Democracy lives with and within the people: Modi

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NEW DELHI

Democracies must work together to forge global norms for emerging technologies such as social media and cryptocurrencies so that they cannot be used to undermine democracy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday.

Delivering India’s national statement at the Summit for Democracy hosted by US President Joe Biden, Modi offered to share with the world India’s expertise in holding free and fair elections and transparent governance through digital solutions.

During his address, Modi sought to build on US president Abraham Lincoln’s description of democracy in the legendary Gettysburg Address of 1863 – government of the people, by the people, for the people – by adding the concept of “with the people, within the people”.

Biden convened the virtual summit of government and civil society leaders on December 9 and 10 to focus on challenges confronting democratic nations and on reforms and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights around the world.

Modi noted that the second day of the summit, which featured interventions by leaders from around the world, provided a platform for furthering cooperation among democracies, and said: “We must also jointly shape global norms for emerging technologies such as social media and cryptocurrencies, so that they are used to empower democracy, not to undermine it.”

He added, “India would be happy to share its expertise in holding free and fair elections, and in enhancing transparency in all areas of governance through innovative digital solutions.”

Modi also raised the role of technology companies in democratic societies at a closed-door plenary session hosted by Biden on Thursday. He was among leaders of 12 countries that joined the session. Modi said that in view of technology’s ability to impact democracy positively or negatively, technology companies should contribute to preserving open and democratic societies.

The Indian government has focused on the regulation of international technology and social media companies and personal data protection in recent years. The government also plans to introduce legislation to ban private cryptocurrencies and create a framework for an official digital currency.

While delivering the national statement on Friday, Modi said multi-party elections, independent judiciary and a free media are “important instruments” of democracy. He added, “However, the basic strength of democracy is the spirit and ethos that lie within our citizens and our societies. Democracy is not only of the people, by the people, for the people but also with the people, within the people.”

He pointed out that different parts of the world had followed “different paths of democratic development” and there is much to learn from each other.

“We all need to constantly improve our democratic practices and systems. And we all need to continuously enhance inclusion, transparency, human dignity, responsive grievance redressal and decentralisation of power,” he said.

Modi said he was proud to represent the world’s largest democracy at the summit, and that democratic spirit is integral to India’s civilisational ethos.

He pointed to democratic practices that existed in India’s past, and said: “Elected republican city-states such as Lichhavi and Shakya flourished in India as far as 2,500 years back. The same democratic spirit is seen in the 10th century ‘Uttaramerur’ inscription that codified the principles of democratic participation.”

This democratic spirit made ancient India prosperous and centuries of colonial rule could not suppress the people’s democratic spirit. “It again found full expression with India’s independence, and led to an unparalleled story in democratic nation-building over the last 75 years,” he added.

India’s development as a democracy, Modi said, was a story of “unprecedented socio-economic inclusion in all spheres” and of “constant improvements in health, education, and human well-being at an unimaginable scale”. He added: “The India story has one clear message to the world. That democracy can deliver, that democracy has delivered, and that democracy will continue to deliver.”

By working together, democracies can meet aspirations of citizens and celebrate the democratic spirit of humanity. “India stands ready to join fellow democracies in this noble endeavour,” Modi said.

While India has commended the US for convening the Summit for Democracy, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to skip the event – a move widely seen as a gesture of solidarity with his country’s “all-weather ally” China, which has repeatedly taken pot shots at the US over democratic values in the past few days.

Biden pointed to challenges faced by democracy worldwide in his opening remarks on Thursday. He also announced the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, for which the US will provide $424.4 million in 2022.

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