Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar on Monday dismissed reports that India is facing democratic backsliding at the hands of the Narendra Modi government, saying that the country does not need approval or tedious moral lectures from a “set of self-appointed custodians of the world”.
The Bharatiya Janata Party leader’s remarks came amid concerns raised by international organisations about the steady subversion of democracy and erosion of civil rights in India under Modi’s regime.
“You use the dichotomy of democracy and autocracy...You want the truthful answer, it is hypocrisy,” Jaishankar said when asked to comment at the India Today conclave on what effect the reports might have on India’s image internationally.
He added: “Because you have a set of self-appointed custodians of the world, who find it very difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval, is not willing to play the game they want to be played...so they invent their rules, their parameters, they pass their judgments and then make out as though this is some kind of global exercise.”
He was referring to the reports by US-based non-government organisation Freedom House and Sweden based-research institute Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute.
The Freedom House report on political rights and civil liberties, released earlier this month, lowered India’s status from “free” in 2020, to “partly free” this year. It said that the situation “deteriorated since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014” and the decline only “accelerated after Modi’s reelection in 2019.”
The V-Dem report was released last week and said that India has turned into an “electoral autocracy”. It said India’s autocratisation process has “largely followed the typical pattern for countries in the ‘Third Wave’ over the past ten years: a gradual deterioration where freedom of the media, academia, and civil society were curtailed first and to the greatest extent”.
Referring to the reports, Jaishankar also disapproved the fact that these organisations refer to the Bharatiya Janata Party government as a Hindu nationalist regime. He pointed out that it was this “nationalist” government of India that was supplying coronavirus vaccines to countries across the world.
“We are supposed to be the nationalist, so let’s talk nationalism,” the minister said. “Okay, we are the nationalist guys, we have given vaccines to 70 countries in the world. So tell me, the internationalist countries... how many vaccines have they given?”
He also took a dig at former US President Donald Trump without taking his name, for alleging fraud in election counting, after the recent presidential elections in the country, where he lost to Joe Biden.
“Look at the politics of these places...I am in this country, nobody questions our election. Can you say that in those countries?” Jaishankar said. “...I don’t put my hand on a religious book when I take my oath of office. Guess which country does?”
“So enough of those homilies...I don’t need certification from outside,” the minister added. “Certainly not from people who clearly have an agenda to drive.”
‘Future of India secure in hands of BJP government’
Jaishankar claimed the future of India was secure in the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government. He said this was because his party reflected the “socio economic and political mood” and aspirations of citizens.
When asked if the BJP would be able to expand its footprint in Tamil Nadu, Jaishankar said the “BJP is spreading its wings not just in Tamil Nadu but across the country”.
“If you look at the last six years, the governance record of the Narendra Modi government, that is a very powerful case for people to vote,” he added. The external affairs minister added that the central government played an active role to protect citizens in India, including in Tamil Nadu, during the pandemic.
Jaishankar also cited the Centre’s handling of the border standoff with China in eastern Ladakh, saying that the government had successfully guarded Indian territory. “I think the people of Tamil Nadu also need to appreciate that today as they cast their vote,” he added. “That their future like the rest of India is more secure in the hands of the government led by BJP.”
Elaborating on the Indo-China situation, the minister admitted that the country “went through a very difficult period” and that “we are still not past it”.
While disengagement of troops has happened in the “most close-up friction area”, Jaishankar said there “are some areas that still need resolving”.
Though the border situation at Ladakh became alarming at one point, “India was able to hold its ground and negotiate its terms with China firmly due to efforts undertaken by the central government in the past five years”, the external affairs minister said.
“Fortunately for the country, in the last five years, we have improved the logistics in the border area,” he added. “So, I want to say that a lot of what happened in 2020 would not have happened five years ago because the logistics were not in place.”
The minister, however, warned that there will be similar conflicts in the future that the country will have to address as it gets more powerful, as capabilities grow and as India’s “profile in the world rises”.
“There will be challenges, from neighbours and beyond, so life will be tough,” the BJP leader said. “A lot of governance is to be prepared for tough days and for that you need a strong leader.”