Narendra Modi’s India: The next Putin?

Narendra Modi’s India: The next Putin?

Germany is ensnaring India because of many of its own interests. But the subcontinent has taken a dangerous direction under Narendra Modi.

The federal government appears to be pursuing four priority objectives towards India Illustration: Katja Gendikova

The G20 summit in Delhi in mid-September, which was declared successful by India, Germany and other Western countries, was a major international appearance for Narendra Modi. The Indian Prime Minister had previously been received with great honors in the USA. Such appearances are an important factor in the election campaign for the Indian parliamentary elections to be held in April or May 2024, in which Modi’s party, the BJP, and a broad opposition party alliance led by the Congress Party face off. The exit is open.

Western countries have called on India to condemn Russia’s war of invasion against Ukraine, to no avail. However, they continue to support India in presenting itself as a new global power and as a spokesman for the Global South – in competition with China. The supposedly rapidly developing large Indian market is euphorically described as an alternative for the German export industry to reduce its dependence on the Chinese market. At the same time, the Indian government is achieving its goal of suppressing Indian civil society through repression shrinking space to suffocate, getting closer.

Shortly after the G20 summit, legal proceedings were filed against BookerPriceWinner Arundhati Roy charged with disturbing public order and security. The reason: a speech she gave in 2010 about human rights violations in Kashmir. The fact that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of being responsible for the murder of Sikh independence activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada in June 2023 a week after the G20 summit will have little impact on the election campaign.

The implementation of the ideology of “Hindutva” carried out by Modi, his ruling party BJP (“Indian People’s Party”) and the militant, Hindu nationalist and anti-Muslim organization RSS (National Voluntary Organization), which is closely linked to them and operates nationwide and was founded in 1925, also the concept of a Hindu nation cast a large shadow over the further development of relations between Western governments and India. To adapt a comparison used in India, a gloomy prediction would be: “For the West Modi will become the next Putin.”

It’s time for a turning point. A transnational civil society must contain and civilize the state system

The Indian political system is accurately described as “democratic authoritarianism” or “electoral autocracy,” in which critical voices are systematically criminalized and there is a close alliance between the BJP and a cartel-like group of Indian corporations led by the Adani Group.

In the country rankings of the democracy indices Democracy Index, Freedom House Index, Democracy Report and in the press freedom rankings, India has been falling ever worse for over ten years. In order to put civil society organizations and critical media under pressure, government authorities use an anti-terrorism law.

Extrajudicial killings by the government

Stan Swamy, a well-known Jesuit priest who advocated for the rights of the indigenous Adivasis and Dalits, the lowest caste of “untouchables.”, began, was arrested for a fabricated violation of this law in October 2020 and died in prison in July 2021 at the age of 80 – he was denied medical care there. The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, which regulates foreign financial support for Indian NGOs, is another effective instrument to revoke the license of critical NGOs to receive funds from international partners and thereby weaken them.

The US Department of State’s most recent Annual Country Report on Human Rights, released in March 2023, said of India: “(India’s) key human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by the government or its agents; Torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials…”

But the human rights situation is not the only problem. India’s high-tech space travel successes also hide growing economic inequality. The country is ranked 111th out of 125 countries in the Global Hunger Index country ranking, behind Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Zambia and Pakistan; Bangladesh achieved a much better 81st place. The current UN report on global food supply states that around 234 million, i.e. around 17 percent of the population, were undernourished in India between 2020 and 2022.

Germany has four goals in India

At the same time, there are also partial successes, such as the Indian women’s and LGBTQ movements. The Indian Parliament decided in September that at least a third of all parliamentary seats must be held by women, and in October India’s highest court rejected the legalization of same-sex relationships, but at the same time called on the government to ensure that partners in such relationships do not to be discriminated.

The federal government seems to be pursuing four priority goals towards India: firstly, to win India as a close partner against Russia and China, secondly, to develop it more widely as a market for the German economy and thirdly, to win India as a close partner in climate change policy and as a larger buyer of renewable energies. The fourth goal of the federal government’s “values-oriented” or “feminist” foreign policy towards India is to only publicly discuss serious human rights violations and the dismantling of democratic institutions in India in a very cautious manner in order not to jeopardize the achievement of the first three goals . In May 2022, Chancellor Scholz and Prime Minister Modi declared in their joint statement in Berlin that they would expand the “partnership with shared values” and the “strategic partnership,” which also includes promoting trade in “defense goods.”

Defense Minister Pistorius visited India at the beginning of June and, together with his Indian colleague, signed a joint declaration of intent for the construction of up to six submarines by German and Indian companies. The federal government is pursuing a kind of hugging strategy towards India. At the end of January 2023, the German ambassador visited the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, who is considered one of the most radical anti-Muslim BJP politicians in India and regularly incites against Muslims.

Modi, Trump and Putin

This German embrace strategy is based on false assumptions about the goals and interests of the BJP government. Their most important and influential politicians and supporters master both the cultivated rhetoric of the “values ​​and rules-based international order” and the rhetoric of Hindu nationalist, anti-Muslim hate speech. There is no written “India strategy” from the federal government and no broader political or political science debate about the prospects of success and alternatives to such an embrace strategy that goes beyond the small circle of the very few specialist politicians and India experts. But such a debate is urgently needed.

The BJP and the RSS are systematically weakening and dismantling democratic institutions and are getting closer and closer to their goal: silencing civil society. However, the federal government is still sticking to the “strategic partnership with shared values” and hopes that the BJP government will be voted out of office in the next parliamentary election in 2024. Perhaps after the next US election, the two re-elected Narendra Modi and Donald Trump will meet with Vladimir Putin and assure each other that the age of democratically controlled allocation of temporary government power is over.

It is time for another turning point in which a stronger transnational civil society, together with international organizations and influential individuals within and outside the UN system, seeks to contain and civilize the fragile global state system that is heading towards major conflict. A stronger civil society is an indispensable corrective and an important driving force for the defense, expansion and implementation of international human rights rights. German, European and Indian NGOs, aid organizations, academies and political foundations should expand and better network their existing but highly fragmented forms of cooperation and also include partners from North America. There would be a need for joint campaigns and platforms for the growing Indian diaspora to meet in Germany and Europe.

However, the mills of transnational civil society also grind slowly. But there is a need for action. As I said, if Modi wins the next general election, he could be the next Putin.


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