India at G20

India at G20: Is the Glitter Just Surface Deep?

As I begin this piece, I can’t help but reflect on recent events that have unfolded in G20 India. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, really. On one hand, we had the much-anticipated Pakistan-India Asia Cup 2023 match at the Pallakele Stadium in Sri Lanka on Saturday, September 2nd. Cricket fans were all geared up for an epic showdown, but Mother Nature had other plans. Rain played spoilsport, washing out the match and leaving the Green Shirts waiting for their turn at the bat. India managed to set a target of 267, but they were bowled out for 266 in the 49th over. Points were shared, and the Green Shirts earned their spot in the Super 4s. It was a bit of a damp squib, to be honest.

On a brighter note, there’s the Aditya-L1 launch, which follows India’s successful landing of Chandrayaan-3 near the moon’s south pole. The Chandrayaan project has been in the works since 2003 and has added a certain celestial charm to India’s global image. It’s like a space-age Disneyland, if you will. But, and there’s always a “but,” beneath this high-tech fantasyland, there’s a raw and unfiltered India, marked by the presence of slums and the very real challenges of everyday life.

A Contemporary Snapshot of India

Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Amidst the excitement of the Asia Cup and space exploration triumphs, there’s a whole lot of stuff happening behind the scenes. The Asia Cup, for one, has had its fair share of political drama brewing in the background. And then there’s the issue of social media, where the chatter increasingly revolves around some really troubling topics – the rise in incidents of lynching, with minorities and Dalits, especially Muslims, often being the targets – a deeply unsettling trend. And let’s not forget about the ominous specter of mob violence that hangs over the nation.

So, as we dive into this exploration of India’s current landscape, it’s clear that there’s a whole lot more at play here than what we see on the surface. It’s a tapestry of events and issues that paint a multi-faceted picture of contemporary India.

India at G20

As India gears up to host the G20 Summit, the world’s attention is drawn to the vibrant spectacle of a growing economic powerhouse. Yet, beneath the glittering facade, the nation grapples with a slew of pressing issues that raise concerns about its leadership and commitment to democratic values.

A significant immediate concern is the surging inflation rate, which hit a 15-month high at 7.44% in July. This alarming increase is primarily attributed to skyrocketing food prices, placing a heavy burden on ordinary citizens. Despite India’s label as the world’s fastest-growing major economy, the country is plagued by a daunting 8% unemployment rate, underlining the urgent need to create millions of new jobs in the coming decade.

The ever-expanding wealth gap between the affluent and the impoverished is a stark reminder of the immediate economic disparities that India must address.

The “Survival of the Richest: The India Supplement” report by Oxfam India sheds light on this growing wealth inequality within the nation. It underscores the role of India’s progressive tax policies in mitigating inequality and calls on the Modi government to ensure that economic prosperity reaches all citizens, not just the fortunate few. This is not the only thing. Reports indicate that within the time period of 2011 – 2023, a total of 1.6 million Indians left India permanently. Moreover, despite India’s efforts to attract multinational corporations (MNCs) with favorable policies and incentives, the country has faced challenges in retaining several of these foreign companies.

In a disclosure made by the government in December 2021, it was revealed that a total of 2,783 foreign companies and their subsidiaries had halted their operations in India between 2014 and November 2021. Some noteworthy exits included names like Cairn Energy, Holcim, Daiichi Sankyo, Carrefour, Henkel, Harley Davidson, and Ford.

Over the past few years, the number of foreign businesses leaving India has surpassed those entering the country. Since 2018, this trend has been on a consistent rise. Data shared by India’s Minister of State for Corporate Affairs, Rao Inderjit Singh, in Indian Parliament, illustrates a total of 559 exits during this period. In contrast, only 469 companies entered the country, with 2022 marking a particularly challenging year, recording an all-time low in new entries.

Beyond Economics: Political Landscape and Regional Tensions

Beyond economic concerns, there’s a troubling trend of rising Hindutva extremism and Islamophobia within India.

The leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been linked to the exacerbation of these issues. While the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has employed Islamophobia as a political strategy, its success has been inconsistent across different regions of the country. In areas where the BJP holds less sway, these divisive tactics have encountered resistance, casting doubt on the government’s commitment to inclusivity.

The situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir has been a cause for concern since the controversial revocation of Article 370 and 35A in 2019. This move significantly altered the region’s status, leaving the Kashmiri population in a state of uncertainty and unrest. Recently, as the Indian Supreme Court is hearing petitions challenging New Delhi’s controversial 2019 move, the Indian government has informed its Supreme Court that it is prepared to conduct elections in Indian-occupied Kashmir “any time now”. However, this proposal raises legal questions due to the changed status of the region.

Notably, the last state assembly elections in Indian-administered Kashmir occurred in 2014, and the political landscape has evolved since then. The region has been marred by political turmoil and human rights violations. Given these developments, it’s imperative that the international community closely examines the ongoing violations in Kashmir and holds India accountable for actions that not only challenge the region’s status but also further inflame regional tensions.

Prominent figures like senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan and former Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik have predicted potential unrest and conflict in the context of upcoming polls in India. Their concerns highlight the volatile situation in the region. India’s fixation on Pakistan and its tendency to exploit external tensions for domestic political gains warrant scrutiny of its responsible approach to regional affairs.

What’s Unsettling?

What’s particularly disconcerting is the muted response and inaction of the international community in the face of these pressing issues. The G20 Summit, hosted by India, provides a vital platform to address these concerns constructively. World leaders must seize this opportunity to engage with India on matters of human rights, democracy, and regional stability.

However, it’s apparent that India’s G20 presidency is being used as a campaign tool for Prime Minister Modi’s upcoming election bid. The striking resemblance between the G20 logo and the emblem of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blurs the line between the state and the party, raising serious questions about India’s commitment to global leadership. It seems as if India’s presidency prioritizes domestic politics over global cooperation.

Intelligentsia has consistently warned about the erosion of democratic values in India. Reports from institutions like the Swedish Varieties of Democracy Institute and Reporters Without Borders paint a bleak picture. India’s slide toward becoming an “electoral autocracy” and its dismal ranking in the Press Freedom Index – 161st out of 180 – lower than Afghanistan even, signify a troubling trend of democratic regression. As the host of the G20 Summit, India’s leadership in promoting democracy and human rights merits close scrutiny.

In conclusion, as India prepares to take the spotlight at the G20 Summit, it’s essential to question whether this glittering opportunity signifies a genuine commitment to address pressing concerns or if it merely serves as a facade. The issues of rising inflation, extremism, Islamophobia, and the Kashmir situation cast a shadow on India’s international image.

Predictions of unrest and the use of the G20 for domestic political gains underscore the urgent need for the international community to engage with India on these critical matters.

The world watches closely, and India has a unique chance to reaffirm its dedication to democratic values, human rights, and regional stability. While the glitter of economic growth may shine brightly, it’s essential to remember that “all that glitters may not be gold.” This moment serves as a powerful reminder that true greatness is measured by the pursuit of justice and equity for all, regardless of majority or minority. Will India seize this opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to these principles, humbling itself before the world?

The article was originally published by The Friday Times. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.

Haleema Khalid

Haleema Khalid is an Editor and Research Lead at South Asia Times. She holds a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics and a Bachelor's in Social Work. Her research interests include exploring language's impact on society and culture.

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