Opinion | Biden’s Dilemma: Accuse India for Practising Electoral Autocracy or Leverage India’s Power
News so far: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on an official state visit to the United States of America. This four-day state visit will cover several agendas and the itinerary is quite lavish rather than conversational with only one address to the US Congress. The takeaways of this address ranged from pressing concerns in modern society. The war on Ukraine, terrorism, empowerment of women and environmental concerns were some of the topics under discussion. Before the Congress address, Narendra Modi met with CEOs of the United States. The CEO of Qualcomm, Christiano Amon had a productive interaction together with Modi. An interest was expressed in helping transform India into a digital giant. Hence, enough stress will be laid in the future on the PM WANI scheme to have a strong 5G network. Amon further expressed his interest to forge a partnership with Indian industries for the production of semiconductors. Indian talent will be assisted and provide their skills to partner with various Indian companies for the production of drone technology. The CEO of Adobe, Shantanu Narayan had a word with the PM to invest in India’s education sector to provide an ecosystem for smart education and research. Flagship programmes like Digital India will be under the focus of Adobe to develop prime sectors like healthcare, education, research and development. A focus was laid on renewable energy to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and prevent climate change. A rich conversation was held between the CEO of First Solar Mark Widmar and Modi. The talks our PM had was on the grand scheme of the PMO to bring many Indian households and commercial establishments towards this project. The scheme One World, One Sun, One Grid initiative’s potential was presented to incur FDI from this company. The CEO of General Atomics Global Corporation, Vivek Hall had a word with the PM on the efforts and achievements India made to enhance its drone technology.
All looks merry and well with the ties of these two superpowers intact but does it end here? We believe these talks and conversations will be fruitful in the near future to a larger extent. Even after such large investment in India’s premium sectors, we cannot help but look at the few spots of stains in the relationship that Modi has worked so hard to maintain with India. There is no doubt in the fact that every nation in the world envies India for its independent foreign policy where it never came under the influence of the US or Russia. The Western bloc and every NATO country believe India to be a bridge between US-led NATO countries and Russia.
Post World War II, the United States of America became the superpower of the world followed soon by Soviet Russia. One nation was the epitome of democracy while the other was a strict totalitarian government that subjugated almost every human right vested upon the common people by the UN. Since then the United States became a global police to “help” people in need of democracy. Every decision that was made by a sovereign nation has to be constitutional and proactive towards the people of the nation. In recent times Uganda passed a law where the LGBTQIA+ community would be sentenced to death if caught by the police. Soon after the bill was passed, the US warned the nation that all aid to the country will be stopped and sanctions will be imposed if the law is not expelled.
QUAD Summit 2021. Source: The Indian Express
There are similar incidents happening in India at the moment where the nation is pretty divided in the northern and western sides of India. Especially states like Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh do not tolerate several religious activities performed by minorities. The Indian Constitution claims that an Indians is free to eat whatever they want but the consumption of beef is not allowed in these states as it was banned by the BJP government as cow is a holy animal according to the holy scriptures of Hinduism.
There was a violent communal riot back in 2002 in Gujarat and the head of the state was none other than Narendra Modi himself. The BBC made a documentary covering this incident and wanted to release it in India. Unfortunately, the screening sessions were cancelled and the offices of BBC in the large metropolis of India like Mumbai and Delhi were raided by the Income Tax Department of India on the charges of International Taxation and Transfer Pricing irregularities. As a journalist, there are mixed feelings about this blatant act and is open to the perspective that the public wants to choose. The Western media houses have a trait of hypocrisy to demean India on an international level now that it is a country that repels recession while nations like the USA, Canada and almost every European country are living in fear of recession. In such a scenario the nation which was under colonial rule for two centuries will be seen as a country that is still meek and submissive. Hence, this documentary was produced by a prominent media house of the West to dig out graves of the past at a time when the essence of solidarity and integrity is of utmost importance in the country. The same old policy of divide and rule that was played by the British was being played yet again. This is one way to interpret the ban by the people of India but the other way is not as good as this one.
BBC is a media house that exercises media freedom on a global scale which is a major reason why they are always seen as a torchbearer of democracy. India being the mother of democracy must provide BBC with all the necessary arrangements to screen the documentary but no such assistance was provided to the media platform. The Constitution provides support to every media house in the country and from other foreign nations to have a right where they can exercise their freedom of expression. This is something that BBC was prevented from doing in India which clearly shows the snippets of Emergency that was imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the year 1975. Freedom of the press was suppressed during that period and newspapers that spoke in favour of the Government did not face any kind of harassment from the authority.
These are the days when Indian democracy is not the way it was before due to the lack of proper freedom of the press. Large media conglomerates are backing the government as the ultra-rich and elite members of society own these organisations. Gautam Adani, one of the richest industrialists of India owns a mainstream media house called NDTV. Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Entertainment holds a media wing Network 18. These two industrialists are indeed our national champions on many scales but they are close to the Government. They speak for the Government to enjoy certain benefits in doing their business and fund the BJP to contest in elections. Therefore, the Government asks the media house to publish something which glorifies their act and never says a word on something that taints their reputation on a national scale or an international level.
