G 20 New Delhi Summit: Hype to Hide Realities

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
18 Sep 2023

The mainstream media have presented the G20 summit in New Delhi as a great success of India’s diplomatic prowess and a personal achievement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The successes highlighted in the media are the unanimous “New Delhi Leaders’ Summit Declaration”; inclusion of African Union in the G20 and thereby transforming the group into G21; An MoU among the US, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, Italy and European Union to establish the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor as a challenge to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); and Launching Global Biofuels Alliance among nineteen countries and twelve international organizations, including G20 members and non-members. 

There is no gainsaying that the unanimous joint declaration by the New Delhi Summit was made possible mainly because of the deft handling by the Indian team in the backdrop of a sharp division between the Western Block under the leadership of the US on the one side and Russia and China on the other side on the issue of Russia’ aggression of Ukraine, causing the long-drawn Russia-Ukraine war. Indeed, the Prime Minister deserves credit as the leader of the Indian team. In the absence of a unanimous joint declaration, the G20 summit would have lost its sheen and it would have been a great setback for India and the Prime Minister personally. 

At the same time, the G20 summit under the Chair of India was showcased with great hype, pomp and show to highlight the statesmanship of Modi, and India rising as a super power under his leadership. Modi’s dexterity to convert any ordinary event into an extraordinary show off for personal glorification was once again exhibited through the G20 New Delhi summit. Every circle in the capital was dotted with his images. 

The Prime Minister used the occasion to preach to the world about the significance of democracy, diversity, global fraternity (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam) and to present India as a model for the practice of all these noble virtues. These concepts were repeated in his address to the summit and in an article published in many newspapers on 7th September. 

Some of the terminologies the Prime Minister used in his article are very relevant for an introspection for all Indians, especially the leaders of the ruling party. Prominent among the terms he used are “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, mother of democracy, model of diversity, human-centric progress, reaching the last mile, leave no one behind, mainstreaming the marginalized, living in harmony with nature, women-led development, larger role for women in leadership and decision-making, people-driven movement, and to bridge divides and dismantle barriers.

“India is a land of diversity of faith, spirituality and traditions. Many major religions of the world were born here, and every religion of the world has found respect here. As the 'Mother of Democracy,' our belief in dialogue and democratic principles has been unwavering since time immemorial. Our global conduct is rooted in the fundamental principle of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,' which means ‘world is one family’,” PM Modi said in his inaugural speech. 

Some of these terminologies also appeared in the G20 declaration released on the first day of the G20 meeting. Each one of the above-mentioned terminologies has many ramifications in the context of India. It is not sure whether the Prime Minister was aware that many readers of his article and listeners of his speech will apply the implications of these terminologies first to India before applying them to the global context. Of course, His devotees will devour whatever he writes or says without any application of their critical thinking. There are a large number of people in India who respect the Prime Minister, but at the same time, critically assess what he says or writes. 

What the Prime Minister said and wrote is true as the ideals of India, but the reality today is far away from the ideal. Any objective observer can easily find that since the BJP came to power in 2014 at the Centre, there has been serious erosion in the practice of democracy, tolerance of diversity, human-centric development, inclusiveness, reaching out to the last and the least etc. Let us have a look at the reality today?

Can we sincerely say that India is the mother of Democracy? A genuine mother not merely gives birth to a child, but she takes care of it and accompanies it in its holistic development. By giving love a woman becomes truly a mother. There are some women who give birth to children but do not care for them and sometimes give them up also. Can they be called mothers? If the people of India do not have the freedom of expression, if laws are weaponized and used to imprison journalists, social activists, academics and leaders of opposition parties, if investigation agencies are hounding opposition leaders and critics of the government, if democratic institutions lose their independence and become subservient to the government and the ruling party, if bulldozer justice replaces rule of law, if laws are passed without any discussion in the parliament, can we say India is mother of democracy?   

