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Why govts won’t call out Modi for India’s democratic downslide

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Why did leaders of the great liberal democracies in the Western world, with the tiny exception of former German chancellor Angela Merkel, not raise even a whimper on the Narendra Modi government’s Kashmir clampdown? Or on the sectarian Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the violent crackdown that ensued in its wake? Or the year-long farmers’ agitation in 2020-21 that also saw the government use violence against peaceful protesters?

Why are leaders in the Christian-majority West silent on the dramatic spike in attacks against Christians by Hindu nationalists in India? Why have leaders in Muslim-majority countries in West Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa (with the exception of the Turkish president and former Malaysian prime minister) not called out the rising violence and hate speech against Muslims under the Modi government?

In fact, why have so many Gulf monarchies actively embraced his leadership?

Why is Joe Biden inviting India (while leaving out other democracies in South Asia, such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) to high-profile “democracy summits” where Modi, who openly rooted for the re-election of Donald Trump on American soil before the 2020 presidential election, can wax eloquent on how the “democratic spirit is integral to our civilizational ethos”?

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Why are the trans-Atlantic powers and their allies trying to include India in their own little cliques of liberal democratic powers, such as the Group of Seven or the so-called “D10”? Why are the world’s most famous crusaders of democracy pretending all is well in the “world’s largest democracy” when it’s not?

The answer is two-pronged: the rising importance of India in the global geopolitical order; and how the Modi government has recognized and instrumentalized the same to shield itself.
India’s unique position amid China’s rise

As a constitutional democracy that has weathered the many throes of the postcolonial period, India occupies a unique position in the modern international landscape. It has come to serve different normative and pragmatic purposes for different parts of the world at different junctures of history.

Countries around the world have consistently seen India as a critical asset in securing their own national, regional or global interests. India’s large domestic market has bolstered this position, especially after the economy opened up in 1991.

This is doubly true in today’s context of shifting geopolitical dynamics, marked most prominently by a rising China and the growing prominence of multipolarity. In this emerging reality, India is crucial for both the Western and the non-Western world.

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For the former, India carries a strong counterbalancing value against a China that is assertive unlike any time before in modern history. For the latter, India’s more assertive role as a developmental partner and a middle power for Global South countries provides alternative pathways for progress, integration and upliftment.

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While “India as a counter to China” is hardly a new equation in the Western mind, it has become more pressing. Modi’s rise to power and his re-election overlapped with what may be called “the Chinese decade” – Beijing spreading its wings far and wide under the leadership of Xi Jinping and offering a non-Western model of global development through the ginormous Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Basically, as Hindu nationalism in India grew in size and scope, so did Chinese muscle-flexing in Asia, Africa and South America.

From the Modi government’s perspective, this incidental synchronization of the local and the global has been a complete boon, as it has raised India’s global utility. This, in turn, meant a significant rise in the threshold for criticism of undemocratic practices at home by foreign governments who don’t want to alienate New Delhi at any cost.

In short, by pitching India as a strong-willed, high-capacity, modern-day regional power with global aspirations, the Modi government has insured itself against global condemnation of its controversial policies at home.

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What exactly has it done, though?
Asia-Pacific alliances

First, under Modi, India has taken a frontal role in defining and advancing the “Indo-Pacific” discourse, heralded by his speech at the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. This had been preceded by an overall eastward push, with his government upgrading India’s existing Look East Policy into the Act East Policy as one of its first major foreign-policy moves.

Subsequently, India crafted “the Quad” along with the US, Japan and Australia. Simultaneously, it expanded the trilateral Malabar Exercise to re-include Australia, thus in effect turning it into the Quad’s joint maritime exercise.

In the meantime, New Delhi upgraded its bilateral strategic partnerships with Australia, France (an Indian Ocean resident power) and major Southeast Asian powers such as Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.

Closer to home, it started to pay greater attention to its neighborhood under what is often referred to as the Neighborhood First Policy. One of the things this entailed was taking Bay of Bengal regionalism more seriously through renewed diplomatic focus on the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).

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In essence, under Modi, India is embedding itself deeper into a dynamic network of new and old regional and transregional alliances.

These moves are driven by India’s core desire to build greater strategic depth and geopolitical clout in a volatile period of history. But at the same time, they also reflect New Delhi’s growing confidence in mobilizing an anti-China alliance in the broader Indian Ocean Region – from the eastern shores of Africa to the western fringes of the Pacific Ocean.

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This augurs very well with both the great trans-Atlantic powers (the US, UK and European Union) as well as their “like-minded” Pacific allies (Japan, South Korea and Australia). For them, a more confident India helps keep Chinese expansionism in the Asia-Pacific within a manageable spectrum.

