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[00:00:02]

This is the InFocus podcast from The Hindu. Hello and welcome to the Hindus InFocus podcast. I'm honored, Krishnan, your host for today, after Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest. The first world leader to voice his views on the farmers protests in Delhi, India, slammed his remarks as ill informed and unwarranted reports then said the people of Canada's interference. External Affairs Minister Jaishankar would skip a Canada led virtual meeting on covid-19.

[00:00:48]

Meanwhile, on the day India protested Canada's interference in internal affairs, Defense Minister Singh not said countries who can either make their own roads or walk on it or trade themselves become like India's neighbours. The thinly veiled description of the state of internal affairs across the border in Pakistan. Is this trend of interventionism and commenting on internal affairs of others on the rise and is a principle of non-intervention in international affairs a relic of the past that needs revisiting when every country that complains of interference is perhaps doing the same thing and is doing so justified in the pursuit of national interests?

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Helping us make sense of these questions today are Srinath Roggeveen, a professor at Harvard University and a senior fellow at Carnegie India and author of the excellent book The Most Dangerous Place A History of the United States and South Asia. And Suhasini Haidar, the national editor and diplomatic affairs editor of The Hindu.

[00:01:49]

Thank you both so much for joining us today. Thank you, Anand. Thanks. Good to be here. So I'll see if I can get you to weigh in on this very strange India kind of spat. I think if you expected the kind of diplomatic problems India would have in 2020, I think Canada would be lowest on the list. So what explains this reaction from India and do you think it's expected and justified? You know, there are so many parts to this that need to be unpackaged, particularly when it comes to ties between India and Canada, which have been driven for years, India boycotted Canada because of the perception that Canada was was promoting turning a blind eye to activities of Pakistani groups there, especially after the bombing of the Air India plane.

[00:02:40]

And we over the Kanishka, we saw a real strain in the ties between the two countries. So that's kind of the background. What Mr. Trudeau says is on its own sounds quite ridiculous because to to support peaceful protests around the world means Canada would have to be monitoring one hundred and ninety two countries, a comment on peaceful protests and analyze and evaluate what kind of protest they're seeing around the world. Clearly, Canada made a point of talking about the protests from particularly specifically Punjabi farmers that have a large number of people amongst the diaspora.

[00:03:25]

And Trudeau was quite specific when he said that, you know, we need Defarge to seek members of his cabinet who had been particularly worried. They'd also made statements as so if you were to look at the reasons for this broadly more than just what's going on between India, Canada and the strain of enties that we've seen over several years. I think the first is the globalization of everything. The fact that a protest on the outskirts of Delhi will attract international headlines is really part of the globalization of media.

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Everybody's watching everything. The second is this new idea for politicians worldwide. And we see it not just in Canada, we see it around the world where a sort of hyper nationalism comes attached with a pandering to domestic constituencies over foreign policy concerns. So in India, for example, you see the government speaking about specific concerns to domestic constituencies over any foreign policy, know any sort of downside from foreign policy to the citizenship amendment to the treatment of Bangladeshi. When we heard the home minister refer to Bangladeshi refugees or immigrants in India as termite's, it was putting domestic constituencies over foreign policy agendas.

[00:04:50]

And the third, I think what we're seeing is the double edged sword version of the diaspora, that if there is a diaspora in that India relates to around the world, that diaspora can also become a bit of an albatross when it takes an extra concern in affairs inside India. So I think that there is one component to it, which is a regular sort of India account of the strain over the issue of Punjab and Khalistan. And I think there is a larger geopolitical aspect to it as well.

[00:05:26]

And we see it in India more closely perhaps, but we see it around the world. Now, that's quite fascinating. So I think there's a lot to unpack in what you just said. But what really stood out for me was the point that you made, which I think really hits the nail on the head, that around the world you're seeing a prioritization of domestic politics and addressing domestic constituencies, which frankly, that was what Trudeau was doing. It was not an ethical or moral objective.