There are a good number of studies both by independent researchers and international organizations that have brought to light democratic backsliding and erosion of press freedom and religious freedom in India.  In 2021, the V-Dem institute classified India as an “electoral autocracy”, while in the same year, Freedom House listed India as “partly free”. The 2023 V-Dem report refers to India as “one of the worst autocratisers in the last 10 years” and places India in the bottom 40-50% on its Liberal Democracy Index at rank 97. 

As per the latest report by global media watchdog RSF or Reporters Without Borders, India’s ranking in press freedom saw a significant decline. The report released on May 3, the World Press Freedom Day, ranked India 161st out of 180 countries. India’s ranking in 2022 was 150.

The Prime Minister spoke and wrote about the diversity, the millennial heritage of India. What one has been witnessing in India since 2014 is an onslaught on diversity, especially religious freedom, and increasing hatred and violent attacks on religious minorities: Muslims and Christians, both by the state and non-state actors. What has been going on in Manipur since May this year is a kind of ethnic cleansing targeting Christians. Kerala bishop Joseph Pamplani termed it “genocide” and compared it with 2002 riots in Gujarat. The stringent anti-conversion laws passed by the BJP-ruled states is a blatant violation of religious freedom and diversity and a licence to the Hindu right-wing groups to unleash violence on Christians and Muslims. 

According to a report by Christian United Forum, 400 incidents of violence against Christians took place across 23 states in India from January to June 2023. There were only 274 incidents during January-June 2022. 

Instead of building bridges, the Prime Minister and his party members leave no stone unturned in inventing new issues to divide and polarize people. Using the term Bharat in the place of India in an invitation in English to guests for the dinner hosted by the President on the first day of G20 summit seems to be done purposely to create a controversy and polarize people.  

The Prime Minister in his article highlighted the need for “human-centric progress” without leaving anyone behind and mainstreaming the marginalized. What has been happening in India since 2014? The BJP and the Prime Minister proudly say that India is the fifth largest economy in the world and it would become the third in 2030. But the government is silent on the per capita income of India ($ 2,450 as against $12,150 of China), and the highest number of people living in absolute poverty -- 228.9 million -- according to the global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). 

The inequality in India is skyrocketing under the BJP regime. While the top 5% of the population owns more than 60% of the total wealth, the bottom 50% have only 3% of the total wealth and 13% of income (Oxfam Report 2023). This is mainly because of the lopsided economic policies of the government favouring the corporates. In 2019 the BJP government reduced corporate tax from 30% to 22% to the existing companies and from 25% to 15% to new companies.  As a result, the loss to the exchequer in 2019-20 and 2020-21 was estimated to be Rs. 1.84 lakh crore. The Prime Minister always accuses the opposition parties of offering freebies to the poor people. But the Modi government gave away Rs. 1.84 lakh core in two years as freebies to the corporates in the form of tax concession.  

It was reported in the media that there were demolitions of slums as part of beautification of Delhi. According to an article published in The Wire on 8th September (Slum Demolitions: Hiding the Grit Behind the Glamour), the government has demolished roadside huts in the RK Puram area. “By all accounts, there have been as many as 45-50 demolition drives in the past four-five months mainly targeting jhuggi-jhopri and slum clusters, dis-housing and displacing lakhs of people who would count among the poorest in the world; one estimate put the figure at three lakh men, women and children uprooted from their homes and living environments which should shock the visiting dignitaries, international community, and Indians too”.

The same article mentioned about hiding the city’s slums and the poor behind large green curtains. The Coolie Camp near Vasant Vihar in Delhi was covered with a green cloth so that the impoverished residents there remained hidden from the view of foreign delegates attending the conference.

All these facts indicate that while the government and the Prime Minister speak about inclusion of the marginalized, what is happening is further marginalization of the poor and increase in the number of billionaires and multiplication of their wealth.  In fact, the government is not even ready to acknowledge the very existence of the poor and the marginalized.

The Prime Minister and the BJP in all probability will make use of the so-called success of G20 summit in Delhi as an election plank, as if India is taking its place among the world nations as a Viswa Guru. But the ordinary people of India are intelligent enough to see the reality behind the façade. Let the rulers be aware of what Abraham Lincoln said years ago, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

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