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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Bureau Chief, TIO.
Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: In an extremely significant move, the first crucial steps have been taken by the newly elected US President Joe Biden, to express his concerns over the dwindling democratic values in India. This has become possible with the visit of US Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin to India, the first by a member of the Biden administration.
Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has communicated to Lloyd that while the US India partnership is “critical to meet the challenges of the 21st century” the partnership “must rest on adherence to democratic values”.
The Senator from New Jersey, Menendez also pointed out that, “the Indian government’s ongoing crackdown on farmers peacefully protesting new farming laws and corresponding intimidation of journalists and government critics only underscores the deteriorating situation of democracy in India. Moreover, in recent years, rising anti-Muslim sentiment and related government actions like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) the suppression of political dialogue and arrest of political opponents following the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, and the use of sedition laws to persecute political opponents have resulted in the U.S. human rights group Freedom House stripping India of its ‘Free’ status in its yearly global survey”.
Speculations have been rife since January this year, when President Biden took his oath, whether he would express his concerns to the Indian government, on the way it has been handling the farmer’s protests, besides the brutal lockdown in Kashmir since August 2019.
Meanwhile, the Indian government has on several occasions, expressed its displeasure on any criticisms directed towards it, on the way it has dealt with the protests.
Following a tweet by pop star Rihanna, retweeted by several US leaders, foreign minister S Jaishankar, “while welcoming US acknowledgment of steps taken by India in agricultural reform,’ also rebuked rather sharply that, “motivated campaigns targeting India will never succeed. We have the self-confidence today to hold our own. This India will push back”.
India also faced flak in the UK, when several Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Scottish National Party MPs expressed concern over the safety of protesting farmers and the status of press freedom in India, early this week.
India however rebuked these MPs too, with India’s High Commission in London dismissing the parliamentary discussion as full of “false assertions”.
This move by the US comes at a time when just early this month the leaders of the Quad nations, including the US, India, Australia, and Japan had their first meeting where they agreed that all countries should be able to take their own decisions free of coercion.
The present move by the US government comes on the heels of a report by the US-based `Freedom House’, which has declared India `partly free’, from ‘free’, in this year’s report, released a few days ago.
‘Freedom House’, is a non-profit organization that conducts research in political freedom and human rights in 210 countries worldwide. The report stated that the number of countries designated as “not free” is at its highest level since 2006.
It however added that India’s “fall from the upper ranks of free nations” could have a more damaging effect on the world’s democratic standards.
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The report observes that since 2014, human rights violations have risen and the powers of human rights organizations curbed. Intimidation of journalists and activists, many of whom have been jailed on frivolous charges, under very serious sections of law and a spate of attacks especially against Muslims, has led to a deterioration of political and civil liberties in the country.
The report also observed that “under Modi, India appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader, elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all”.
The report also takes into account the Indian government’s crackdown against the protestors of the CAA, which when enforced would lead to the disenfranchisement of millions, mostly Indian Muslims. These protests had grabbed international headlines at the beginning of last year. The year ended with the farmers grabbing fresh headlines with their protests, inevitable when faced with the government’s reticence. The protests, which have claimed over 250 deaths so far, have already lasted over 100 days, with no hopes of it ending anytime soon.
India’s fall in status is part of the global shift in the balance between democracy and authoritarianism. The Freedom Report titled `Democracy under Siege’. has also downgraded the freedom scores of 73 countries, representing 75% of the global population. It states that “with India’s decline to its `Partly Free’ status, less than 20% of the world’s population now lives in a free country, the smallest percentage since 1995. Civil liberties in India have been in decline since PM Narendra Modi came to power in 2014”.
Though the Indian government has been trying to counter the international pressure by dismissing charges against it as their “internal” matter. The world however refuses to shut up, as human rights violations are a universal problem and need to be dealt with swiftly.
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