Jaskaran Sandhu: India Is Not Committed To Democratic Values
What parroting the “world’s largest democracy” tagline actually does though is mask and excuse the reality of the rising autocratic and violent Hindu Nationalism that has gripped Modi’s India
March 3, 2021 | 3 min. read
Erin O’Toole, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, wrote a peculiar op-ed for the National Post yesterday.
“Canada needs to deepen ties with the world's largest democracy, India” read the headline.
Now, there is a lot wrong with this piece, aside from its timing during the #FarmersProtest. To be quite honest, the mistakes (and false assumptions) made about India are ones committed by leaders of parties across the world and political spectrum.
How can we forget that current Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, bafflingly signed a security sharing agreement with India during his infamous trip to the country in 2018? A security sharing framework with a state that has a long and continuing history of flagrant human rights abuses, ignoring the rule of law, and engaging in terror against its own citizens.
There is an obvious desire from countries, particularly in the West, to forge closer ties to India. Access to its (struggling) economy, in addition to strengthening security ties to act as a bulwark against China, are common foreign policy objectives.
The justification for these closer ties, used by the West over and over again, is shared values - particularly shared values of “free, market democracies” as O’Toole puts it.
However, what parroting the “world’s largest democracy” tagline actually does is mask and excuse the reality of the rising autocratic and violent Hindu Nationalism that has gripped Modi’s India. The West is aiding and abetting in the demise of India’s democracy - not that it was particularly strong to begin with. Modi’s commitment to our supposed shared values is weak. Very weak.
There are some clear examples of that.
Free speech and the free press is under attack. The World Press Freedom Index ranked India at 142 of 180 countries, somewhere between Palestine and Russia. The recent farmers’ protest has loudly highlighted the current state of affairs, where journalists and activists have been arbitrarily detained on draconian sedition charges effectively criminalizing dissent (see the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA)), national media spreads disinformation at the behest of the government, and world-leading levels of internet shutdowns have chocked information.
Modi’s government has also increasingly taken autocratic measures as it regularly bypasses and maneuvers around normal parliamentary procedure - such as unilaterally passing what has now become the historically incompetent economic move of demonetization, or unilaterally passing what has now become the historically undemocratic move of stripping Kashmir of its protected rights, or unilaterally passing what has now become a historical display of crony capitalism with the farmers’ bills.
Modi’s relationship and history with the multiple times banned Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the extremist Hindu nationalist organization behind the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is incredibly worrisome too.
Continuing state-sponsored violence against minorities is a real thing in India. In fact, Modi himself was Chief Minister of Gujarat during the massacre of Muslims in 2002. He was banned from entering the United States for it at the time. Modi’s track record has not got any better sense, with even Amnesty International being forced to halt its work in the country after speaking out on the disturbing human rights violations happening under the government’s watch.
Canada, and the rest of the world, should only be engaging India with eyes wide open.
As we have seen in the past, the West blindly engaging with failing democracies or autocratic regimes on false pretenses of “shared values” does not result in the improvement of human rights or democracy in those states. Rather, it has a corrosive effect on our own democracies, as Canadian politicians begin to repeat, in this case, dangerous Indian talking points - which often comes at the cost of Sikh and Muslim citizens facing foreign interference and pressure from the Modi government.
One solution is to actually listen to the diasporic voices of religious and ethnic minorities in Canada. Just as we are increasingly informing our interactions with China on human rights violations and what is happening with pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, the existential threats to the Taiwanese, and the genocide against the Uighurs, we need to be aware of what is happening to Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Dalits in Modi’s India and anchor our foreign policy against that.
Jaskaran Sandhu hails from Brampton, Canada, and is the co-founder of Baaz. He is a Senior Consultant at the public affairs agency Crestview Strategy. Jaskaran also previously served as Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada and as a Senior Advisor to Brampton’s Office of the Mayor. You can find Jaskaran on Twitter at @JaskaranSandhu_
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