Asserting that India is “indeed the mother of democracy”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said that democracy refers not just to a structure but also the spirit of equality.
In a virtual address to the Summit for Democracy, co-hosted by the U.S., Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia, Mr. Modi claimed that the Mahabharata, the Vedas and all historical references prove that non-hereditary rulers first existed in India.
“The idea of elected leaders was a common feature in ancient India, long before the rest of the world,” Mr. Modi said at the plenary session of the summit, where leaders of about 40 countries gave national statements.
“There are also many historical references to republic states in ancient India where the rulers were not hereditary. India is, indeed, the mother of democracy,” Mr. Modi said.
The Prime Minister had earlier referred to India as the “mother of democracy” in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2021, countering the generally held perception that the Athenian city-state, founded in Greece in the 6th century BCE, which gave the terms ‘Demos’ and ‘Kratos’ to mean people’s rule, preceded it.
Mr. Modi said in the Mahabharata, “the first duty of citizens is described as choosing their own leader” and the Vedas dated much earlier, “speak of political power being exercised by broad-based consultative bodies”.
He also referred to recent commitments by India on climate change and the COVID-vaccine programmes as “people-driven”.
“India, despite the many global challenges, is the fastest growing major economy today. This itself is the best advertisement for democracy in the world,” he added.
India was among about 120 countries invited to the second edition of the virtually held Summit for Democracy. In a repeat of the first edition in 2021 the U.S. decided to invite India, Nepal and Maldives, while not including Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to the event.
Pakistan, which was invited again, declined to attend for the second time, ostensibly due to the exclusion of China.
In a statement on Tuesday, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Pakistan would “engage bilaterally with the United States and co-hosts of the summit” on issues of democracy and human rights.
Opening the first session on Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a special mention of attacks against democratic principles and freedom of the media worldwide.
“Freedom of expression is in freefall, dissenting voices are silenced. Human Rights Defenders face persecution, while prosecutors fighting corruption face reprisals, journalists confront censorship, detention and violence. The number of media workers killed across the world last year rose by a horrific 50%,” Mr. Guterres said, referring to a rise in the “siren songs of enlightened despotism”, which isn’t very “enlightened”, worldwide.
Speaking during the same session on “Democracy Delivering Growth and Shared Prosperity”, several leaders, particularly from the EU, referred in their speeches to the war in Ukraine, casting Russia, which was not invited, as carrying out an “attack on a democratic country”.
On Tuesday, the summit also included a special session chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the need for a “Just and Lasting Peace in Ukraine”.
The next summit will be hosted by South Korea, the U.S. announced.