Beyond the Western powers, India’s renewed diplomatic posture serves well for Asian and African countries.
India-ASEAN ties

Southeast Asian powers, who now find themselves in the middle of an increasingly fierce US-China melee, see India as a reasonably effective middle power that can moderate the battlefield and lead meaningful political, economic and strategic partnerships – both bilaterally and through minilaterals like the Quad.

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Yes, there are serious concerns about India’s actual delivery capacity, but members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations want to avoid taking sides in the US-China tussle and a more forward-looking India helps them chart out substitute pathways for bilateral and regional cooperation. By doing so, it will be better equipped to preserve its own strategic autonomy or “centrality” within the Indo-Pacific discourse.
Role in the Middle East

For West Asia, India has emerged as a critical economic and strategic partner. This includes the oil-rich Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region, which continue to host a massive Indian immigrant population contributing to their labor economy.

The Modi government has actively reached out to the Gulf monarchies not just to secure India’s energy interests, but also to provide them with the alternative strategic partnerships that they have been seeking to decrease their dependence on the US security umbrella.

Separately, India’s relationship with Israel has reached unprecedented levels under Modi, abetted by common economic and defense interests and also an ideological congruence between the Hindutva and the Zionist projects. It has also managed to keep its strings with Iran intact despite the occasional hiccups.

For most of West Asia, Modi’s India is a promising new friend, so much so that five Muslim-majority countries in the region have conferred their top honors to the Hindu nationalist leader.
Role in Africa

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For Africa, where countries are looking for optimal options for material development, India is opening up new frontiers of cooperation. This it is doing in collaboration with Japan through the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), launched in 2016, which focuses on development cooperation, infrastructure and connectivity, capacity- and skill-building and people-to-people relations.

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Arguably, the AAGC is a response to China’s BRI, which has already penetrated deep into the African continent. Beyond the AAGC, India’s own outreach to Africa has only bulged over the years. As this analysis by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) notes, India is now Africa’s third-largest trade partner and seventh-largest investor, and has about US$10.5 billion in total credit commitment through its Export Import (EXIM) Bank.

Several multisectoral projects in the continent are being funded with Indian assistance, while New Delhi’s Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program is helping build capacity in these paradigms.

All of these make India a critical partner for the aspirational African economies.
Vaccine diplomacy

Beyond these, the Modi government doubled down on pitching India as a positive global force during the Covid-19 pandemic. He ensured that India’s leading position in global pharmaceutical supply chains, including vaccine manufacturing, is recognized by the world. He kept reminding countries that India is the “pharmacy of the world.”

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Under the ambitious Vaccine Maitri initiative, India has gifted nearly 13.8 million shots to low-income economies in Asia, Africa and South America. Combining deliveries of made-in-India vaccines under commercial contracts and the UN’s COVAX alliance, India has supplied a total of more than 115.4 million jabs across the world.

Modi also used the pandemic to rejig South Asian regionalism by creating a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Covid-19 emergency fund.

These moves have placed India in a coveted group of non-Western international actors that have been critical in maintaining both global vaccine supplies and vaccine equality in the face of unequal access due to hoarding by wealthy Western countries.

In all, India is more important for the world now than ever before – and Modi knows that very well. So even if things get really bad at home, he will continue to dodge criticism from foreign governments, never mind punitive action such as sanctions.

Yes, there might be some noise from one leader or two on specific issues, but the bulk of them will continue to entertain him. For all its moralistic grandstanding, the so-called “liberal international order” is fundamentally designed to privilege realpolitik interests over “soft issues” like human rights or civil liberties.

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For those concerned about the democratic downslide in India, this is bleak news.

Angshuman Choudhury is a New Delhi-based policy analyst, currently coordinating the Southeast Asia Research Program at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi. Follow him on Twitter @angshuman_ch

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Fidelity Bank renovates classroom blocks, commissions ATM gallery in Zaria

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Leading financial institution, Fidelity Bank Plc has commissioned the newly renovated Madrasatul Anwarul Islam school in Zaria, Kaduna State, as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives targeted across Nigeria.

Established over five decades ago by the emir’s father, late Maga in garin Zazzau, Alhaji Nuhu Bamalli, Madrasatul Anwarul Islam is the alma mater of the current Emir of Zazzau and has produced several notable personalities in the country.

The bank also inaugurated a state-of-the-art Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) gallery to drive financial inclusion within the community.

Speaking at the official project commissioning event on June 18 Executive Director, North Directorate, Fidelity Bank Plc, Hassan Imam, said the bank’s decision to renovate the school was borne out of its commitment to make learning conducive for both students and teachers across the country.

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According to Imam, “Our CSR footprint extends beyond education, healthcare and youth empowerment initiatives across the country as we are driven by the belief that we can only succeed as an organization when the people and community where we do business succeed.