At the moment India is coming out of that colonial past to present itself as a country that can take on developed nations like France, Germany, the US and China. India has the second-largest standing army in the world second to China and its military might is revered due to the technological boom we experienced in the past few years. The nation is the fastest growing economy where the GDP of 2022-2023 was 7.2% and ties with other countries to promote regional stability are indeed unique. The diplomatic power that we share with both Russia and the West is unique to the current geopolitical events happening around the globe. Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, European nations decided not to take Russian oil which became a problem for themselves. The winters were cold and tough due to the shortage of energy which is supplied by Russia. Now India being the ally of Russia purchased oil at a cheaper rate and refined them in refineries owned by India. Once these oils were refined, they were exported to these European countries. This shows that India is reaping the benefits by staying neutral in this tense geopolitical scenario. The regional alliance that India shares with QUAD Alliance is a tactic that India follows to keep China at bay from disrupting the trade routes of the Indian Ocean. China is like a boil that has been allowed to persist on the global maritime trade routes. Both South East Asian and Oceania countries Japan and Australia are reeling from the looming threat of China. India already fought a war and dealt with multiple standoffs in the last eight years. The United States has been a staunch enemy of communism which makes China its natural enemy as it challenges the superpower’s economic dominance. India holds a strategic position which makes it easy for the country to have a direct link to the Indian Ocean. Since China and India are both economic engines of Asia, the chances were high that the US will seek an alliance with India to use us for China. This may sound like India is being used as a pawn in the big game but it is not the case due to the unique foreign policy that India follows with everyone in the world.
BRICS is an alliance that India maintains to be at the forefront of the list of countries developing its economy. Brazil, Russia and South Africa are substantial allies of India except for one member China. They are all under the pact that seeks to instil economic and regional stability. A smart move by the Indian government indicates that China and India will not afford a war that will surely affect their economic growth. The violent incidents that may come up at times will happen only at the borders which will repeat the standoffs we saw in Doklam and the LAC in Ladakh. Since Russia shares a long border with China, the Russians will certainly not want a war to be fought between the Indians and the Chinese. What will Russia benefit from this positive approach? The benefit that will come is that both the countries are buying oil from Russia at a cheaper rate and selling them to Europe after they are refined at the refineries. Hence Russia will act as a mediator to prevent a war from happening between India and China in case the worst happens.
So to answer the question of what Biden will do on meeting with Modi is quite an interesting topic. In my opinion, the United States sees nothing apart from itself. They will always act according to their interest which is a big reason why we get to see American hypocrisy in various incidents. Biden will use India to deter Chinese expansion in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean but will not step back from pointing his finger towards Modi for allowing democracy to falter in the nation. The PM has been in power for nine years and he never sat for a press conference since 2014 which is something to raise eyes. The reason is that the national leader is supposed to be accountable for every action that is being taken by officials under his supervision. On the other hand, Biden is from the Democrats which stuck policies that are liberal by nature since the mid of the 20th century. Liberals vouch for free speech, freedom of expression, protection of minorities and human rights.
When asked about the steps that India is taking to protect minorities in India at a press conference jointly addressed by President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi he says something else. Before we go into what he said it is very evident that human rights have been violated in our country. Youths, journalists, lawyers, NGOs, and ministers of the opposition party are exempted from their right to privacy. The infamous virus, Pegasus developed by Israeli cyber-arms company NSO Group was sold to the governments of various countries which are currently ruled by authoritarian governments. The list of these nations includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Kazakhstan, Mexico Rwanda, UAE, and Saudi Arabia. These are the nations that were never under the rule of democracy except for Mexico but the mother of democracy, India was also accused with the use of this spyware. When asked if the government uses this tool no such answers were given to the public but instances of journalists and human rights activists' phones getting hacked came to the forefront. This was a clear indication that the government was using this spyware but did not have the courage to own up to its mistake. Therefore, to answer the question if India is taking effective steps to protect its minorities? Well, they are not because of human rights violations in the name of love jihad, consumption of beef, subjugating farmer’s protest and that of the wrestlers in Jantar Mantar, Delhi are signs that no such steps are being taken by the government. I deliberately mentioned the protest organised by the farmers and the wrestlers in Delhi which are not associated to some discrimination of religious minorities because it is important to show that the Indian government will not stay quite against the allegations of anyone that demean the authority. This extends to both religious minorities and anyone who stands against the government on a certain topic.
The answer that Modi gave to the question asked by the reporter in the press conference was nothing but a mere speech which glorified that India does not preach anything which violates democracy. There was no clear answer that the PM gave to the question because no such steps are being taken by the government to protect minorities' human rights in reality.
Did Biden do something wrong by bringing Modi to the press conference? In my opinion yes they did it wrong because Indian currency is being accepted by many countries including some from Europe. This is a process of de-dollarisation which will hamper the economy of the United States. The trick to keep India as a friend would have made this pill a little easy for the Americans to swallow but what will happen to the dollar for bringing Modi to the press conference is something we will not after a long time. Will India take the step to teach a lesson to Biden? No, India will never do something like that because a state visit is usually full of bittersweet events. All that matters is to see that the bitter part of the visit is as low as possible because the interest of the two nations is at stake in this scenario. As per the records, the only bitter part was the press conference that Modi was addressing with Biden (This is bitter for the Indian government but not for the ones who have suffered from the discrimination that is being practised by the government quite often these days). Apart from the conference, all the other meetings that Modi had with CEOs are something that will benefit India in the long run.
Hence to say the least Biden’s dilemma is tactfully solved by the Democrats as he was able to bring Modi to a press conference which is something that he never sat for in his nine-year term. On the other hand, gave India enough significant respect and love when CEOs of multinational companies agreed to invest in India in order to promote the quality of life for regular Indians. Does this mean that India was receiving alms from the US government? Absolutely not, as the nation has more to give to the country without which the United States of America will not be what it is today.