Decoding the Signals of September 2023

Two big events were billed for September in India – the G20 summit followed by a special session of Parliament. A lot of hype was created around these two events and the Modi propaganda machine is now busy showcasing them as two stellar achievements of the regime. But these events and their outcomes have given us enough of a reality check to see through this hype.

On the basis of per capita income, India is by far the poorest member of the group of countries assembled under G20. India would also like to position itself as a leading voice of the Global South within the G20. Yet the Modi regime unleashed a veritable war on Delhi’s poor to render them completely invisible for the G20 guests. Slums were demolished, street vendors were removed, entire settlements of Delhi’s toiling people were walled off. Ostentatious silverware and gold-plated tableware were specially designed for the event, but when it rained heavily the venue was waterlogged, putting it in the same bracket with many parts of urban India.

Every G20 summit produces a joint statement. It is usually not a difficult exercise as the group has always focused on economic issues and stayed away from taking up contentious political developments. The Ukraine war is however too stark a reality to be ignored. The Bali statement had made stronger criticism of Russia in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The New Delhi declaration has toned that down to take Russia and China on board. It is a bland face-saving statement in which none of the signatories has had to change its position, so to call it a sign of Modi’s ‘global leadership’ is nothing but delusions of grandeur.

The Modi government insulated the G20 summit from any kind of critical media engagement, but the reality cannot be suppressed for too long. Biden was not allowed to speak to the media in Delhi, but he found his opportunity in Vietnam where he mentioned having raised the human rights situation in India with Modi. The Western powers’ interest in India is essentially limited to its massive domestic markets and its role as a potential counterweight to China, so Biden’s critical comments reflect the extent to which human rights violations under the Modi regime have become impossible to ignore at the global level.  And more damaging for India is the allegation levelled by Canada of Indian involvement in the murder of a Canadian citizen who was listed as a Khalistani terrorist by the government of India. Canada’s Five Eyes allies – Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States – have asked India to cooperate with Canada in investigating the murder.  Instead India has escalated tensions by identifying Canada as a terrorist haven and suspended visas for Canadian applicants. Meanwhile using its now favoured playbook of whipping up divisions in diaspora communities, the BJP’s IT Cell has begun a campaign on social media to spread unfounded claims that Hindus feel unsafe in Canada!

While there are still some pro-Khalistan sections in the diaspora, there is little influence of the Khalistan movement in India now. But the Modi government is keen on presenting Khalistan as a major threat. The Godi Media tried its best to portray the farmers’ movement as a Khalistani conspiracy and farmers occupying the Delhi borders as Khalistanis. In fact, this was the main reason why the farmers’ movement boycotted the Godi Media. While Trudeau may have his own domestic political considerations given the sizable presence of the Sikh community, is it in India’s interest to escalate the crisis and jeopardise India’s ties with a western power which is also home to the seventh biggest contingent of the Indian diaspora and a major destination for India’s students?

The sudden announcement of a special Parliament session without any agenda kept India speculating. A five-day session without the normal question hour or zero hour appeared all set for some legislative shocks that India has now come to expect even in routine sessions of Parliament. As it turned out, it was a shockingly damp squib.

The ruling party had officially listed eight bills for transaction in the five-day session, but what was taken up was a supplementary item – 33% reservation for women in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies – and once the bill was passed in both houses of Parliament the session was adjourned after four days. The shock here came from the very provisions of the bill which otherwise seeks to implement an idea that has a legislative history of four decades and has actually been a key demand of the women’s movement and all progressive forces throughout this period. The bill promises women’s reservation only as a post-dated cheque that can be encashed after the completion of the next census and delimitation. The Modi government has already failed to conduct the census that was due in 2021 and the next round of delimitation is going to be particularly contentious and time-consuming especially since the number of seats is also slated to be increased.

Yet even as the implementation of the bill is deferred indefinitely, with observers suggesting it will take at least a decade, the Modi government has launched a self-congratulatory campaign. The other major problem with the bill stems from the refusal of the government to ensure representation for all sections of women, especially women from OBC and minority communities. The SC/ST reservation being talked about in the context of the bill is actually a misnomer, because there is no separate provision for reservation for SC/ST women, they will get a third of the seats already reserved for the SC/ST communities. Meanwhile there will be no provision at all for women from OBC and minority communities. The bill is also flawed as it does not extend reservation to the Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils.

The real takeaway from the special session was delivered by BJP MP from South Delhi Ramesh Bidhuri when he directed a volley of hate-filled Islamophobic abuse against BSP MP Danish Ali. No senior BJP leader tried to stop him, in fact when Bidhuri was delivering his salvo of anti-Muslim slurs, two senior BJP leaders seated just behind him, former minister of science and technology Dr Harsh Vardhan and former law minister and well-known BJP lawyer Ravi Shankar Prasad, were smiling in approval.

The indication is pretty clear. When the South Delhi MP delivered those abuses as bluntly and as loudly as he could, with very little expression of discomfort, let alone disapproval, from the party leadership, it clearly tells us that the BJP no longer makes any distinction between the street and the Parliament, it believes it no longer has to be bothered about any kind of parliamentary decorum. And as Danish Ali pointed out, if a Muslim MP could be treated in this fashion on camera right inside Parliament, one can only imagine what ordinary Muslims are having to experience on a daily basis in Modi’s India.

No wonder the situation in India has set alarm bells ringing in the international community. In the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues “India risks becoming one of the world's main generators of instability, atrocities and violence because of the massive scale of the gravity of the violations and abuses targeting mainly religious and other minorities such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and others. It is not just individual or local, it is systematic and a reflection of religious nationalism.” No amount of boasting about democracy being in India’s DNA is going to answer this growing indictment. With every passing day, the resolve to build a powerful people's movement to save India from this road to destruction must get stronger.

Decoding the Signals of September 2023