“That is why we have taken it upon ourselves to help upgrade the facilities here at Madrasatul Anwarul Islam. Our hope is that the teachers and students in the school will put the facility to good use.

“As part of our commitment to drive financial inclusion across the country and boost commerce in Zaria in particular, we have installed an ATM gallery at the emir’s palace.

“We hope this would make financial services easier and accessible to members of the Zaria community in line with our mission as a bank and thank the emir, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli, for his support in executing this project as well”, he said.

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Applauding the bank for its gesture towards promoting education and commerce in Zaria, HRM Ambassador Alhaji Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli encouraged members of the community to put the facilities to good use and protect them against vandalism.

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The monarch urged businesses and merchants to patronize the bank as a way of appreciating their efforts in developing the community.

Fidelity Bank is a full-fledged commercial bank operating in Nigeria with over 6.7 million customers serviced across its 250 business offices and digital banking channels.

The bank was recently recognized as the Best SME Bank Nigeria 2022 by the Global Banking & Finance Awards.

The bank has also won awards for the “Fastest Growing Bank” and “MSME & Entrepreneurship Financing Bank of the Year” at the 2021 BusinessDay Banks and Other Financial Institutions (BAFI) Awards.

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Supreme Court Sets Aside Ban On Use Of Hijabs In Lagos Schools

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The Supreme Court has set aside, the restriction the Lagos state government placed on the use of hijab by female Muslim students in its public primary and secondary schools.

In a split decision of a seven-man panel of Justices, of five to two, the Apex court affirmed the earlier decision of the Lagos Division of Court of Appeal, which nullified a High Court judgement that banned female students from wearing Hijab with their school uniforms.

The court, in its lead majority verdict prepared by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun but read by Justice Tijani Abubakar, dismissed as lacking in merit, an appeal Lagos state government lodged against the Court of Appeal decision.

The Supreme Court said it found no reason to reinstate the October 17, 2014 judgement by Justice Grace Onyeabo of the High Court of Lagos State, which upheld the ban on Hijab.

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PHOTO STORY: Multi-billion naira assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris

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An online news platform, Premium Times, has obtained images of some of the multi-billion naira assets allegedly owned by the suspended Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), Ahmed Idris.

The properties which are mostly in Kano, his home state in Nigeria’s northwestern region, are said to be worth billions of naira, significantly more than his monthly salary as a public officer.

Part of the assets is the Gezawa Commodity Market in Kano State.

Also, an Ultra-Modern Mall, located in Kano State, is said by sources at the EFCC to be worth more than N700 million.

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From the pictures obtained, the mall is built with bricks and sited on a large expanse of land.

However, while the major exterior works have been perfected, work is still ongoing inside with facilities like elevators and escalators being installed.

The accountant-general had in 2021 launched Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange Limited which he had openly admitted to owning.

Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris

Mr Idris reportedly made the remarks when he met with a delegation of the Kano Concerned Citizens Initiative led by its then chairman, the late Bashir Tofa.

The enclosed market is made up of over 20 blocks of shops painted yellow and a spacious parking space.

The space is occupied by fleets of pick-up vans. Our reporter cannot independently ascertain if the new vehicles belong to the suspended official.

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EFCC investigations

Mr Idris is being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over allegations of corruption I involving over N80 billion in alleged looted public funds.

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The suspended AGF, although released after spending nights in the EFCC custody, is also facing allegations of criminal conspiracy.

Our sources said the EFCC has for some time now been investigating a case of diversion of at least N80 billion in public funds which were allegedly laundered through some bogus contracts.

The companies used in laundering the funds have allegedly been linked to family members and associates of the suspended accountant-general, investigators said.

The Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, suspended the accountant-general without pay on May 18, following his arrest and interrogation over corruption allegations.

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Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris

The minister said his suspension was to begin effectively on May 18, 2022.

“Following your recent arrest by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on allegations of diversion of funds and money laundering, I write to convey your suspension from work without pay effective 18th May 2022,” the minister’s letter read in part

Others connected to the alleged diversion have also been arrested.

A former governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, was also arrested over “N22bn SURE-P fraud” linked to the accountant-general.

Mr Yari is yet to be released from the EFCC’s custody as he is still being grilled on other corruption accusations related to Mr Idris.

Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris

PREMIUM TIMES reported last week how the former governor is also being investigated for allegedly conspiring with the suspended AGF to siphon an estimated N84billion in public funds.

Those familiar with the matter told this newspaper that the diverted funds were part of the 13 per cent derivation funds meant for payment to eight oil-producing states.

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Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris
Assets traced to suspended Accountant-General Ahmed Idris

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