Human Rights Issues

Why India will be scrutinised at Summit for Democracy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- India's participation in summit for democracy


On December 9 and 10, US President Joe Biden will host a virtual “summit for democracy”, which will bring together leaders of 100 countries, civil society and private sector representatives.

Challenges to India’s democratic image

  • India categorised as partly free: The US-based Freedom House’s “Freedoms of the World” index categorises India as only “partly free”; the Swedish V-Dem calls India an “electoral autocracy”.
  • Others lump India with Hungary, Turkey and the Philippines, where authoritarian leaders rule the roost.
  • Factors affecting India’s image: Rights violations in Kashmir, suspension of internet services in Kashmir, the conflation of political dissent with the colonial-era crime of sedition, the use of anti-terrorism laws to silence critics, the failure of the state to ensure freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, the anti-Muslim amendments to citizenship laws have all but shredded India’s democratic image.

Agenda of the summit

  • The agenda of the summit holds contemporary resonance in India.
  • Three broad themes: According to the State Department, the summit will convene around three broad themes — defending democracy against authoritarianism, addressing and fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights.
  • Leaders will be “encouraged” to announce “specific actions and commitments” to meaningful domestic reforms and international initiatives that advance the summit’s goals.

Why India’s contribution to the agenda will be scrutinized closely

  • Cultural relativisms: One theme that emerges from these observations is that of cultural relativism — the “Indianness of India’s democracy”— “as India becomes ever more democratic, democracy will become ever more Indian in its sensibilities and texture”.
  • Role of civil society: A second theme is the role of civil society.
  • It has been accused of “defaming” or bringing harm to India, as espoused most recently in statements by the National Security Adviser, who also called them “the new frontier of a fourth-generation war”.
  • Ensuring democratic rights: Another noticeable theme is around the responsibility for ensuring democratic rights.

Challenges for India

  • India has to reconcile the paradox inherent in submitting to international gaze at a global assembly where it is apparently required to make commitments adhering to “western” standards of democracy while claiming there is an Indian model.
  • In March this year, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar dismissed global standards and international metrics of democracy as rubbish.
  • For perspective, this is what China says too.
  • When President Biden brought up Beijing’s human rights record, President Xi Jinping told him there was no “uniform model” of democracy, and that dismissing other “forms of democracy different from one’s own is itself undemocratic.
  • The summit may intensify these differences, particularly because the host has no shining credentials either.
  •  If democracy-building was never the US goal in Afghanistan, as Biden declared, why make the unfreezing of Afghan assets overseas conditional to the Taliban turning democratic and inclusive overnight?


India’s expected participation in the summit will come against a rather bleak backdrop of relativism, misinformation, confusion, obfuscation and polarisation on issues of democracy, civil society and rights.

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