The European Union (EU) Parliament’s resolution on the civil war-like situation in the Indian state of Manipur came as a sudden embarrassment for the Indian government. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. The deliberations happened on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France, where the EU Parliament is headquartered.
The resolution that the European Parliament adopted during its ongoing plenary session expressed “concerns about politically motivated, divisive policies promoting Hindu majoritarianism” in Manipur, a small, hilly, northeast Indian state that plunged into bloody violence about 11 weeks ago.
The conflict between the state’s majority population, the Meitei Hindus, and the Kuki-Chin-Zo group of tribal people who are predominantly Christian, has claimed over 150 lives, left thousands of people displaced and their properties vandalized. Restrictions on Internet access have paralyzed normal life further.
Manipur has long been crying for help and attention from “mainland India,” and Modi in particular, even as Modi has continued to maintain a complete silence – issuing neither a call for peace nor a threat of action against the miscreants, or even visiting the strife-torn state.
The European Parliament resolution noted that “intolerance towards minority communities has contributed to the current violence” and expressed concerns about “politically motivated, divisive policies that promote Hindu majoritarianism in the area.” It also called for human rights “to be integrated into all areas of the EU-India partnership, including trade.”
These are strong words against Modi’s Hindu nationalist government and India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi called such “interference” in India’s internal affairs “unacceptable” and reflected “a colonial mindset.” He advised the European Parliament “to utilize its time more productively on its internal issues.”
It cannot be missed, though, that the same Modi government had, in 2019, invited a 27-member team of mostly right-wing members of the European Parliament to visit Kashmir in the aftermath of the controversial revoking of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy and the bifurcation of the erstwhile state to show how the decision had improved life in the ‘paradise on earth.’ Besides, it was not an official delegation of the European Parliament but a private tour by members chosen by India.
The European Parliament’s resolution came close on the heels of sharp comments by the U.S. ambassador to India. On July 6, while addressing the media in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, Ambassador Eric Garcetti said that concerns over Manipur were “not strategic” but “human” and the U.S. was “ready to help” whenever asked.
“You don’t have to be Indian to care when you see children and individuals die in the sort of violence that we see (there) and we know that peace is the precedent for so many other good things,” Garcetti said, adding that the whole of eastern and northeastern India “matters to the United States.”
No official rebuke, or customary reminder to a diplomat for “breaching limits” came from the external affairs ministry in that case. But words of caution came from Manish Tewari, a parliamentarian belonging to the Congress, India’s main opposition party, which has found fuel in these developments. They have been pressing for Modi to break his silence on Manipur and are trying to mount pressure on the Union government as well as the BJP-run state government in Manipur.
After Garcetti’s comments, Tewari wrote in a tweet, “To the best of my recollection going back at least 4 decades in Public life, I have never heard a US Ambassador making a statement of this nature about the internal affairs of India.”
He said he doubted if Garcetti was “cognisant of the convoluted & torturous history of US-India relations” and India’s “sensitivity about interference perceived or real, well-intentioned or mal-intentioned, into our internal affairs.”
Following the developments at the European Parliament, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has already visited Manipur, took potshots at Modi. “Manipur burns. EU Parliament discusses India’s internal matter. PM hasn’t said a word on either!” he tweeted.
This prompted the BJP to allege that Gandhi had a role to play behind the developments at the European Parliament. “It can’t be a mere coincidence that EU Parliament proposed to debate the conflict in Manipur, which it has no business venturing into, soon after Rahul Gandhi visits the state,” BJP spokesperson and the party’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya tweeted.
He added that it was “quite obvious that Rahul Gandhi” was collaborating with “global syndicates that are working to undermine India’s strategic and geopolitical interests.”
Modi’s India’s discomfort with, or rather dislike for, criticism from abroad, has been an extension of its dislike for criticism at home. There have been widespread allegations of his government muffling critics—from politicians to journalists, human rights activists, and environmentalists—by use of state agencies. This perception of “global syndicates” working to undermine India’s interests has also been a hallmark of the BJP’s response to any sort of criticism from abroad. They have frantically opposed every global index that downgraded India.
Earlier this year, speaking in the context of India getting further downgraded in the press freedom index, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar rubbished all global indices, saying that he thought India had “the most uncontrollable press.”
“I see democracy index, freedom index, religious freedom index, press freedom index… these are always like mind games… elevating somebody you like, doing down somebody you don’t like,” he said, adding that he felt India needed to counter these, even on the question of violation of human rights.
“Sometimes we get lectures from individuals, countries or organizations. It’s not enough to say I don’t like it or that it’s none of your business… I have to say, okay, I have listened to what you’ve said, now listen to what I have to say. Today’s India will not be at the receiving end of other people’s judgment,” he clarified.
This stand was a continuation of what a working paper published by the prime minister’s economic advisory council recommended last year. It said that such ratings could not be ignored because indices like the Freedom in the World Index, Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Democracy Index and V-DEM indices influence the World Bank’s World Governance Indicators (WGI), which in turn impact the sovereign ratings or a country’s creditworthiness.
The paper concluded that “the methodologies used by these perception-based indices is not tenable,” advised the government to write to the World Bank asking for greater transparency and encouraged “Independent Indian think-tanks” to “do similar perception-based indices for the world in order to break the monopoly of a handful of western institutions.”
This aversion to global commentary on the state of affairs in India, however, does not reflect when these favor the Modi regime. For example, BJP leaders as well as state-owned media like All India Radio highlighted how Modi remained “the world’s most popular leader with an approval rating of 75 percent” in a list released by a U.S.-based consulting firm.
Ever since Modi came to power, the BJP has used its overseas support base (non-resident Indians), and his reception in other countries, to highlight his popularity abroad and how Modi was taking India to new heights as a Vishwaguru, a guru to the world.
The developments at the European Parliament happened just when the BJP and the government machinery were ready to highlight the French admiration for Modi. A perfect spoiler. No wonder Modi’s government and party were angry.