If America is the world’s oldest democracy India is its biggest. Both democracies are in crisis but India’s faces an uphill challenge. The Biden administration can assist India in resetting its own democracy. This article by Alyssa Ayres is published by Foreign Affairs. Here is an excerpt:
As a guest at the G-7 summit in the United Kingdom in June, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a special session on “open societies,” where he highlighted his country’s “civilizational commitment to democracy, freedom of thought, and liberty.” Modi’s remarks were laudable, as was India’s support for a G-7 joint statement reaffirming a “shared belief in open societies, democratic values and multilateralism.” Yet only months before, the democracy watchdog Freedom House had downgraded India from “free” to “partly free,” citing a “multiyear pattern” of “rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting the Muslim population and . . . a crackdown on expressions of dissent” under the Modi government.
The health of India’s democracy is a matter of much greater concern for U.S. President Joe Biden than it was for his predecessor. As Biden has sought to restore U.S. leadership on the global stage, he has emphasized liberal values in a world riven between democratic and authoritarian systems. The authoritarian challenge posed by Russia and China is growing, and so, too, is India’s importance as a potential democratic counterweight in the Indo-Pacific.
But shoring up U.S. support for India’s democracy will be easier said than done. The Biden administration will need to put values back into the U.S.-Indian relationship without severing the strategic ties that have flourished over the past two decades. India has historically rejected foreign criticism of its domestic affairs, so Washington will not be able to use familiar diplomatic templates, such as a formal bilateral human rights dialogue, to reinforce democratic values, as it does with many other nations. Instead, it should pursue a reciprocal discussion with India, acknowledging that the United States has work of its own to do and underscoring the need for both nations to live up to their democratic values. It should also emphasize that further deterioration of India’s democracy could dampen domestic support in the United States for deeper bilateral relations. The Indian government may reject this approach as well, but Washington has a better chance of succeeding this way than by lecturing from on high.
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