President Joe Biden is hosting a democracy summit, where 110 world leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi are invited.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will speak at the summit on Friday
Promoting democracy and human rights world-wide was Biden’s poll plank, considering the polarisation and mainstreaming of fringe elements that Donald Trump had made acceptable in the US.
What the summit will achieve is not clear, considering much of the human rights violations that have occurred with domestic politics across the world. How can the US push for democracy and openness in other countries, when strategic interests of nations is a difficult proposition?
Pakistan’s Imran Khan also invited for the Summit is not attending, though no reason was given for the decision. Speculation in the Pakistan media is that the refusal has to do with President Joe Biden’s refusal to call Imran Khan since taking office.
There were wide consultations before the decision was taken to snub the US President. One reason cited by the Pakistan media is that China was not invited but that hardly seems possible. China has never claimed to be a democratic country.
In the last two decades, there has been a perceptible sliding down of democracy or as some call it a ``democratic recession’’ across the world.
Strong leaders with authoritarian streaks have emerged across the world, be it Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, President Vladimir Putin in Russia, Xi Jinping in China. India too has seen a slide in democracy since 2014.
Countries like India and the Philippines are democratic so far as holding elections every five years, but in the transparency index and other parameters, it still remains a work in progress.
Black laws like the Unlawful Activities(Prevention) Act (UAPA), indiscriminate use of the Sedition provisions as well as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, have no place in a developed democracy. The recent gunning down of innocents by the army in the Mon district of Nagaland is a prime example of what can happen when AFSPA is used without civilian supervision. In the Freedom House Human Rights index for 2021, India has been downgraded from ``free to partly free,’’ it said in its report.
`` India’s status declined from Free to Partly Free due to a multiyear pattern in which the Hindu nationalist government and its allies have presided over rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting the Muslim population and pursued a crackdown on expressions of dissent by the media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.’’
Predictably, the Modi government does not accept the Freedom House report.
While Freedom House said the US remained ``free’’ it also pointed to moves in several states to restrict voters rights by Republican governments. And in a poll commissioned by Freedom House it was found that ``Even as Americans remain committed to the ideals of democracy, a majority see democracy in the United States as weak and getting weaker.‘’
Promoting democracy and free society with the fundamental rights entrenched is easy to advocate but difficult to implement.
Biden had promised during his campaign to make democracy and human rights an integral part of US foreign policy. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party, responsible for mobilising the Black, coloured and young voters that helped the Biden-Harris win are pushing the administration on these issues.
Yet the vastly experienced President Biden while advocating for human rights is unlikely to push this to a point when it might infringe on America’s strategic interests. India’s human rights may be on focus, but Washington is unlikely to jettison its ties with New Delhi as its hopes to build a coalition of like-minded countries to check China’s muscle-flexing in Asia.
So, is all this a meaningless exercise full of high-sounding rhetoric? It is a baby step in the rightdirection in the sense that it will help to focus on strengthening democracy across the world. Leaders will be forced to introspect on how the rest of the world views the democratic parameters of their respective countries. While it is easy for countries to condemn others bolstering democracy internally and bringing transparency in government will remain an issue.