[00:05:52]

I would argue. You're seeing that elsewhere in the China Australia recently where you had Australia comment about Hong Kong and then China bring up Australian alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. So that seems to be the trend up going back in history a little bit. Where did this come about, this idea that not commenting about the internal affairs of others was something sacrosanct? It was something obviously embraced by India and China in the 50s as well, which is perhaps understandable right in the wake of the colonial experiences.

[00:06:22]

But can you walk us through how this became such an important tenet and something that we hear repeated so often, whether from Delhi or from Beijing? That's a good question. And I think perhaps the best starting point to terms of trying to understand where contemporary sort of attitudes towards this is shaped. It's best to go to the founding of the United Nations because the UN charter has this kind of dichotomy built into it. On the one hand, the UN charter privileges the sovereignty of its member states, which it explicitly states is also about not interfering in internal affairs of other countries.

[00:06:57]

But at the same time, the UN Charter also talks about universal human rights, and the charter was soon followed by Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So what this meant is that from the beginning there has been a bit of tension on the principles on which international affairs are going to be organised, whether sovereign. Non-interference should take precedence over human rights and so on has always been a question, so to speak, and frankly, there is no theoretical resolution to this question.

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The only way in which human rights and other issues have come to the fore, and that, too, has been development, I would say only since the 1970s, is when there are massive violations of human rights. So this idea that countries will not comment on activities in someone else's territory is is not really something that you can say has been a long lasting principle. You would do it out of diplomatic prudence. You would do it out of other kinds of considerations.

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For instance, you know, as you mentioned, for many of the newly decolonizing countries after the Second World War, what came to be called the Third World, the principle of non-interference was very important because of their colonial legacy of continuous intervention by external actors in internal affairs. And that's really the background also to countries like India and China back in the early 1950s when they are sort of coming together and signing the first agreement on Tibet, actually have this preamble, which is called the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence for the Punch of China, which basically talks about non-interference as one of the very important things.

[00:08:32]

Non-interference is also very important in the context of the countries which came together and abundant conference. But that was, as you rightly saying, because of the colonial overhang and so on. Contemporary discussions are more about how much should human rights be privileged in the context of international politics. And that I think it's fair to say that this discourse is much more recent. The discourse begins in the 1970s with organizations like Amnesty, which are struggling for rights of prisoners and so on, and only since the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, as human rights really come to take a significantly important place in international politics.

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And that is totally related to the broader phenomenon of globalization. Starting around the same period, which Suhasini pointed out is very much so. Human rights and globalization together mean that there are new kinds of challenges for discourse around state sovereignty, which has led to all of the kinds of things. But I still feel a lot of that discussion tends to be centered on gross abuses. It's not usually about ordinary Day-To-Day happenings or protests and the way the protests are being dealt with unless and until the scale of the crackdown is seen to be very massive.

[00:09:39]

So in the context of what Prime Minister Trudeau was saying, it's as it is, as you're saying, driven much more by domestic political considerations, which will always be there. There's no getting away from it.

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Before we come to the more recent changes in discourse on human rights, on intervention, on the basis of human rights, violations of responsibility to protect and the like.

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The irony, of course, is that even if India and China have this sort of very legitimate post-colonial reaction, in many ways the two new states embraced some other colonial ideas in the way they treated their immediate neighbourhood in the case of India and of course, in the case of China as well, if you look at Tibet as an example, to look at India's own history from nineteen forty seven, is it consistent in terms of this idea that we now say there is a big BELOVA foreign policy or has it been pick and choose as we see fit?

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No, again, I think it's very much been a case of assuming that there are certain situations where not just interference but very active. Taking stances on internal issues does matter. And I'll give you an example, which I think a lot of people who are supporters of human rights will actually sort of immediately recognize, which is the whole question of apartheid. I mean, when South Africa went down the truth, India was one of the first countries to in the world particularly, take a very strong stance.

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And that was the position which persisted right through through the 1980s. I mean, I recall when Rajiv Gandhi went to London to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, he gave a very, very tough statement slamming the British government for diluting the anti-apartheid front. So obviously now this was done by an Indian prime minister in Britain. So you don't know these are issues on which we have also taken substantive. So, as I said, there is always going to be certain issues where you think that the overriding priority of norms and values is very high.

