The Indian prime minister virtually addressed the “Summit for Democracy” to discuss ways to defend democracy against the rise of authoritarianism in the world.
This was the second time the summit was held after being established in 2021 and was co-hosted by Joe Biden and the leaders of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia.
Mr Modi, whose party is the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said there was a lot to say about the virtues of democracy in India.
India’s nuclear-powered neighbour and historic rival Pakistan was also invited to attend the summit, but declined to participate in what is perceived to be a message that it was standing by longtime ally China, which was not invited.
“But let me just say this: India, despite the many global challenges, is [the] fastest growing major economy. This itself is the best advertisement for the democracy in the world,” he said. “This itself says democracy can deliver.”
Mr Modi also claimed democracy was a common feature in ancient India long before the rest of the world, citing historical references from Hindu religious scriptures.
“Democracy is not just a structure, it is also a spirit. It is based on the belief that the needs and aspirations of every human being are equally important,” he said.
Mr Modi praised India’s growing economy as the country’s Gross Domestic Product registered a growth of seven per cent in the current fiscal, while it was 8.7 per cent in 2021-22.
The prime minister’s speech came as questions are being raised on growing authoritarian tendencies and political turmoil in the country. Just a day earlier, India’s parliament had descended into chaos.
Opposition party members were protesting after Rahul Gandhi – the Gandhi family scion whose family members have served as the country’s freedom fighters and prime ministers – was expelled from the lower house of the legislature last week.
Hundreds of supporters of the Congress party and other opposition members protested in New Delhi because Mr Gandhi was disqualified from parliament after a local court convicted him in a defamation case for mocking Mr Modi’s surname in 2019.
Critics have accused the Modi dispensation of using law enforcement to crackdown on dissenting voices.
On Monday, an Indian minister refused to recognise the rankings of the World Press Freedom Index that ranked India’s press freedom at 150 out of 180 countries.
It said India had suffered a 23-percentage point drop on the 0-to-1 Liberal Democracy Index scale and had registered “one of the most dramatic shifts” across countries in the past 10 years.
That report had come within a week after Freedom House had stripped the country of its “the world’s largest democracy” status.
Meanwhile, Islamabad skipped the summit for the second time in row. It had skipped the summit last time as well, in December 2021.
“Pakistan would engage bilaterally with the United States and co-hosts of the Summit to promote and strengthen democratic principles and values and work towards advancing human rights and the fight against corruption,” the statement said.
China criticised the US for holding the summit. Foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said the US held the summit despite its own shortcomings in upholding democracy.
She said it “violates the spirit of democracy and further reveals the US pursuit of primacy behind the facade of democracy”.
“What the world needs today is not to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs under the guise of democracy but to advocate genuine democracy, reject pseudo-democracy and jointly promote greater democracy in international relations.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies