Leaders expected to spell out commitments to protect democracy; Russia, China not invited

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to take part in U.S. President Joseph Biden’s “Summit for Democracy”, officials said, confirming that the government has received an invitation for him to take part in the conference in virtual format on December 9-10.

Mr. Modi’s participation, along with leaders of more than 100 countries invited, is expected to include “individual and collective commitments to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad”, according to the White House announcement on the summit, in a manner akin to the climate change “goals” leaders at the Glasgow summit spelt out.

Mr. Biden, who had promised the Summit during his election campaign, also wants the grouping to send a message to the U.S.’s chief rivals China and Russia, who are not invitees, although both Communist countries refer to themselves as democracies.

The summit will follow close on the heels of PM Modi’s annual summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the 2+2 meeting of Indian and Russian Foreign and Defence Ministers on December 6, when the two countries are expected to announce a number of bilateral agreements and defence deals.

Russia has been sharply critical of the Democracy Summit, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called an attempt to divide the world to garner “maximum loyalty” from invitees, while excluding other countries like Russia and China.

According to lists of invitee countries reported in U.S. media, leaders of 108 countries have been invited, including four in the South and Central Asian (SCA) region: India, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan. It is unclear whether other democracies in the region like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan are also being invited, but the omission of those countries is just one of a number of aspects of the conference that is raising eyebrows in New Delhi.

Afghanistan and Myanmar, two countries in the region where democratic governments were overthrown forcibly this year are likely to be on the agenda instead, as a key point of discussion. The White House has outlined three key themes: Defending against authoritarianism, Addressing and fighting corruption and Advancing respect for human rights.

Another point of concern would be the extent of commentary about the quality of democracy amongst the conference invitees. India has traditionally regarded issues of democracy and human rights an “internal matter” for the country, and in the past few years, the Ministry of External Affairs has rejected attempts by the U.S., European Union and UK legislature to pass resolutions on issues like restrictions in Jammu Kashmir, and protests over the farm bills and the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Conversely, the Modi government has also spoken quite strongly about promoting democracy and full representation in Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, while expressing concerns about the rights of minorities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and it remains to be seen whether Mr. Modi will raise any of these issues during the summit.

The summit follows months after an attempt by the U.S. and UK to expand the G-7 meeting into a “D-10” or group of ten democracies that would represent 60% of the global population, including Australia, India and South Korea along with the G-7 group.