It is an unspoken norm among large swaths of the Indian foreign policy community to steer clear of commentary on domestic politics and society.
In reality, however, India’s relationship with the world has a lot to do with its internal character and more specifically, the health of its democratic order.
India might not have used ‘democracy’ as a precondition for its foreign policy in the first decades after independence. But, implicitly, he always deployed his own democratic credentials as a key argument in the world. This was supported by independent India’s central worldview of resistance to discrimination and domination – by the strong, by the weak.
After the end of the cold war, India redoubled its efforts in starting to base its relations with the West (in particular the United States) on shared values of democracy. In fact, it was AB Vajpayee who, while discussing Indo-American relations in 1998, said: “We are the two largest democracies in the world, and have similar political cultures, a free press and the rule of law.
The liberal West, too, has viewed the resilience of India’s multi-party system, social pluralism and respect for the rule of law with great admiration. Geopolitically, he saw a liberal India as a compelling counterweight to ascendant illiberal Asian regimes, such as communist China.
The entirety of this theoretical premise is now under unprecedented stress. But India’s foreign policy community doesn’t give a damn.
Even as India continues to rapidly and visibly regress to a violent majority state, the community continues to look the other way. The prevailing thought is that foreign policy is far above the “petty politics” of the homeland or that internal affairs have no bearing on global diplomacy. At best, foreign policy voices are content to endorse the values of democracy and pluralism solely for geostrategic purposes.
That the rest of the world, especially the crusading West for democracy, has so far given Narendra Modi’s India a free pass has only furthered this culture of silence and willful ignorance. . He seems to have lulled our foreign policy commentators into the illusion that no matter what, India can go on reciting its beloved fable of liberal democracy over and over, to the point where it becomes a fairy tale. irrefutable – almost mesmerizing.
On Monday, Prime Minister Modi and US President Joe Biden met virtually before the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries met for their long-awaited 2+2 meeting. There was noble speech on “the shared commitment to democracy and pluralism” and the two democracies – one the oldest, the other the largest – delivery “opportunity, security, freedom and dignity” to their peoples.
This happened just two days after a Hindu group vandalized Muslim vendor carts in the Dharwad district of Karnataka. Previously, the chief minister of the state had himself called for a economic boycott of Muslim merchants. During this weekend, at least nine places across the country reported massive violence against Muslims (which is in the middle of the holy month of Ramzan) as Indian Hindus celebrate the birth of Lord Ram.
But, except for one lukewarm and arguably broad commentary on “some concerning recent developments in India, including an increase in human rights abuses by some members of the government, police and prison officials” by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the Biden administration has refused to talk about the naked display of sectarian violence, majoritarianism and the human rights abuses that resulted in Modi’s India.
Nor did he mention the growing legal intimidation and censorship that vocal critics of the government, like Rana Ayyub and Aakar Patel (who was recently banned to travel to the United States), are facing India today.
Today, the United States could look away from the alarming situation in India. But, that in itself should come under critical scrutiny for scholars and observers of India’s foreign policy – who are supposed to offer unbiased analyzes of India’s relationship with the world and how that can be guaranteed for the long term, not write praise like court jesters. or scribes.
After all, if foreign policy is the projection of “national interests” onto the international stage, then its students have every reason to be concerned with the fundamental character of the “nation” from which those interests derive. They should also ask themselves for whom are they defending “national interests” – those of every Indian or only the religious majority?
It was refreshing to see former diplomats speak out against anti-Muslim hate speech earlier this year. But, it was, positively speaking, a rare occurrence. Most scholars or foreign policy observers have not bothered to denounce the Hindu monks call for genocide against their fellow citizens or publicly threatening to rape muslim women in the presence of police.
If empathy is so outdated, then at the very least why should India’s foreign policy commentators care about India’s democratic backsliding, as it could severely erode its diplomatic capital and, by extension, affect its interests.
Foreign policy is a sum total of many things, one of which is the character of domestic policy – even for a supposedly “non-aligned” and non-interventionist Asian middle power like India. So an administration in the White House or Number 10 might not care too much about the situation in India today, but that doesn’t guarantee a smooth ride for an increasingly illiberal India forever.
It should be noted that even the Union Defense Minister, Rajnath Singh, during his visit to Washington DC for the 2+2, mentioned that India has “vital roles to play in the Indian Ocean region and the wider Indo-Pacific” as a “democracy”. It might be a deceitful position for him, but it shows that even the Modi government, whose ministers and cheerleaders often mock the West for preaching about democracy, knows full well what the West values. for India.
In fact, just two days after his visit, the United States Department of State released its annual reports on human rights practices, which provide detailed and overwhelming information on the various forms of human rights violations taking place in India. This includes attacks on Muslims, the violent expulsion of Bengali Muslims (miya) in Assam and the prolonged detention of political activists.
All of this becomes especially relevant today as Western governments and intelligentsia drag India to the witness stand for its neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
As New Delhi defiantly refuses to denounce Vladimir Putin’s cross-border aggression and buys Russian oil, some heads are turning. Modi is equated with Putin – certainly on Twitter, and probably behind closed doors. Washington sends emissaries to New Delhi with ominous warnings. The sanctity of his commitments as a member of the Quad is scrutinized. Apparently Germany considering dropping india from its guest list at the next G7 meeting in Bavaria on the latter’s position on Russia-Ukraine.
None of this means that the West will soon abandon India. In fact, the depth of the recent 2+2 between India and the United States shows that Washington still sees great value in empowering India, as its recent report also shows. Indo-Pacific Strategy. But India’s abrupt turn towards a staunchly authoritarian and majority future means it has one less insurance against global censorship, and a tested one.
With all its intellectual capital and access to global networks of knowledge and influence, if the Indian foreign policy community remains silent as a stone today, it will also be responsible for encouraging the terrifying endgame towards which the ruling regime in New Delhi is pushing India.
And those who fully understand the gravity of the situation in India must decide for good how they view the nation’s foreign policy – as a meaningful extension of Indian interests in which every citizen is an equal stakeholder or a public relations exercise of ivory tower that only represents the majority.
Choudhury angshuman is a senior research associate at the Center for Policy Research, New Delhi. He is also a member of the Indo-Pacific Circle and works on Indian foreign policy, Myanmar and Southeast Asia.