Democracy under Scrutiny: Unveiling the Dynamics of Contemporary India under Modi

If Modi is not considered a democrat by a vast section of Indian people, can smaller countries in the region accept fair and democratic treatment from his regime?

4 mins read
Prime Minister Narendra Modi [Photo: PTI]

The invitation extended to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose country is threatened with a nuclear conflict, by Japan to attend the G-7 Summit that was held in Hiroshima was perhaps with the objective of reminding the world of the greatest tragedies suffered by humanity.

However, the motive behind the invitation of Indian Premier Narendra Modi is not as clear because India, though recording a very high economic growth rate and becoming the most populous country in the world last month, is far away from reaching the economic standards of the world’s seven richest countries.

The growing relations between India and Japan have been going on for over one and a half decades but not commented on very much in the world media but for geopolitical reasons the two countries are drawing together.

The Economist (UK) in its issue of March 25-31 (2023) in an article headlined ‘Under a bodhi tree’ states: “This closening relationship is based more on shared fears than common values. Both countries have long-standing territorial disputes with an increasingly aggressive China — India along its northern land border, and Japan over the uninhabited islands of Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. Both are wary of growing Chinese influence in their wider region, and what it means for the maritime lines of communication each relies on. Each sees the other as central to functioning the security challenge that China poses.”

Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese prime minister who was assassinated last year was, the first to propose that the Indian and Pacific Oceans be considered as ‘one strategic space’ and for Japan and India to recognise their shared interests. Abe made this proposal in an address to India’s parliament in 2007, the Economist notes.

Fumio Kishida, Abe’s successor, endorses Abe’s views. In March this year, during a two-day visit to Delhi, he said: India is the place where the Free and Open Indo-Pacific came into being.

Asia’s biggest democracy and its richest one were on opposite sides in the cold war. But over the past decade and a half, they have dramatically improved their diplomatic, economic and security ties. Their aim is to forge a democratic counterweight to China. And their right progress, as Kishida and Narendra Modi also stressed in Delhi, will be conspicuous in international diplomacy this year with Japan chairing the G7 and India the G20, The Economist said.

A striking aspect of Indo-Japanese cooperation is the conduct of the first fighter jet exercises in January in the airspace of Japan’s self-defence forces Hyakuri and Iruna air bases in the Ibaraki prefecture, as reported in the Japan Times.

Drills continue to deepen defence and security ties between Japan and India amid China’s growing capabilities in the Indo-Pacific regions, according to some Chinese media reports.

This growing Indo-Japanese shared ‘strategic space’ may make navigation in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean safer for Japan and make India happy for reasons of its own but what does it imply to smaller countries in and around the Indian sub-continent like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan?

Japan, Sri Lanka’s all-weather friend, is now involved in the efforts at Indo-Pacific cooperation but also is a member of the Quad–Quadrilateral Security Dialogue–that includes itself with India, the United States and Australia as a countervailing force to the growing superpower China.

Will India be the proxy power of these strategic unions in the South Asian region? Many of the countries of South Asia have had contentious relations with their giant neighbour and this resulted in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation becoming dysfunctional.

Do Western nations look at India’s market potential of 1.1 billion people, the remarkable economic growth, being the biggest English-speaking nation and ‘the biggest democracy in the world’ as a nation that can be trusted as a proxy power to safeguard the interests of its smaller neighbours?

Has not India attempted to rescue Sri Lanka with massive loans amounting to $ 4 billion and extended support in the IMF to assist Sri Lanka in the current financial crisis?

If India did not make such a move, would China have gone easy on reimbursement terms of its billion-dollar loans to win back Lanka’s confidence?

All these queries are not as relevant to the basic question: Is India under Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a democracy, never mind being ‘the biggest democracy in the world’?

If so, why are most Indian opposition parties attempting to unite and defeat Modi and the BJP at the next general election with the main objective of saving Indian democracy? They united in the state of Karnataka this month and won convincingly, despite Modi abusing state power as ruling parties usually do.

If Modi is not considered a democrat by a vast section of Indian people, can smaller countries in the region accept fair and democratic treatment from his regime? The breakup of the state of Jammu and Kashmir ignoring the special status accorded to it in the Indian constitution is the most devastating example of autocratic Hindutva chauvinism.

The speech made on Thursday by Prime Minister Modi in New Delhi on his return to the country after strutting through countries — Japan, Papua New Guinea and Australia, can be viewed as a classic example of his demagoguery. He is quoted in the Indian media as saying: ‘The world listens to me, the world agrees with me, when I say that attacks on pilgrim sites are not acceptable’. He was reiterating what he had said in Australia about Hindu religious sites being attacked there.

It is obvious to a normal human being that the world will agree with anyone, particularly the leader of any country, declaring that ‘religious sites being attacked is not acceptable’. Is his inclusion of the words: ‘The world agrees with me’ a sign of megalomania, in assuming that this is an original thought of his that he is proclaiming to the world?

They relaxed the happy ways of ignoring his dark days as chief Minister of Gujrat, his insouciance over a-1000 people (mostly Muslims) being killed in riots although his role in it as the chief minister was raised and questioned in India and the world over. The United States soon after did not issue him a visa to enter the country although today Modi is recognised not only by America but the Western world as an emergent world leader and the leader of ‘the biggest democracy in the world’.

Gamini Weerakoon

Gamini Weerakoon is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island, and consultant editor of the Sunday Leader.

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