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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 38 September 16, 2023

Modi’s used G20 summit for self projection and the guests faked smiles | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 16 September 2023


by Arun Srivastava

Like India Shining, the marketing slogan that was put into the public domain to invoke the overall feeling of economic optimism in India in 2004 which failed to ensure the victory of the BJP government of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the new slogan of “Creating India” coined by none else but by Narendra Modi is unlikely to catch the imagination of the common people and boost his electoral prospect.

Creating India is born out of compulsions of reaching the gains of Modi to the Indian voters with the winning approval and guarantee of the foreign head of the states participating at the G20 summit in Delhi. Modi government spent nearly 4300 crores on the G20, not for the sake of organising a jamboree of foreign dignitaries. He wanted to use the occasion to convince his supporters, especially the urban middle class that he is the only leader capable of catering to their needs and fulfilling their aspirations. It is this class that is feeling quite enthused at the successful launching of the Mangalyaan, Chandrayaan, and Suryayaan which symbolises their bourgeoning aspiration.

Only a politically naïve would claim that the G20 has burnished the image of Modi. But the fact remains that Modi’s trick to maintain a balance between his Western friends and Russia and also China was exposed just within twenty-four hours of the release culmination of the summit. It is not innovative and does not provide a new vision of the emerging world order. The worst being the case of Ukraine. Modi and his mandarins have been creating an impression that Modi is quite concerned about the Ukraine crisis and has been striving hard to bring the war between the two countries Ukraine and Russia to an end.

The G20 summit was really scary as it provided a glimpse that the world’s largest democracy is collapsing before our eyes. So far Modi has resorted to actions and practices which demeaned democracy at home. But what came as a rude shock was that he did not deter from resorting to the majors which even projected the Indian democracy as the market product.

A closer look however would make it clear that by hammering and destroying the core institutions of Indian democracy he was in fact taking revenge on the democracy. He was out to finish the democratic institutions to ensure that no one should rise to the highest office using the democratic means, as he had achieved. No doubt a democracy-loving person would feel remorse at the development, but for Modi is symbolised his revenge.

Being in power has become self-reinforcing for Modi. He has used his party BJP and to a much greater extent the RSS to silence critics and stack the electoral deck against his opponents. It was his ruthless mannerism that forced the opposition to come together forgetting the animosity and bitterness they nurse against each other. They knew that they would be finished forever if Modi comes back to power for third term

Modi has pursued two agendas; first, he used his power as the prime minister to spread Hindutva ideology and polarize the electorate along Hindu-versus-Muslim lines; second, consolidating power in his hands and weakening countervailing authorities — including the judiciary, oversight commissions, the free press, and opposition parties. The more he controls India’s government and the press, the easier it is for him to spread Hindutva propaganda.

His attack on democracy is intended to weaken the elites and neo-rich of the country. His thrust on Bharat is an instrument in this move. He is aware that if the democracy continues to thrive and be in a healthy state, this section would not allow him to continue for more years in power. This class has its own priorities and they prefer any leader to the extent he serves their interest. It was this political need that just after becoming he finished the elite base of his own party BJP. Till his ascension the BJP’s electoral success was limited by an elite base that supported the party’s economic reforms and social agenda.

It is a known fact that upper-caste people and especially politicians tried their best to block a caste-based affirmative action program for university admissions and government jobs. BJP acted like a vanguard that would oppose this and other efforts to undermine the caste hierarchy. With RSS functioning as the platform for the upper caste people, Modi could not proceed much but focussed on expanding the demographic base of BJP among both lower-caste and poor Hindus. He knew that if he had to survive he must have his own support base in the party.

In October 2021, President Biden declared that “defending human rights and demonstrating that democracies deliver for their people” is “at the center of my administration’s foreign policy.” This has not been the case when it comes to its India policy, which has focused overwhelmingly on courting the Modi government as an ally against China rather than challenging its anti-democratic practices.

In Vietnam, after his return from G20, US President Joe Biden has said that he raised issues of human rights in India and the importance of a free press with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi.He said he had "substantial discussions" with Modi about continuing to strengthen the India-US relationship."And, as I always do, I raised the important [subject] of respecting human rights and the vital role that civil society and a free press have in building a strong and prosperous country with Mr Modi," he added.

According to the latest World Press Freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in May, India’s spot has dropped 11 places from last year to 161 out of 180 countries. In May, the US laid out the red carpet for Mr Modi, who travelled there on a state visit. Before the visit, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that while the US would make its "views known" when it sees challenges to freedoms, "we do so in a way where we don’t seek to lecture or assert that we don’t have challenges ourselves".

Though Modi has been using the Dalits, OBCs and other financially weaker section for his electoral gains and to continue to be in power, he has acute sense of hatred for them. It is worth recalling his averseness towards the migrant workers who were fleeing the towns and cities in the wake of corona. Thousands of workers died on way to their native villages. It did not move him. This manifests his insensitiveness towards this class.

Even during the G 20m meeting he did not raise the issue of better livelihood and wages for Indian labourers working in foreign countries. An L20 engagement group’s ‘inception meeting’ was held in March 2023 at Amritsar. At the meeting, the attendees— leaders of national trade union centres, and experts on labour and labour economics from various G20 countries and invitee countries— called for the universalisation of social security to be achieved by 2030, and a G20-wide social security arrangement, including portability of social accounts and benefits. A statement adopted at the meeting impresses upon the G20 nations the need for universalisation of social security which should benefit every last worker in the member countries.

Ministry of External Affairs data reveals that around 2,500,000 Indians work in Saudi Arabia, 3,500,000 work in the UAE, and 700,000 work in Oman. These three countries are part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Rafeek Ravuther, an Indian migrant rights activist said, “Why can’t India take this wage protection and wage theft issue seriously and find a way to solve it?

