Human rights and realpolitik among ‘troubling trends’

Human rights and realpolitik among ‘troubling trends’

India’s stature as a counterweight to China would be enhanced if Indian domestic politics returned to a more traditional path of liberal democracy, to which India’s founding fathers committed it when drafting the Indian Constitution

K C SinghUpdated: Friday, May 19, 2023, 10:38 PM IST
article-image
Pixabay

Every year, like clockwork, the US state department issues the Religious Freedom Report. India again figures amongst gross defaulters like China, Iran etc. The Indian ministry of external affairs, equally predictably, rejected the charges. Some felt the timing was an attempt to deflate India before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first state visit to the US. So far five times earlier he has only made “working visits”. In reality these reports are required by law to be submitted annually. Thus their timing is only coincidental.

The latest report on May 15 was followed by briefing by officials. The US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken bemoaned “the rise of very troubling trends”. Regarding India it was mentioned that religious conversion was getting banned in more Indian states, religious minorities attacked and systemic discrimination widely practiced. When asked how the US proposed to address it, an unnamed official reassured that “we’re continuing to encourage the government to condemn violence”.

The US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCI has been separately seeking since 2020 that India be put on the blacklist. Their latest report was issued on May1. The Indian government quickly dubbed the state department report as based on “misinformation and flawed understanding”. The larger question is whether this periodic dissonance can be ignored as posturing by US agencies, aimed at domestic constituencies and funders or it needs to be taken seriously by the Indian government.

Recently, Henry Kissinger, statesman and Delphic oracle who turns 100 on May 27, sat for an interview with The Economist magazine. Worried that the danger posed by Sino-US friction can easily slip into devastating war, he commented on US exceptionalism and role of morality in foreign policy. He explained US conduct as driven by a sense of destiny to make the world in its own image as a free, democratic and capitalist society. He acknowledged that human rights matter but disagreed that they ought to be put at the heart of US foreign policy. They need not be imposed on any other nation, he argues, but put on the table as issues that would affect relations, though the decision was finally theirs.

Against this backdrop The Economist then turns to Indo-US relations, as India is perceived as a counterweight to China’s growing power. India, it argues, faces a “worsening record of religious intolerance, judicial bias and a muzzled press”. Would that impact bilateral relations? The magazine notes in parenthesis that although Henry Kissinger did not allude to India directly, his advice on dealing with partners with degrading domestic human rights records obviously applies. US presidents from the Democrat party tend to be more sensitive to abuse of human rights and freedoms than Republican party nominees.

New US Ambassador Eric Garcetti arrived days before the Karnataka state election. On May 13, the counting day, he tweeted pictures having lunch at Maharashtra Bhawan with the caption: “From the bustling streets of LA to the colorful lanes of Delhi, my love of great food continues”. While it was a great public relations move to be seen enjoying Indian cuisine it sounded a bit off when India was witnessing perhaps an electorally defining moment. BJP employed every polarising move that it has fine-tuned for divisive electoral politics in its only stronghold in the South. Its victory or defeat thus was critical to the question of its Hindi-belt model being replicated all across India, especially the south. Many of the issues that the Religious Freedom Reports of the US raise annually were in play in the state election. And yet their newly-arrived envoy seemed impervious to it.

Did he reveal American hypocrisy dressed up as pragmatism that Henry Kissinger is advocating? Thus unsurprisingly while the US reports will be sent to the US Congress and nominally debated, the Indian prime minister was close to emplaning for a visit to Hiroshima where the G-7 summit was being held. He was later flying to Australia for the now aborted summit of the Quad, consisting of the host, India, Japan and the US. Thus India’s diplomatic relations with the US appeared immune from whatever reservations that may surface in periodic reports on the state of human rights in India.

That may appear so presently in so far as foreign policy is concerned. However, India’s stature as a counterweight to China would be enhanced if Indian domestic politics returned to a more traditional path of liberal democracy, to which India’s founding fathers committed it when drafting the Indian Constitution. Majoritarian politics will inevitably make it more difficult to handle relations with many of its immediate neighbours. India may not openly interfere in the domestic politics of its neighbours, but, as Henry Kissinger advises, neither should it avoid exerting moral pressure wherever democracy degrades, especially in the SAARC region. Just as Trumpism has weakened the US’ role as a global moral compass, though selectively functional historically, a democratically cynical India will be a weaker global power.

KC Singh is former secretary, Ministry of External Affairs

RECENT STORIES

Bihar Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Result On June 4 To Decide BJP-JDU Alliance's Fate

Bihar Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Result On June 4 To Decide BJP-JDU Alliance's Fate

UP Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Modi's Win Margin In Focus Now

UP Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Modi's Win Margin In Focus Now

Bihar Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Misa Locked In Keen Contest With Old Foe

Bihar Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Misa Locked In Keen Contest With Old Foe

Rising Temperatures, Greater Risks To The Food In Your Thaali

Rising Temperatures, Greater Risks To The Food In Your Thaali

The Growing Irrelevance Of Mayawati And Her Party

The Growing Irrelevance Of Mayawati And Her Party