It will certainly be true that with the next G20, Narendra Modi’s India will play its most important game on the front of the so-called ‘international balance’ within the framework of that widely shared instance of multilateralism, as it has already demonstrated with the decision (always revocable at the last moment) NOT to invite Zelenski to the event of the ‘big ones of the planet’ which will take place in New Delhi on 9 and 10 September 2023.

 By Daniela Bezzi

But on the front of the ‘internal balance’, in comparison with that multifaceted and never sedated mosaic of demands that are India’s social movements, the recipe remains the same as always: repression.

So our mainstream press has commented on the reasons why Zelenski was not invited to the point of boredom. But having not paid the slightest attention to the debate or rather activism with which the social movements of India have been preparing for the appointment for some time, it was unable even to register the serious repressive episode that three days ago, on the morning of August 20, forced the organizers of a conference decidedly critical of the motivations of the G20 and precisely entitled We20 People’s Summit, to conclude the work prematurely due to… police raids.

In broad daylight; while the many thematic focuses were underway as scheduled; with the delegates of over seventy organizations gathered from every corner of India (the complete list can be found here), who crowded the audience of the Surjeet Bhawan, a very popular conference hall in the Indian capital; with a list of speakers that registered important voices, from Vandana Shiva, to Medha Patkar, to the economist Jayati Ghosh, the human rights activist Harsh Mander, the distinguished professor Virginius Xaxa, the leader of the tribal Dayamani Barla… and many others, journalists, economists, social workers not very well known to us, but very significant for the India of social movements.

Let us imagine the reactions, the choral indignation, and the string of condemnations if a similar attack on the right of expression, debate, and dissent had happened in Moscow, or Beijing! Instead, it happened in Delhi, the capital of the ‘largest democracy on the planet’ which is preparing to host a G20 whose unifying theme will be “One land, one family, one future” (so informs the ad hoc communication prepared by the Indian government) “to affirm the value of life, human, animal, plant, including microorganisms (sic!) and their interconnectedness on planet Earth and in the wider universe”, amen.

“We are shocked to learn that it is necessary to ask for special ‘permission’ to practice democracy, ” reads the statement released by the We20 People’s Summit organizers. “While the official documents of the G20 advertise our country as ‘Mother of democracy’ the situation we have experienced clearly demonstrates that we are sliding towards a Police State, in which even the debate, the exchange of views in a public place can be controlled and prevented! Even the public has been prevented from entering, as early as the second day!

We are grateful for the solidarity of over 700 participants who came to Delhi for this meeting, who came from over 18 states, who gave us the strength to resist the pressure [coming] from above on the second day, which however was imposed on us on the 3rd day, without the possibility of mediation.

A fact that is equivalent to the deliberate desire to silence the voices of those who have participated in this development process, certainly in dissonance with the image that our government would like to project internationally. Therefore we find ourselves forced to interrupt the We20 People’s Summit ahead of schedule, but we will not fail to represent ourselves with all our voices and requests during the days of the G20 which will see this city become the theater of the usual elite club, for the renewal of the good well-known prescriptions of neo-liberalism which, far from solving a minimum of the problems afflicting the planet, condemn us to a permanent state of crisis.”

The result of a long process of consultations that took months, starting with the first preparatory meetings last February and then touching over 200 cities throughout India (not counting the seminars, publications, and researches that have been produced over the past years), the We20 People’s Summit conference was organized by a diversified Working Group on International Finance Institutions, with the aim of promoting the broadest debate and possibly outlining alternatives to the prevailing neoliberalism. And already last May there was a first edition of the People’s Summit to denounce the massive destruction underway of the many shanty towns that dot the urban landscape of Delhi, as part of a beautification (embellishment, sic!) intervention strongly desired by the First Minister Modi himself, ahead of the G20!

Therefore, three days [were consecrated to] this We20 People’s Summit, from August 18 to 20 [2023], only a few days after the celebrations for the anniversary of independence (15 August). They were clearly proposed in dissonance with the speech with great pomp given by Narendra Modi, and counted on a very prestigious list of contributions on the most varied topics: from the climate crisis and the urgency of a just and sustainable energy transition, to the many critical issues in the agricultural sector; from surveillance capitalism to the critique of Global Governance & Financing; from gender issues in a context increasingly marked by interreligious violence – as if patriarchy were not enough – , to those of work, which has always been mostly informal and without protection; from the problems of a welfare that exists only on paper, to the distortions deriving from rampant inequality.

These and many other issues were on the table, and some were in some way debated among the hundreds of delegates present – but with minimal participation from the public, as access was denied as early as the second day.

Ramesh Jairam himself, a member of the Congress party and a prominent figure in the Indian political scene, underlined the arbitrariness of the situation with a tweet sent just as the police officers cordoned off the entrance to the We20:

“Totally peaceful meeting, no protests outside the building, yet the police prevent access to the public. I managed to get in before 10:30, but now I don’t know how to get out: is this the Democracy of New India?”