Easily provoked: On India’s internal affairs and foreign comments  

India is not showing confidence about its own democratic record 

Updated - March 29, 2024 09:41 am IST

Published - March 29, 2024 12:20 am IST

New Delhi and Washington appear to be squaring off for a fight over the U.S. expressing its concerns about the Modi government’s actions ahead of the general election. After the U.S. State Department spokesperson first made a comment on the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) summoned the acting Deputy Chief of the U.S. mission in Delhi and sternly called on the U.S. to desist from interfering in India’s internal affairs. A dressing down was also handed to a German diplomat for a similar statement by Germany. However, while the German government appeared to tone down its remarks subsequently, the U.S. administration seems to have doubled down — repeating statements on the need for “fair, transparent, timely legal processes”, and adding the freezing of the Congress Party’s accounts during the election campaign amongst its concerns, prompting yet another rebuke. The U.S.’s statements, galling for the government, are not new, and its concerns over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, farmers’ protests, actions against NGOs, and legal action against Opposition politicians have been growing. The Modi government may wish to introspect about whether any of these interventions are valid concerns, and it may be of significance to probe whether this brinkmanship is a symptom of a larger problem in the India-U.S. relationship. Since the U.S. announced an indictment into an alleged assassination plot against a Khalistani separatist and India critic, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, claiming a link to a top Indian national security official, the quality of public engagement appears to have suffered a setback, even though trade, technology sharing, and military and strategic cooperation remain strong. The decision by U.S. President Joe Biden to decline India’s invitation as Republic Day chief guest and to attend the Quad summit, and the cancellation of U.S. NSA Jake Sullivan’s visit, even as the post of Indian Ambassador to Washington lies vacant, merit close examination.

Given the kerfuffle over Mr. Kejriwal’s arrest, New Delhi has a few choices: it can choose to continue this high-decibel, public and unseemly spat; it can pay the U.S. back in the same coin by commenting on its internal developments; or it can refuse to be provoked. The last option may seem the least attractive to this government, which has made a habit of pugilistic public diplomacy, but in fact would come from a place of strength and security. Global leadership, of the kind that India aspires to, requires broad shoulders, and a thick skin when it comes to criticism, along with a quiet confidence that its democratic record should speak for itself.

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