[00:11:31]

There will be other issues in which there will be expediency combined with a consideration for norms. There will be 30 issues on which you will say that the policy is the normal currency of international politics. All countries do it and that's what we've just got to put up with it and keep moving on. Would you agree with that?

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I see that this organized hypocrisy is in a sense, I mean expected when it's all about pursuing your own national interests and how you look at India's history when it comes to intervening. Obviously, 1971 stands out as one of probably one moment in history where everybody agrees it was perhaps justified. So how would you look at you see some consistency at least where India has felt it? To intervene when the threshold was very high, but then how would you contrast that with more recent, for instance, comments you see on a routine basis, especially aimed at our neighborhood?

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I think there has to be some kind of a distinction made between comments and actual policy, because policy is meant to be carefully considered and is meant to look at the the pros and cons of what a certain step in terms of intervention in terms of interference would actually mean. Unfortunately, talk has become very cheap. So when a Canadian prime minister says something about India's internal affairs or when the Ministry of External Affairs here puts out a statement about incidents, say, inside Pakistan or other other areas, you actually find that they aren't taken extremely seriously.

[00:13:09]

What is taken seriously is what goes into policy. For example, with the Citizenship Amendment Act, the government may or may not have completely thought it through, but when it said that essentially they were commenting on the status of minorities in three different countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, they may have been prepared for a backlash from Pakistan and quite ready to take that. But they weren't prepared for the kind of reaction it would have in Bangladesh and in Afghanistan for the first time, regardless of who was behind those protests.

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We actually saw protests in Afghanistan against India. We actually saw massive protests in Bangladesh against India on the issue of the Citizenship Amendment Act. Some would say that what we seeing then is interference going both ways. But the truth is, I think that distinction has got lost somewhere, that when somebody makes a statement, of course, it is interference. Of course, it's irritating. Of course, it's something that that there must be a perfunctory sort of response to.

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But at the end of the day, the statements are not the issue. The issue is when there's actual intervention, when there's actual interference in India's affairs or in other countries affairs, those have to be seen from a much more serious prism because those are the ones that make a difference. When the US, for example, puts Saudi Arabia on its list of countries of particular concern when it comes to religious freedom. And they've done it for years and years, it's it's not seen as as as as a real assertion of policy.

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What is seen as assertions of policy is when on the basis of that Religious Freedom Act, you take actions against various countries, whether it has been Iran, whether it has been Pakistan, Burma and the rest, or whether it was in India where the US used its International Religious Freedom Act to deny them Gujarat chief minister and now Prime Minister Modi a visa to India and that constituted interference. It was something the Indian government protested and eventually only after Prime Minister Modi became the prime minister, that the visa ban was lifted.

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So I think we have to make that distinction because you are absolutely right. You know, there is a sort of post-colonial backlash as a part of it. There is an assertion of sovereignty that is part of stopping other countries from interfering in your own country. But it is commentary the same as interference. You know, interestingly, last week, this was a question that I had put to External Affairs Minister Jason Clare. When I asked him why is it OK for India to comment on the on the internal matters, if you like, of another country.

[00:16:08]

But India reacted pretty strongly to those that are made about India. And his point was that, look, if criticism is ill informed, then it is my duty to go out there and and ensure that the criticism is addressed with information. That's how you responded to a question about the kind of criticism we've seen. And it's not just from Canada on, say, the farmers protest, but in the last year, we have seen the US Congress, the European Parliament, the UK Parliament and several others comment on everything from the Article 370 moves and the strictures on people in Jammu and Kashmir to the Citizenship Amendment Act, even to other issues over the past year, like the the treatment of the public.

