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Clashes are injuring India's image ahead of G20 summit

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

With less than a month until the G-20 summit in India, the country has seen a spate of violent clashes. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares to welcome world leaders, experts say that these incidents could seriously complicate his ability to showcase India as an Asian superpower. From Delhi, Shalu Yadav reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Shouting in Hindi).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Shouting in Hindi).

SHALU YADAV: Anti-Muslim slogans reverberated in the streets of Gurugram, just outside of capital Delhi - a hub for dozens of multinational companies, including Google and American Express. Just six miles from here, President Biden and other world leaders will arrive for the G-20 summit in early September.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking in non-English language).

YADAV: These men from the majority Hindu community threatened Muslims, asking them to pack their belongings and leave or face consequences.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Shouting in non-English language).

YADAV: What sparked this outrage was religious violence in the neighboring region of Nuh on July 31. At least five people died in the clashes when a Hindu religious procession was allegedly attacked by Muslims. Then, Hindus set a mosque on fire and allegedly killed a Muslim cleric.

(SOUNDBITE OF BULLDOZER ENGINE STARTING)

YADAV: After the rioters left came the authorities with bulldozers. Witnesses say hundreds of homes and shops belonging to Muslims were demolished by authorities. The demolitions lasted for four days, until a local court in the state of Punjab and Haryana stepped in. It asked the government whether it was conducting an exercise of ethnic cleansing by targeting a particular community. These are devastating words, says Shushant Singh, a senior fellow at Centre for Policy Research in India.

SUSHANT SINGH: That's the strongest word that, at least in my living memory in 75 years, has been ever used because of this form of vigilantism that the Indian state displays.

YADAV: Singh says there's a pattern in India these days in many states governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party - or the BJP - where properties belonging to Muslims have been demolished as a way of punishing them.

He also says there's been a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric since the BJP came to power in 2014 - a charge that the government denies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: India is proud to assume the presidency of G-20.

YADAV: Ahead of next month's G-20 summit, Prime Minister Modi wants to tell the world that he is a leader of a unified, democratic country which is a rising superpower. But as incidents of religious violence keep making international headlines, many are questioning his narrative.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAHUA MOITRA: (Shouting) Stop your false equivalences.

YADAV: Ethnic clashes in the northeastern state of Manipur have also put the spotlight on Modi government. A hundred and thirty people have died, and 60,000 have been displaced since the tensions began in May.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOITRA: Reality is why this government...

YADAV: Last week, opposition parties brought a no-confidence motion against him in the parliament for his lack of action to stop the violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Speaking Hindi).

YADAV: Modi dismissed their concern, saying that the opposition is out to tarnish India's image internationally. He said his government is putting its best foot forward to restore peace in Manipur.

SINGH: This G-20 summit is happening in an environment where Manipur has been burning - actually burning - for the last three months.

YADAV: Sushant Singh again.

SINGH: All these things continue to cast a shadow about his administrative abilities, about his majoritarian (inaudible) politics and about his ability to keep India together.

YADAV: Campaigners have been urging President Biden to raise these issues during his visit to India. But Aakar Patel from Amnesty International says even if Biden raised these issues to Modi, things wouldn't change very much.

AAKAR PATEL: In 2020, we had a visit from the U.S. president. It was Trump then. And while he was in Delhi, in the capital, there was extreme violence in Delhi, where mobs that - were encouraged by the ruling party, the BJP. And for this reason, I see that the government of India will be OK with a little bit of criticism from the foreign media when it comes here to cover the G-20.

YADAV: This is because Patel says Modi knows the West needs him more today than ever.

For NPR News, I'm Shalu Yadav in Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Shalu Yadav