To be a global power be ready to face global scrutiny

To be a global power be ready to face global scrutiny

New Delhi systematically continues to dismantle global critique from within the country and its defensive stance to global criticism will only further erode the global perception of the country

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Last Updated : 06 May 2024, 06:18 IST
Last Updated : 06 May 2024, 06:18 IST

Two phases of the 18th general elections in India are over, and a lot has happened in the country’s political theatre, in the lead-up to it. The unprecedented arrest of Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal raised questions from several quarters, not just in India but beyond national borders. The United States and Germany voiced concerns about the diminishing political and civic space in India with the hope that New Delhi will uphold democratic principles to the best of its abilities.

In response to such concerns, the Narendra Modi-led Union government summoned senior diplomats from Germany and the US in New Delhi to protest their remarks.

It should be taken into account that while the government hasn’t positively received comments from its global partners describing the state of democracy in the country, New Delhi has in the past commented on the democratic and human rights situations of its neighbour.

Whenever the UNHRC has discussed matters related to the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, India has commented that Colombo should implement its commitments towards conducting early provincial elections, to uphold the 13th amendment which paved the way for the process of devolution of powers to local governments.

Such comments were made with the intent of upholding principles of sound governance and democracy, which weren’t protested by Colombo; thus, it wouldn’t be wrong to expect the same from New Delhi as it is clear that there is room for partners to be critical of each other.

Some might point out that India’s reaction to the issue of Kejriwal’s arrest is an internal matter and it holds some merit, however, comments by the UN’s human rights chief on upholding democratic principles addresses a wider concern. One cannot dismiss this and rather realise that India’s weariness of global criticism is ingrained within the current government.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led administration has systematically made several attempts to silence global criticism that goes beyond the recent altercation with its global partners. Firstly, it has become quite difficult for foreign journalists to operate in India who are the voices that ensure stories from India reach global audiences. Foreign correspondents must grapple with visa restrictions, and think twice before conducting a critical story.

Secondly, the current administration has made it difficult for global rights groups to operate in India. In 2020, a crackdown by the government on Amnesty International resulted in the organisation’s India office being shut down. Currently, the government continues to suspend and cancel FCRA licenses of global NGOs such as World Vision International.

As India aims to become a great power, having already taken the initiative to project itself currently as the voice of the Global South, it is quite natural for partners and other global institutions to hold New Delhi accountable. In this aspect, different global indices have also been attempting to quantify India’s positioning across different thematic areas such as press freedom, human development, democracy, etc.

With India faring poorly across such global indices, New Delhi has always criticised these metrics on the grounds that these are biased, and do not truly represent India’s stature in the global ecosystem. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, earlier this year, said that these indices are disguised politics, driven by India’s political opposition.

On the other hand, a working paper released in 2022 by India’s Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister highlighted that the reason behind the country’s poor score is the flawed methodology followed by institutions publishing these indices which rely on the perceptions or opinions of a few experts.

Additionally, the paper suggested that Indian think-tanks should be encouraged to develop their own indices which shall soon be the case as the Indian government has tasked the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) to make a new democracy index. Since the ORF works closely with the current Union government, receiving funding from Reliance Industries, and its US office headed by Jaishankar’s son, chances are that the impartiality of the methodology for developing this index will be questioned.

With the government being dismissive towards the current perceived global outlook of the country, the ORF index shall end up being an attempt to paint a contrary picture to current global indices, helping the government build a toolkit to dismiss its critique across the globe.

Thus, it cannot be overlooked that the BJP-led administration through different means is attempting to dismantle any room for global criticism, a characteristic contrary to being the largest democracy in the world. Such a characteristic has an innate relationship with the government’s nationalist principles which dismisses and paints any critique as anti-India.

As 85 per cent Indians support rule by an authoritarian regime, it becomes easier for the BJP to take forward the ‘anti-India’ narrative and project comments and indices that come from the West as those meant to only tarnish India’s global image, whereas all actions of the government apparently upholds the constitution, adhering to principles of a welfare state.

On the other hand, a 2023 survey revealed that 40 per cent of people worldwide lack confidence in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while 37 per cent expressed minimal confidence. New Delhi's defensive stance on global reactions to its government's actions, its failure to uphold democratic principles, and its dismissal of international indices that rate India poorly, are likely to further erode global confidence in the country.

The pattern of curtailing democratic principles by the BJP-led administration is a recurring one. With opinion polls predicting a BJP re-election, it is time for this government to work upon its shortcomings or else there wouldn’t be an end to the adverse perceptions of global citizens towards India.

(Arkoprabho Hazra is a manager, Aakhya India. X: @ArkoprabhoH)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.


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