[00:16:57]

Edgemont When it came to the coronavirus crisis, we've seen statements made by the United Nations. We even have the Human Rights Commissioner wanting to be included in a case in India over the citizenship amendment. So you're seeing various. Various kinds of assertion, if you like, of what we see or India sees as interference, but it is necessary to to differentiate between those that are essentially comments that perhaps one can build a thicker skin for and those that actually change policy towards India, for example, writing it into a US Congress legislation as an attempt was made last year that would then lead to other kind of strictures against India.

[00:17:45]

Those are the ones that one must take much more seriously. It certainly is India's skin getting to know. And is that a trend that you see with this current government, or is it always been the case that India has had a thin skin? You did mention, I think, a very important point, the difference between making statements and policy. But in responses to statements that we feel peeved about, it does begin to impinge policy, doesn't it?

[00:18:08]

Whether, for example, in Canada, if we are deciding not to attend meetings on covid or more recently, I think with Malaysia, you have this whole incident with palm oil exports allegedly being stopped after India was upset about Montero's criticism of India's policies in Kashmir. So obviously there's a link between the two. And you think that India is getting thinner? And is it natural, perhaps, that we see that with China all the time as well, that when countries feel their position in the world is becoming more prominent, that they have a right to have it in game?

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And that is an important point. Are we getting more thin skinned is one question. The other is, are we actually reacting in the same way to criticisms, similar criticisms from different people? So as you pointed out with Malaysia, there was there was a sort of stoppage on the import of palm oil as a kind of quote unquote, punishment with we saw the same with Turkey when its president raised the issues of Jammu and Kashmir at the United Nations with Pakistan.

[00:19:14]

It's a constant sort of push back from India when it comes to any comments about internal affairs. On the other hand, we saw those issues being raised by other countries, for example, the United States or United Kingdom, even. I think some statements of concern were made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she came to India right when she was in Delhi. And we did see a similar kind of response from India. Mr Trump was invited to to to India for that big rally in Gujarat.

[00:19:54]

Mr Johnson has been invited as the chief guest for India's Republic Day.

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So the question is as much you know about what are the state of bilateral ties with those countries in any case. So I think we have a thin skin when relations aren't as as much on a solid footing. And we choose to ignore, for example, when when relations are actually much better. You know, in the last year, look at some of the comments Mr. Trump has made. He suggested that Mr. Modi had called him over the China standoff at the line of actual control.

[00:20:31]

He had offered mediation a no no normally in Indian terms. Last year, he sat down next to the Pakistani prime minister, Imran Khan, and again suggested mediation in Jammu and Kashmir, even suggested that somebody had asked him for it, you know, and that was something that then became a big issue in the Indian parliament and the government had to deny. What I'm trying to say is that despite comments being made by certain countries, India has not reacted very strongly.

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And in in the case of certain countries, we have. So I think it's as much a commentary on the state of bilateral ties as it is on on how sensitive we are looking at India's approach to its immediate neighbourhood. Is there a case to be made that in a strange sense, even with all these changes, that India is perhaps becoming less interventionist in terms of, say, for example, wanting favourable governments in its immediate neighbourhood? You see a change in how India is approaching that aspect of how deals in its vicinity.

[00:21:35]

Historically, India has always been quite interventionist in the neighbourhood. Right. And this is not just at the level of making comments as well as anything that is more to the level of policy, but the kinds of policy directions that we want of these countries to take. And at times even with governments and of course, we know that we have even intervene militarily in the people. Society is very interventionist when it comes to its neighbourhood. And it's a typical sort of attitude of a country which is much larger compared to all other smaller countries in the region that we tolerate from.

[00:22:08]

Have things changed? I think, yes, you can argue that things have changed to a certain extent, but that is. Because these countries have now found, particularly with China's increasing footprint in the region, other kinds of counterweight against India as sort of attempts to be overbearing as far as their internal affairs are concerned. And that's something that I think we have taken cognizance of. And of course, in each case, there is also a question of saying, how much do we really want to push this if we wait for outcomes to happen?

[00:22:38]

So there is a security changes. There are times when regimes will be much more favorable to India, whereas other times they may want to maintain a bit of distance and so on. So I think some of that has definitely kind of happened. But that has happened not because of any internal changes within how India approaches the region as much as broader changes in the region, particularly with China's increasing footprint.

