Bipartisan politics needed in India to counter critics abroad

One of the major reasons why India has been unable to respond in Parliament has been its divergent politics which prevent the nation from speaking in one voice, notes the writer.

Harsha Kakkar

Harsha Kakkar

The Statesman


Disqualified Congress MP Rahul Gandhi (Photo: Twitter/@RahulGandhi)

April 5, 2023

NEW DELHI – The German foreign ministry spokesperson stated in Berlin after the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi that it expects “standards of judicial independence and fundamental democratic principles will equally apply to the proceedings against Rahul Gandhi.” The US State Department spokesperson said, “In our engagements with our Indian partners, we continue to highlight the importance of democratic principles and protection of human rights, including freedom of expression, as a key to strengthening both our democracies.”

When the Amritpal issue was at its peak, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, a Sikh MP from UK tweeted, “Very worrying reports coming from India, of the imposition of an internet blackout in Punjab, with mass arrests and restrictions on gatherings.” Preet Kaur Gill, another MP from the UK added, “Ministers should engage with Indian authorities so UK families who can’t reach their relatives regain contact as soon as possible.”

Few MPs from Canada issued a similar tweet: “Very concerned about reports coming out of Punjab, India. The government has suspended internet services and restricted gatherings of more than 4 people in some areas. We are closely following the situation.” Possibly the tweet was circulated and Sikh MPs requested to endorse it.

These remarks were justified on grounds of their nationals visiting India or safety of their family members. It was a similar situation during the farmers agitation as also after abrogation of Article 370. Commenting on Indian government decisions has become a norm for spokespersons abroad. The reason is because India maintains silence and does not pass judgement on other’s internal matters.

The US President had criticized Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to change laws concerning the judiciary despite nation-wide protests. Netanyahu responded, “Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from best of friends.” This is the policy which India must adopt.

India refused to comment when the Canadian government broke their truckers’ strike, following the Indian farmers’ agitation, employing nondemocratic methods, including invocation of emergency powers, use of force and arrests, despite adverse comments from Canada on the farmers’ agitation. While protests in India ended peacefully, Justin Trudeau faced violence. India had every right to voice its concerns as some involved were of Indian origin.

These events also display the biases of the Western media. The Washington Post in an editorial praised Canada’s actions by saying, “Justin Trudeau is justified in invoking an emergency law enabling enhanced government powers to end the protest that has paralyzed the capital city of Ottawa. That the protesters enjoy bellowing the word liberty does not negate the fact that their demands are blatantly antidemocratic and canticonstitutional.”

On the farmers’ agitation in India, it had stated, “protesting farmers are protecting Indian democracy from further degradation — and showing the world how social justice movements can lead the values and practices of liberal democracy to flourish.”

There has not been a murmur from anywhere around the world on the ongoing anti-retirement protests in France and the brutal police crackdown with large-scale arrests. Not one nation has stated it is monitoring human rights and state brutality. However, every nation comments when protests happen in India, despite them being peaceful with no police highhandedness. India is the global target because it minds its own business.

Currently India should be hitting out on the indictment of ex-President Donald Trump especially with presidential elections drawing close. The indictment is timed to ensure that he is out of the race for the White House. Simultaneously, it displays poor democratic norms. If the US considers it a birth-right to comment on standards of democracy and human rights across the globe, the rest of the world possesses a similar right against the US. India must also commence discussions in Parliament on law-andorder incidents in nations where it has a significant diaspora.

One of the major reasons why India has been unable to respond in Parliament has been its divergent politics which prevent the nation from speaking in one voice. With the government and the opposition divided on almost all issues, political parties can never come together to give a fitting response. Thus, there was silence on criticism of abrogation of article 370, farmers’ agitation and the Rahul Gandhi issue. Congress leader Digvijay Singh by tweeting, “Thank you German Foreign Affairs Ministry and Richard Walker for taking note of how democracy is being compromised in India through the persecution of Rahul Gandhi,” displayed that to gain brownie points, Indian politicians would welcome global criticism of the country.

The only instance of political parties joining hands was on the crackdown on Amritpal. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a Congress MP, countered British parliamentarians on their comments by asking, “What about making a Khalistan within the UK?” Lack of coordination between political parties opens doors for global rebuke of India. While international comments may not hold any water nor influence decisions of Indian institutions, they do impact the nation’s standing abroad, and display a weak political structure.

In every democracy the opposition and the government are at loggerheads on multiple issues, the major reason being the fight for power. Actions by the government or national institutions are perceived to be wrong or against the opposition by those fighting to regain power. However, in most cases they unite against international criticism.

There are flaws in laws as also lapses in the manner in which national institutions react to situations. However, these must be rectified within and comments from outsiders discouraged. India is no longer a member of the global south which can be pushed to behave. It can respond and it should.

When it comes to giving a shutup call to adverse comments from outsiders, political parties must put their differences aside and join hands. We must remember that we are Indians first and members of political parties with different ideologies second. At the end of the day, it is the nation’s reputation that is at stake. Ultimately, it is the Indian voter who determines which political party heads the state not other nations.

(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.)

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