stated concerns did not amount to questioning the all-important Indian sovereignty, but only posited the issues of human rights and liberties.
It is true that both the US Democrats and British Labour are more ideologically driven by internationalism, human rights and minority rights than their respective rival parties, the Republicans and the Conservatives. New Delhi’s reciprocal displeasure over ‘interference’ had got excitedly extrapolated to suggest ‘anti-India’ (therefore, pro-enemy) implications. In the process, the starkly more damning position taken by both those parties on the Uyghur issue in China was given a complete miss in the Indian press. US President-elect Joe Biden used the word ‘genocide’ against China; the Labour Party called for ‘sanctions’ against Beijing, which also conversely does not necessarily make them, ‘pro-India’!
So, while the Democrats or Labour may have occasional ideological dissonances with us, it is important to differentiate them from overtly politically motivated postures (though some of their individual members may hold such position). However, no such lenient context can be attributed to the unmistakable enthusiasm on India’s ‘internal matters’ of Pakistan PM Imran Khan who, when asked about parallel concerns on the Uyghur issue, displayed transactional morality by refusing to criticise China because “they helped us (Pakistan) when we were rock bottom!”
India is a proudly vibrant democracy whose Constitution guarantees equal rights to all its citizens. The spirit of its ‘constitutional morality’ does come into question occasionally, and concerned citizens take it upon themselves to undo a perceived ‘wrong’ to any section. But it warrants no international ‘interference’, especially if it is politically motivated, and not ideological. Many of the recent internal issues have divided opinion among citizens -- CAA/NRC, bifurcation of J&K or the ongoing farmers’ protest. This is natural, healthy and, indeed, required in a thriving democracy. Other countries should restrict their opinions to purely ideological/humanitarian concerns, if any, and not cross the fine line into ‘interfering’ by unnecessary volubility and intransigence. Doing so would render their stand from the ostensibly ideological to the clearly political.
The obdurately enthusiastic support of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the farmers’ protest in India is one of avoidable ‘interference’ and politicisation. As the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party with centre-left moorings, the ideological position is understandable, but his deliberate reiteration of his stand -- despite New Delhi’s warning -- that he would “always stand up for the right of peaceful protest,” was political grandstanding. Clearly, the fact that the Canadian House of Commons has 18 Sikh MPs and a predominantly ‘Punjabi’ base of the total Indo-Canadians, composing 4% of the total Canadian population, explains his political motivation.
No stranger to theatrical appropriation of ‘Indianness’, his comical state visit to India in 2018 had turned out to be embarrassingly ‘bollywoodised’, and disastrous diplomatically. As if Trudeau’s earlier political dalliances with known India-baiters were not enough, his official entourage had included a controversial and convicted assassin, and the faux pas was committed due to his overenthusiasm, naïve arrogance and, possibly, political calculations.
The concern of the Indo-Canadians themselves, who would have a part of their families impacted by the ongoing stir, is understandable, but Trudeau’s sense of timing, i.e., on the auspicious day of Gurupurab, had all the hallmarks of a wily politician who sought the perfect timing and platform for maximum impact (especially since the rival political parties NDP and the Conservatives had already expressed their concerns).
There is a complicated and wounded history that is internalised by a portion of Indo-Canadians, whose definitive image of Punjab remains from the 1980s. The fact that much has changed and healed remains unknown, and the imagined wounds get magnified by distance, vested interests and also by the support of political parties. Earlier, due to these undercurrents, the Punjab Chief Minister had expressed his discomfort about entertaining Trudeau and his Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan during their visit to India.
Indeed, a vast number of Indian citizens have reservations about the Modi government’s move to pass the farm laws, and they have raised their voices or joined the protest. But as the sagacious, dignified and determined farmers themselves have demonstrated, they need no outside support to voice themselves. Our internal issues are our issues, and voices of international support, if driven by political motivations, need to be filtered and shunned, irrespective of the support.
Equally, it is incumbent on the Modi government to refrain from partaking in events that suggest our political preference in some other country. The ‘Howdy Modi’ and ‘Namaste Trump’ events had reverberated with ‘Abki baar Trump Sarkar’.
The importance of maintaining ‘distance’ from foreign powers is especially mandated if it emanates from countries like Pakistan or China, as besides being ‘enemy nations’, these dispensations hardly have the socio-political record to justify opining on others.
At the same time, our own government and ruling party must ensure dignity to protesters and avoid attributing ‘anti-national/seditious/Khali stani’ motives and accusations at the drop of a hat to counter dissent. If the government demonstrates empathy, inclusivity and magnanimity towards the contrarian views of its own citizens, then foreign powers will themselves become wary of ‘interfering’ in our affairs.
(The writer is a former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)