New Delhi: In a surprise knock to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that too on the eve of his visit to Paris as guest of honour at France’s Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, the European Parliament will deliberate on a resolution on the ethnic violence in Manipur on July 12, during its ongoing plenary session in Strasbourg.
The Manipur matter has been scheduled for discussion for the latter half of the day, under the “Debates on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the Rule of Law”.
It’s a running theme that seems to hound Modi, of late, during his visits abroad – breaches of human rights and democracy – and this time too, the European Parliament will hold an “urgent debate” on the Manipur situation, where the discussion on the motion will be held today, with a vote on a resolution the next day, on July 13.
Indian foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra was asked about the development, to which he said that it is a matter “totally internal to India”. He said, “We are aware of what in Brussels and in the parliament is happening. And we have made a reach out to the concerned EU parliamentarians, but we have made it very clear, this is a matter totally and absolutely internal to India.”
In a scathing indictment of the Modi government’s handling of the two-month-long violence that has battered and burned the small hill state, a motion for a resolution was tabled in the EU Parliament by six parliamentary groups, which have all come down on the Indian government like a ton of bricks – accusing it of human rights abuses, stifling fundamental freedoms, cracking down on dissent, civil society, and media.
The motion also denounced Bharatiya Janata Party leaders for their nationalist rhetoric and, significantly, deplores the backsliding of democracy under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi.
The groups of parliamentarians range from the Left, European Socialists and Greens to regionalist parties, Conservatives and centre-right political and Christian groups.
The ECR is a centre-right conservative and reformist group; there’s the pro-Europe Renew group, the Greens-Euro free alliance group called Verts/ALE; socialist, Left and democratic groups from S&D to GUE/NGL, and the EPP, or the European People’s Party of chiefly Christian Democrats.
The pro-right ECR group has raised an alarm over reports that question the role played by state security forces in Manipur, emphasising the absence of security personnel in places directly targeted by mobs, and that despite the Army presence and the visit of Union home minister Amit Shah, clashes continue on a daily basis. They also underlined what they said were discriminatory laws and practices against religious minorities, and tribals.
The motion moved by the PPE group of Christian Democrats looks into the clash between mostly Hindu Meiteis and Christian Kukis, and underlined the effective religious attack where 250 churches, Christian schools, hospitals, and some temples have been destroyed.
The pro-Europe Renew group also termed the clashes as religious, and raised concerns about politically motivated divisive policies that promote Hindu majoritarianism and the increase in militant groups; they also called on the Modi government to use minimum force by security forces in accordance of UN laws, and to allow unhindered aid both from Delhi as well as from EU member states.
In its motion laid down for discussion, the S&D group strongly condemned the nationalist rhetoric deployed by leading members of the BJP; they asked for an independent monitor to carry out investigations and that the Modi government should repeal the dreaded Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA. Similarly, the Green-Euro alliance group has also asked Indian authorities to set up a Truth and Reconciliation committee to support local calls for inclusive, inter-communal dialogue; lift the internet blackout and allow access to international observers and journalists. They also reiterated their concern about the stifling of fundamental freedoms, notably under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA. The group was particularly alarmed at the backsliding of democracy under the leadership of Modi.
This was also echoed by the Left group comprising the GUE/NGL which accused the government of supporting the majority community, charged authorities of stoking ethnic divisions, and for trying to present the conflict as a religious clash.
The underlying theme among all the groups was that the EU and member states must place human rights and democratic values at the heart of their engagement with India, jointly develop a strategy to address human rights abuses, and that democratic rights and freedoms must be included in every aspect of EU-India partnership including trade and commerce.
Modi government hires leading lobbying firm
Meanwhile, the Modi government has not taken all this lying down but has already leapt into action by hiring one of Europe’s leading lobbying firms, Alber & Geiger, to quell any diplomatic embarrassment that is sure to arise with the European Parliament debating and perhaps passing a resolution against it.
The Brussels-based political lobbying agency, that liaises with EU institutions, legislators and officials, has issued a statement to the European Parliament, as first published in Imphal Times, and it reads, “We are writing to draw your attention and share our views regarding the Urgency Resolution on “India, the Situation in Manipur…” pleading further, “The instability in Manipur, unfortunately, has been ongoing for a long time. Currently, the government of India is working incessantly in order to mitigate the conflict and restore peace…and has also constituted a Peace Committee in Manipur to facilitate communication between the parties.”
Alber & Geiger say that since there is already an Indian peace committee in place, “Therefore, the internal situation in Manipur should be discussed between the Parliament and India before such a harsh Urgency Resolution is discussed… “
The law firm went on to underline, “As the EU and India are negotiating an FTA, and India would be a future strategic partner for the EU, India should not be prevented from explaining its position in such a situation.”
Alber & Geiger, according to its website, “has a history of successfully representing clients’ interests on the highest political and legislative level in the EU… We assist our clients in developing their political tactics and corporate strategies.”
This is, incidentally, not the first time the Indian government has relied on the lobbying firm, rather than its own diplomatic corps to liaise with member states.
Earlier, Alber & Geiger was hired to smoothen the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Brussels “amid concerns coming from members of the European Parliament in relation to trade, human rights and privacy.”
As the company website says, such questions raised (on human rights) would have come in the form of parliamentary motions for resolutions, and this would have risked a demand for conditionality clauses in the EU-India bilateral relations. But as the lobby firm triumphantly notes, it worked out a strategic campaign to convince European parliamentarians otherwise “by focusing on India’s growing economic, technological and geopolitical role…and (thus) switch the focus towards bilateral opportunities and fostering trade relations via a free trade agreement.”
Hence, the group assisted the Indian government to “navigate the political landscape in the European Parliament,” and because of its advocacy and role, “European parliamentarians now support the EU-India free trade deal.”
As for the coming Manipur resolution later today in the European Parliament, there has not been much headway in stopping the submission of motions and debate despite Alber & Geiger’s plea to not include the issue in the ongoing plenary session. The lobbying firm’s concluding statement to the European Parliament says that “since the deadline to table (India’s response) is on July 10, and the opportunity to review this decision is short, we would kindly ask not to include Urgency Resolution “India, the Situation in Manipur” in the agenda.
It remains to be seen what the outcome of the debate, and the resolution adopted by the European Parliament, will be. But already, the process has cast a shadow over the parade Modi is flying to Paris to attend.
Note: This article was updated with the Indian foreign secretary’s response to the development.