Commenting on India’s internal matters The Excelsior 25 Mar 2021 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Commenting on India’s internal matters

Commenting on India’s internal matters The Excelsior 25 Mar 2021

          The Indian parliament, in retaliation to London’s actions sometime prior, discussed the case of racism in UK’s Oxford University, where Indian student, Rashmi Samant was forced to resign as President of the University’s student union for apparent racist and anti-Semitic social media posts. Member of Parliament (MP), Ashwini Vaishnaw, raising the issue stated, ‘Even the Hindu religious beliefs of her parents were publicly attacked by a faculty member, which went unpunished.’ S Jaishankar responded by stating, ‘We will take up such matters with great candour when required. We will monitor these developments very closely.’

Ashwini also discussed racism within the British Royal family, which has dominated headlines in recent days. India, as a member of the Commonwealth, the head of which is the Queen, has the right to discuss racism in the British Royal Family, as it impacts the organization of which India is a powerful member. India should also comment on the London police’s highhanded approach at a vigil in Chaplam in honour of a rape victim, which is a disgrace to democracy.

The UK Parliament had conducted a 90 mins discussion on the farmers agitation, a fortnight ago. Their MPs had expressed concern about safety of farmers and targeting of journalists covering the agitation. The Indian government reacted by summoning the British High Commissioner and issuing a démarche. The Indian High Commission in London issued a statement, ‘We deeply regret that rather than a balanced debate, false assertions – without substantiation or facts – were made, casting aspersions on the largest functioning democracy in the world and its institutions.’

          Earlier the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, had commented on the same subject and was rebuked by India. Subsequently, he had to eat humble pie when he was compelled by domestic pressure to call Modi and request for release of vaccines for Canada. Post arrival of vaccines in Canada, posters emerged praising Modi for his generosity in accepting the Canadian request. These came as an added rebuke to Trudeau.

US lawmakers, in their individual capacity, had commented on Indian actions on abrogating Article 370. Such were the nature of comments that the Indian foreign minister cancelled his meeting with the top leadership of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee after they insisted that sponsors of two draft resolutions criticising India would attend. With peace reigning in J and K, those who adversely commented on India are currently silent. On the contrary, they would be seeking another avenue on which to comment.

          The US-based NGO ‘Freedom House’ released a report that classified India as ‘partly free’, down from ‘free’ earlier, and Sweden-based Varieties of Democracy Institute categorised India as an ‘electoral autocracy’. S Jaishankar criticized these comments and stated, ‘It is hypocrisy. We have a set of self-appointed custodians of the world who find it difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval, is not willing to play the game they want to play. So, they invent their rules, their parameters, pass their judgements and make it look as if it is some kind of global exercise.’ On the contrary, members of the Indian opposition claimed these comments were realistic.

 Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote a letter to US Defence Secretary, prior to his visit to India, stating, ‘In meetings with Indian counterparts, I strongly encourage you to make clear that in all areas, including security cooperation, the US-India partnership must rest on adherence to democratic values.’ The Indian government, on the contrary, should have raised racism and hate crimes on Asian Americans in the US, quoting the Atlanta incident as Indians are a large community in the US.

          Nations commenting on Indian farmer protests are the same who have approached WTO accusing India of adopting protective measures in its farm sector. Canada raised 65 questions against India’s agriculture policies between 2017 and 2020 mainly concerning MSP policies. In May 2018, the US and EU targeted India’s MSP on food grains, claiming it was above the permitted 10 per cent market price.

          There are reasons why international politicians and NGO’s feel they can criticize the Indian government and its internal decisions, even though these are adopted following democratic protocols. Firstly, is the Indian political scenario, where opposition parties’ welcome criticism of the nation, assuming it to be criticism of the government. In all recent cases, the opposition supported anti-India comments.

Secondly, is the unwillingness of the Indian democratic system to discuss issues within other nations even if they concern Indian diaspora. Thirdly, India is a growing economic power, beginning to display its standing on the global stage. This has hurt many developed nations, whose economy India has overtaken or is overtaking. Commenting on India gives these countries irrelevant politicians a feeling of importance. Fourthly, it is the vote bank of the Indian diaspora in these countries. Finally, is that Indian origin politicians abroad consider it their right to comment on Indian matters, even though they have no link with India.

An interesting fact is that while irrelevant global politician’s and NGOs comment, their government leaders do not. They know the value of enhancing ties with India. UK and US are two recent examples where governments have backed India, while their politicians have commented negatively. Boris Johnson is visiting India with the hopes of signing a £100 billion trade deal.

India possesses the world’s fifth largest economy and the third most powerful military as also remains the globe’s most lucrative market. Global leaders are making a beeline to India to ink trade and defence deals. By holding its ground against China, India has displayed it is no pushover. Indian vaccine diplomacy has proved its global outreach and respect. The days of being goody boys in foreign policy, where nations, irrelevant politicians and funded NGOs can openly comment on Indian internal matters should now be things of the past. India should, on the other hand, discuss issues concerning Indian diaspora abroad.

If India does not act it will become a soft target for small countries, irrelevant politicians and international bodies with biased agenda to interfere in its internal decisions. However, for this to happen, we need mature politicians who look at ‘nation first’ rather than jumping to join the bandwagon of Indian critics. Irrespective of the political party in power, false comments on India’s internal matters, if uncriticized by opposition political parties, places them in poor light before the national public. They will lose more support internally than gain in global standing externally.