G20 member-states represent more than 80% of the world’s total economic output, 60% of the Earth’s population, and 75% of global trade, but the group has long been previously criticized for failing to address problems that disproportionately plague developing countries, like debt, food security, and climate change. “Our effort will be that there should not be any First World or Third World in the world, but only one world,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the unveiling last November of the 2023 G20 Summit logo and theme: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, or “One Earth, One Family, One Future.”

To avoid embarrassment to Modi and with the aim to let him fully utilise the G20 for his 2024 battle, the mandarins did not allow the press meet of Biden. As now transpires, Joe Biden told a news conference in Vietnam on Sunday, that he had raised issues of human rights and freedom with Modi.
“As I always do, I raised the importance of respecting human rights and the vital role the civil society and a free press have in building a strong and prosperous country with Mr Modi,” Biden is reported to have said. This report nevertheless does not provide a clear picture of Modi’s response to Biden’s suggestions. It is quite significant that one day Biden left for Vietnam, the director of ED, has swung into action. It has started serving summons and notices to the opposition leaders. Andhra Pradesh’s former chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu has been arrested.

Of course, Modi could make a major achievement and it is informing the global fraternity that India no more exists on the global map. Instead, a new country Bharat has replaced it. But how far he has succeeded in his mission is not yet clear as the foreign dignitaries preferred to use the word India. In his eagerness to project Bharat, it is alleged that his mandarins have inflicted irreparable injury to the image and prestige of Bharat. Though he christened India as Bharat, he is not aware of the Bharat’s traditions and culture. Questions have been raised over Modi government’s awareness of Bharatiya culture. In the pursuit of praising Bharat’s past, some nonsensical songs and dances were performed on the concluding day.

Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate tweeted a video of the reception accorded to Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez, which shows girls dancing to a Carnatic remix of a Western pop hit. “We are welcoming foreign heads of state with ‘Shape of you’ by Ed Sheeran?!?!” Shrinate wrote on X. She added: “Lyrics that follow ‘Grab on my waist and put that body on me.… I’m in love with your body. Last night you were in my room. And now my bedsheets smell like you’ Embarrassing at the least.” A report on US news website Politico said: “The biggest moment was the arrival of President JOE BIDEN, who was warmly greeted with dances, senior Indian officials and, curiously, ED SHEERAN’s ‘Shape of You’ blaring over the loudspeaker.”

Though the participants did not speak in public, most of them were curious to gather information about Adani. It was a coincidence while Modi was busy projecting himself as the Vishwa Guru, Rahul Gandhi was blaming the crony capitalism, Adani, and his mentor Modi, for the present plight of India. In Delhi the Congress spokesperson alleged that at least two opaque funds accused of round-tripping, money laundering, and violating securities laws were connected to Adani, and said this was the most recent example of how agencies had been enfeebled and made subservient to the interests of Adani and Modi. He also alleged a disconnect between Modi’s rhetoric at past G20 meetings and his actions.

But the complete rebuff to the Delhi Declaration by Ukraine exposed this falsehood. Modi utterly lacks a vision and perception of the crisis. Ukraine has outright slammed G20 declaration for omitting criticism of Russia, saying ‘nothing to be proud of’. For Ukraine Bali Declaration was more truthful. True enough Delhi Declaration is being seen as a climbdown from the Bali Declaration at last year’s G20 Summit where Russia was identified as the aggressor. While the G 20 participants were busy patting their backs and congratulating Modi, the Ukrainian foreign office derided it.

The Indian government has been building up propaganda hype around the G20, saying India is marching ahead to become the third-largest economy in the world. For this exercise, the government spent 700 percent more than what Germany had spent when it hosted the G20 Summit six years ago. Modi as part os his image-boosting exercise has virtually exorcised the poor Indians from the G20 event. Their habitats were curtained to avoid coming into the eyes of the visiting dignitaries. This was the worst form of hypocrisy. Are the dignitaries unaware of the economic conditions and miseries of the common people of India? This he did simply to convince them India has prospered under him and now is no more the home of poor. Millions of the urban poor living in shanties and roadside thatched huts were relocated to faraway places and the rest were hidden by newly put up veils or fences. Ironically, those newly built “walls” carried messages of unity, happiness, peace, and progress from Modi.

In a way, the Delhi Declaration refused to condemn Russia. This declaration in reality has come as a shock to US President Joe Biden. Unwilling to lose his gains in South Asia, Joe did not force Modi, but this has certainly lowered his image in the eyes of the NATO countries and his global friends. Though Russia and China boycotted the Delhi meet, their absence could achieve their goal. Russia and China have remained steadfast on this from the first track meeting for this G20 in February, refusing to agree to the inclusion of any reference to the Ukraine war in the outcome documents.

The declaration points out the futility of holding the summit. The document said; “Reaffirming that the G20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation, and recognising that while the G20 is not the platform to resolve geopolitical and security issues, we acknowledge that these issues can have significant consequences for the global economy”. The thrust on economic cooperation is ominous. It is a matter of common knowledge that the global economic scenario cannot improve unless the countries feel secure.

The mandarins claimed that Declaration “demonstrates India’s ability to bring all developing countries, all emerging markets and all developed countries together on the same table and bring consensus”, but it was not visible on the ground. Even it did not reflect Modi’s pre-summit assurance that the conclave would chart a new path in human-centric and inclusive development. Citing the U.N. Charter it was said that no contentious issues could be raised at the summit. But the UN Charter in fact reads; “all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state. The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.” It does not say that the contentious issues could not be discussed. If these issues cannot be raised at this August meeting, then what is the use of holding the extravagant show?

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