Home and abroad: On PM Modi’s G-7 commitments and freedom of speech

Prime Minister Modi’s G-7 commitments on protecting freedoms will face scrutiny in India

July 01, 2022 12:20 am | Updated July 04, 2022 10:29 am IST

Geopolitics trumped economics at the annual summit of the world’s “most industrialised” countries, as the G-7 is known, at the German resort of Schloss Elmau, a summit Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended, along with other special invitees from Argentina, Indonesia, Senegal, and South Africa. While the G-7 countries did have some economic initiatives on their agenda, including the launch of a $600 billion U.S.-led Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), commitments on fighting climate change, funding renewable energy changes, mitigating inflation and managing the continued global crisis over the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clear that most of the deliberations took aim at the twin challenges seen from Russia and China. The 28-page communiqué alternated between outlining the challenges to the international order that emanate from Moscow’s war in Ukraine (including tightening sanctions, the impact on energy markets, and cybersecurity threats), and Beijing’s “expansive maritime claims”, rights violations, and unsustainable debt creation in lower income countries. The G-7 countries issued separate statements on support for Ukraine, food security and a ‘Climate Club’. In addition, the G-7 and special invitee “partner countries” issued a statement on “Resilient Democracies”, committing to free and fair elections, protecting freedom of expression, and gender empowerment. The message for Russia and China was made even more pointed at the subsequent NATO Summit in Madrid, where the U.S.’s Transatlantic allies invited the U.S.’s Trans-Pacific allies to discuss security challenges.

Given the targeted nature of the G-7 outcomes, India had its work cut out as a balancing power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear that it is the developing world that needs the most support, including to weather the “knock-on” effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The Government sought to distance itself from the PGII, pitched as a G-7 counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and made it evident that India had only signed on to the statements on “Resilient Democracies” and a “Just Energy Transition”, and not the many statements castigating Russia and China, much like Mr. Modi had, at the earlier BRICS summit, stayed away from President Putin and President Xi’s stringent criticism of the West. On the global stage, the G-7 outcomes mean New Delhi will have to continue to walk a tightrope between these two blocs that are growing more polarised and inimical towards each other. On the Indian stage, Mr. Modi’s G-7 commitments will be scrutinised for his pronouncements on democracy, and his written assurance that his government will protect civic society, freedoms of expression and “thought, conscience, religion or belief”, which are facing challenges within the country.

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