Between BBC, Boeing and Airbus, PM Modi sets terms of engagement with the West

Modi has repeatedly referred to three Ds – Democracy, Demand, and Demography – as factors that make India an attractive place for the West to engage and do business with

Updated - February 16, 2023 12:56 pm IST

Published - February 15, 2023 11:07 pm IST - New Delhi

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi. File.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. File. | Photo Credit: ANI

As it happened, on the same day the Tata Group-owned Air India announced orders for 470 aircraft from American manufacturer Boeing and French manufacturer Airbus, Indian Income Tax authorities dropped by at the offices of the BBC. Just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about deepening strategic partnerships with the U.S. and France, BJP functionaries, including Union ministers, accused the BBC of running an anti-India agenda with the support of Opposition parties. Mr. Modi had French President Emmanuel Macron on a video call, and U.S. President Joe Biden on an audio call to celebrate the aircraft deal, while U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose country is also a beneficiary of the deal in which Rolls-Royce will be making the engines for Airbus aircraft, tweeted out his ebullience. All this taken together reflects the terms of engagement that Mr. Modi wants to set with the West — a “Hindutva strategic doctrine” for India’s engagement with the world.

Mr. Modi has repeatedly referred to three Ds – Democracy, Demand, and Demography – as factors that make India an attractive place for the West to engage and do business with. When Mr. Modi began talking about 3D in 2014, the U.S. was happily doing business with China. In the years that followed, U.S. relations with China nosedived, and Russia invaded Ukraine. The Biden administration now wants to frame international politics as a fundamental ideological cleft between democracy and autocracy.

On Tuesday, Mr. Modi invited western companies to use the opportunities of India’s expanding civil aviation market. On the first D, western governments murmur occasional protests, but they cannot hide their excitement when it comes to the second D. The Air India order was Boeing’s third largest sale of all time, in dollar value, and it is second of all time in quantity.

“This purchase will support over 1 million American jobs across 44 states, and many will not require a four-year college degree,” U.S. President Joe Biden said, according to a White House release.“ This announcement also reflects the strength of the U.S.-India economic partnership. Together with Prime Minister Modi, I look forward to deepening our partnership even further as we continue to confront shared global challenges.” According to Mr. Sunak, the aircraft order will create “better-paid jobs and new opportunities in manufacturing hubs from Derby to Wales,” which will help the U.K. to “grow the economy and support our agenda to level up”. Mr. Macron was described by Mr. Modi as a friend, and both hailed the “strategic partnership” between the two countries. The lure of of the Indian market, powered by its demography, seems stronger than that of the second D — Democracy.

Familiar logic

While the British government has so far remained silent on IT action on BBC, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price did not want to make a judgment other than declaring the importance of free media in a democracy. On whether the action went against democratic values, Mr. Price said, “I couldn’t say. We’re aware of the facts of these searches, but I’m just not in a position to offer a judgment.” The BJP’s position is that the BBC is not free media, but a foreign agent that is working with an anti-India agenda. That is a familiar logic for western democracies actually. The U.S. and EU have imposed a range of restrictions on Russian media on the same grounds.

The Modi government had reminded the Biden administration of the rioters at Capitol Hill when it was questioned about police action against protesting farmers running amok in New Delhi, in January 2021. There are many contradictions in the narrative about a global contest between democracies and autocracies, and the turmoil within democratic countries are significant, undermining any claims of western superiority on this front.

The Hindutva strategic doctrine seeks western support and cooperation for its nationalist ambitions. Hence, western technology and investment are solicited, but there is stiff resistance to western prescriptions on domestic political questions. On the other side, when required to choose between a tangible commercial opportunity and an abstract moral objective, western governments have never been confused.

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