[00:23:00]

And so the question that both of you to finally weigh in on, it seems that ultimately interference or intervention, whatever you want to call it, is driven by cold, hard logic of interest, less by values. Is there a case to be made for you both for India to have more value based element in the way it speaks to issues around the world? I think one glaring issue that I often think of recently is as much as India speaks about, for instance, the state of minorities in Pakistan, it has never commented about something as significant as a million people being interned in Xinjiang, in China.

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So is it the case that we have to live with the sense of organized hypocrisy, as somebody called it? And do you think there's a case to be made actually for more value based approach, at least to how India speaks out on some issues and not on others?

[00:23:52]

I think it is better to sort of maintain a much more realistic stance on these kinds of things for two reasons. First, there are different things that you want out of relationships with different countries. And then to that extent, I think the question of what is it that the state of relationship is and where do you want it to go becomes quite important. I mean, for instance, you take the example of, say, the Russian military intervention in Crimea.

[00:24:15]

And the dominant response was that doesn't take a very tough position for good reasons, because we have a certain kind of relationship with Russia, which we want to keep in place, and that becomes much more important. The second thing, if I may say, frankly, is that in the middle of the question, people who are living in glass houses want not wanting to throw stones at other kinds of hostages of fortune. As far as our own internal affairs are concerned.

[00:24:40]

If anything, under this current government, we've seen that the direction in which domestic policy is taken has given us too many more criticism, not by way of any kind of universal standards, but the standards of our own constitutional right. So I think it's only prudent that our diplomats stick to what is hardnosed sort of realpolitik interests of the country and trying to balance it rather than getting rid of other countries.

[00:25:03]

Isn't that a fair point? So, I mean, people in glass houses can't throw stones at what you say, at least to condemn the recent actions. Kazmir stands out that, frankly, there doesn't really have a great weekend to stand on as someone who wants to speak out for democratic values as much as India would like to think it can.

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Honestly, I would agree with you, not that there's a need for realism, but I disagree in the sense of of it being a kind of equivalence that the only way that you can speak out on issues is if your slate is completely clean, because the truth is that it is about power projection at the end of the day. India has not spoken out on Zhejiang and the treatment of figures there. But India made very, very strong comments about the lack of democracy.

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For example, a few years ago in the Maldives, India regularly make statements about the treatment of people in the Tamil majority areas of Sri Lanka. The foreign minister, when he visited there, made the statement right after a meeting with the Sri Lankan leadership as foreign secretary. In fact, Mr. Jackson had traveled to Katmandu to ensure that or to plead with the government not to push through its constitution, which India felt was unfair to the population. These are all examples where India has very vocally protested with its neighbors, apart from the citizenship amendment and other such other such examples, without necessarily being a reflection of how those state of rights are inside India.

[00:26:51]

I think eventually it is about power projection. If you feel you can, you will comment. And if the other side pushes back, then it's a question of whether you can put up with that or you will soften your stance. If in the in the sort of manner we have seen and in some of these cases that I just mentioned, I don't think. But eventually, even the United States or the United Kingdom or any of these countries that are speaking out about the affairs of other countries or the European Union really have as much of a leg to stand on internally as well.

[00:27:27]

The point is that most countries don't point to the, if you like, the dichotomy of the US speaking about minority rights outside, even as I can't breathe and black lives matters, protesters were being very, very brutally put down inside American cities. So I think that it's eventually a question of if you have the power to speak, you well, you probably will. And then it's a question of whether the other side pushes back.

[00:27:56]

Fascinating discussion. Suhasini and Sheenan, thank you for disentangling, I think, a really interesting or many layered issue. I think that's getting even more prominent in international affairs and in the stories that we report.

[00:28:09]

Thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you. Thank you. InFocus will be back soon with analysis of the biggest news issues in the meantime, you can find our podcast on Spotify, Apple podcast, Twitter and other platforms, Just Search for InFocus by The Hindu. We'll see you soon.