At a recent CII webinar, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar declared that denying the Indo-Pacific is ‘tantamount to refuting globalisation’. While the comparison may be worth a separate study at this stage given that the universality of the former is yet to be established as with the latter, from a purely Indian perspective, the minister was right after all.
By the same token, it may be time India accepted the (select) universality of the oft-repeated diplomatic phraseology that reads ‘interfering in the internal affairs’ of a nation. Almost since Independence, India has been burdened to deploy the term whenever our neighbourhood adversaries (read Pakistan and China) or third nations negatively commented on events and developments in the country.
The frequency of such references have only increased in recent years, incidentally coinciding with the continuing reign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since 2014. From the cow-slaughter ban to attended episodes of lynching, CAA and NRC protests, the reading down of Article 370 and now the farmers’ agitation, global nations have passed adverse comments on the Government of India’s handling of the situation.
As may be recalled, on every such occasion, the Government of India has repeated the tagline that they better desist from commenting on the ‘internal affairs’ of the country. It’s a traditional defence that nations, including India, had offered in traditional times. Its relevance and application may be contestable at times, but there is need to note that even strategic friends like the US are putting their views on record, not to hurt India now, but to pile up a dossier that can be used to recite the ‘I-told-you-so’ line on a day and time of their choosing. Less said about not-so-friendly nations, the better.
Writing on the wall: Independent of the nuances of foreign governments’ postures on such subjects and their expressions of disapproval, which our diplomatic community understand fully well and know how to respond to, the political class, especially their social media operatives sold on ideology, need to go beyond the obvious and learn to read the writing on the wall. It is in this context that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s rebuke of India on the farmers’ agitation assumes significance.
There is no denying the domestic angle to Trudeau’s reiteration despite the MEA ticking him off, as Sikhs from Punjab dominate the protest and also constitute a social and electoral constituency in Canada
It was after Trudeau’s comments that the anti-farmer social media operatives suddenly remembered the Canadian connection of Khalistani terrorists who ravaged Punjab, Delhi and many other parts of India in the 80s. The worst irony is that even after the mid-air Air India ‘Emperor Kanishka’ blast that claimed 329 lives, including 268 Canadian citizens, in June 1985, the Canadian government of the day looked the other way on Khalistani fundraisers, ideological backers and political propagandists nearer home.
Human rights issues: Independent of the identity of the victims of terrorism or political protests, there are nations and governments across the world with a strong domestic constituency, all of them wedded to an altruist approach to human rights. They owe it to their historic past or ideological present. Canada is only one of them; there is Germany and the Nordic countries in Europe, apart from a host of others sprouting out of nowhere, after trampling on the rights of the ‘natives’ that their ancestors had exterminated without batting an eyelid.
Remember how in 2011-12, a Norwegian court denied a couple from West Bengal access to their infant children, three and one, following a ‘child abuse’ charge, which was otherwise attributed to ‘cultural differences’. The Government of India did intervene and arranged for the court to hand over the kids to their uncle from India, but it does not happen all the time, especially when the Centre is being put in the dock as at present. It is all in the other side of diaspora politics, which the BJP since the late nineties and PM Modi since he assumed office have been ‘exploiting’ in their favour for politico-electoral benefits back home. For every Madison Square show that Modi supporters go gaga over, there is a CAA or farmers’ protest in Delhi or a Kashmir lockout that gets sympathetic ears elsewhere.
There is also the medium and long terms for India to think about. Whatever we had refused to acknowledge as human rights violations only a couple of decades ago—be it child labour, Diwali cracker pollution or environmental degradation—are now a part of our national laws and agendas, even if not ethos. And in the economic reforms era, when India is wooing MNC investors, more so in the last couple of years, we are ready to make all the labour law compromises that they want (no rights violations here) but they also keep setting and changing other norms and rules for our national behaviour on what they consider are human rights violations back home, without reference to Indian conditions and cultural inheritance!
N Sathiya Moorthy (email@example.com)
Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation