A diplomat from a middle-sized European country ruefully said to me, “how do we raise human rights issues with your government? It is a big country and a huge market. We are not talking to some small country in Africa or Latin America.” That is a dilemma posed by India to other countries, especially democracies. The other one was manifested in the practice of realpolitik by a rich and progressive European country.
When the civil societies in that particular country raised the issue of human rights in India, their government cautioned and counselled that in the national interest of the country, trade and commerce had to be privileged over human rights. Even Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar says, “Westerners talk of rule-based international order but sacrifice it at the altar of their respective national interests. We Indians have to run our industries and feed our hungry, many of them below the poverty line. So, we have to buy oil from Russia as others do.”
Such tension between idealism and pragmatism is felt across the world. Rich industrialised countries believed in maintaining their political and economic power disregarding democratic principles abroad. That approach has been evident in the Western countries’ massive trade and commerce with China in the face of ruthless suppression of human rights including rolling over the tanks at Tiananmen over students protesting for democracy.
Many a country in the world, including India, is diffidently conscious of the dichotomy between growth and human rights. That is why, perhaps, the Indian government appears indifferent to allegations to violations of human rights. At the same time, New Delhi believes that Western perception of human rights does not converge with that of Global South, and Western countries could be guilty of maintaining double standards. At any rate, why is New Delhi using both dare and diplomacy in its foreign policy? Although, evidently New Delhi has not arrived yet as a world power, it believes and is perceived to be at the threshold of the top.
Secondly, New Delhi’s current foreign policy is driven by a muscular nationalism, a ‘dare you’ approach. While it is certainly good for a self-confident and an aspiring power, India should adhere to realism as well as norm-setting. On the first principle, realism, is a matter of perception. The leadership gurus like David Schwartz says, ‘you are what you think you are’. More power to South Block and India’s economy!
Also, there are credible research and prognoses that India will be the number one or two economy in the world and will overtake China. A short analysis by the noted American geopolitical expert, Peter Zeilan, makes such prediction. China’s economy is a ‘bubble’ created by the United States after the summit between Nixon and Mao to isolate Soviet Union and secondly, as a part of American globalisation push during the Cold War era. Whenever America wants to pull the rug, Chinese economy is bound to collapse.
On the other hand, India has not been internationalised. It did not grow much, nor did it suffer like others. It does not get growth, but it also does not get instability. India is slowly transitioning, lot slower than those in her peer group, yet the growth is steady. In a few decades it will be the largest population in the world and will remain so for about 50 years. It will not suffer the demographic crunch like the Europeans or even Chinese. India has problems but they also find solutions.
More important, India is closer to what they need. With its growing friendship with Australia, supply of food and minerals should not be a problem. India is the first stop off the Persian Gulf, therefore, despite the usual perceptions of inefficiency, women’s issues, corruption, Pakistan, India has much less to worry about than China. India can come with solutions from time to time and solve its problems, but China is inevitably close to the end.
Such pontification is giving India the confidence and confirming the refrain that India will grow despite its leadership. So, India could dare!
The other part of our concern which is intrinsic to India’s soil is democracy and everything that goes with it – human rights, gender equality, pluralism, liberty, choice, justice and so on. Note that democracy for various evident reasons, has become a universal aspiration. India is a home of democracy as Prime Minister Modi suggested on Wednesday, 29 March 2023, to a Summit for Democracy, co-hosted by USA, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia. He said, “the idea of elected leaders was a common feature in ancient India, long before the rest of the world.”
Furthermore, Modi had claimed before that India preceded the Greek city-state in 6 Century BC that gave rise to Damos and Kratos (peoples rule). He cited the statecraft of Mahabharata, practiced over 5000 years ago where the citizens were enjoined the responsibility of “choosing their leaders as their first duty; and the Vedas which dated much earlier than the Greek principles spoke of political power being exercised by broad-based consultative bodies” (modern day cabinets, legislatures, etc.). He added that climate change and Covid vaccine were also people-driven.
So far so good. But sadly, what is experienced on the ground is far from desirable. Like others, we tend to follow a double standard by undermining those we claim to be our heritage. Our democratic institutions are undermined. No democracy can function effectively and healthily without robust institutions and in some cases autonomous ones. One of the architects of European Union, the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schumann, said, ‘great (wo)men are known by the institutions they leave behind.’ Second, human rights are flouted with impunity.
The attacks on minorities, vandalization of churches and other religious institutions, targeting the Muslims, including the inhuman mob lynching, are absolutely out of order. Going after the journalists critical of viewpoints or actions are out of democratic line. If BBC brings out a documentary that could be engaged and proved to be malicious but income tax raids on their offices is not the right reaction. No doubt, IT raids should be conducted automatically. The timing, cause and effect sequence in the BBC saga shows us as not a mature democracy. If Hindenburg brings out ‘discrepancy or unethicality’ in a business house that must be addressed, not trashed.
All in all, admittedly, the present dare is a sign of a country in resurgence. But on democracy, the ‘glorious past’ and the ‘present predicament’ do not go together. Will the honorable Prime Minister address these distortions? -— INFA
(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)