Did G20 delegates see a convincing façade of normalcy in Kashmir?

The PM’s rhetoric of India as the ‘mother of democracy’ with a young and skilled population is fast wearing thin, in the face of the facts on the ground

A paramilitary trooper stands alert in front of the wall painted with the G20 logo during the ongoing G20 tourism meet in Srinagar (photo: Getty Images)
A paramilitary trooper stands alert in front of the wall painted with the G20 logo during the ongoing G20 tourism meet in Srinagar (photo: Getty Images)


Addressing an audience of over 21,000 members of the Indian diaspora, as also Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena stadium during his Australian stopover on 24 May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proclaimed India to be the “the biggest and the youngest talent factory”, with no dearth of capability or resources. He also described India as the "mother of democracy".

However, dwindling opportunities for Indians (and their children) at home seem to be motivating large numbers of the upwardly mobile to venture overseas. External affairs minister S. Jaishankar informed Parliament in February that over 1.6 million people had renounced their Indian citizenship since 2011, including 225,620 in 2022, the highest during the period.

Despite the PM’s flowery rhetoric in Sydney, he has been panned on social media for hurting Indian democracy through divisive and hyper-nationalist politics, borne out by the '2022 Report on International Religious Freedom: India' by the US state department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.

Portraying a litany of transgressions, the report notes that while India’s Constitution 'provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to freely profess, practise and propagate religion; mandates a secular state; requires the state to treat all religions impartially', there were numerous reports during the year by law enforcement authorities about violence against religious minorities. 'Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred in various states throughout the year,' the report said.

On 15 May, UN special rapporteur on minority issues Fernand de Varennes too berated the Modi government for seeking to normalise the “brutal and repressive denial of democratic and other rights of Kashmiri Muslims and minorities” by holding a three-day G20 convention from 22 to 24 May in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which shares volatile borders with Pakistan and China.

Referring to reports of excesses, especially since the abrogation of the state’s nominal autonomy in August 2019, he said, “The G20 is unwittingly providing a veneer of support to a facade of normalcy at a time when massive human rights violations, illegal and arbitrary arrests, political persecutions, restrictions and even suppression of free media and human rights defenders continue to escalate.”

A Kashmir documentation network reported in April that 'thousands of Kashmiris have been put behind bars' in an effort to project a forced normalcy, by rounding up those who may have protested against the G20 meeting.

A three-tier security grid to protect the G20 delegates comprised aerial surveillance by drones, and deployment of the National Security Guard and MARCOS (marine commandos) around the venues of the meetings, and Special Operations Group personnel at other places.

Classified as the world’s most militarised zone, as well as the largest region occupied by security forces, Kashmir has been under heightened security since the abrogation of Article 370, with an excessive 1:30 security–civilian ratio.

Under the circumstances, practising democracy is more imperative than preaching it.

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