G20 Meet in India: A Giant PR Exercise and Free Pass to Suppress Dissent

India's decision to place the summit in Kashmir shows an eager willingness to crack down on any protests or dissent even before it happens.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration is preparing to host one of the  G20 event meetings as part of India’s presidency of the Group of Twenty (G20) in 2023.

The G20 is a self-appointed group that sets financial and economic guidelines for the world. The G20 Summit is a series of formal and informal meetings between world leaders. The summit is notorious as it excludes the voices of the people that it affects. The meetings lack transparency. Transnational corporations set the recommendations and decisions, with free trade regimes and economic growth being the primary drivers rather than social and economic justice and human rights. This economic “growth” only fills the pockets of the rich, and these free trade and investment agreements have destructive effects on people’s lives and the environment.

Whenever it is held, the summit attracts protests from groups calling for change on topics such as environmental policies, trade deals, and labour laws. These protests center around corporate greed as the G20’s decisions are made behind closed doors and lack transparency. The G20 was founded in 1999 in the aftermath of the SouthEast Asian economic crisis. Summits had been held annually since 2008, with the first one being held in the United States. The motive of the summit was to create a revived Bretton Woods system to reinvent neoliberalism in the twenty-first century.

In an almost ironic turn, the Indian government has been able to leverage a conflict region to host a controversial event. G20 Summit is an anti-people event. It is always marked by resistance. Protests are usually met with policing by the local governments. By using a conflict zone as the venue, the Indian government has been able to prevent any protest before it began. G20 Summits have been marred by violent street protests by international activists in the past. The expected controversy now is being used by authoritarian governments to repress the local population.

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G20 summits are so unpopular it is an embarrassment

Since the second meeting in London in 2009, the G20 summits have been the focus of mass protests. Previous G20 Summits have seen high-profile demonstrations, with allegations of police brutality and civil rights violations.

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Thousands of demonstrators marched through London on 28th march 2009 to demand action on poverty, jobs and climate change at the start of a week of protests aimed at the G20 summit in the capital.Toby Melville / Reuters

The G20 summit held in Bali in 2022 was a major concern for Indonesia, as they had the responsibility of hosting a secure and smooth-running event. Indonesia mounted an unprecedented security operation with over 18,000 personnel from the Indonesian Armed Forces deployed to safeguard the event.

In 2021, thousands of protesters marched at the G20 summit in Italy. Protesters included workers who had lost their jobs from globalization, climate activists, communists, and trade unionists.

In 2020, the G20 summit was held in Saudi Arabia. As the Saudi Arabia government already had a repressive structure, the event was relatively uneventful.

In 2019, at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, an estimated 30,000 people came to the city from outside.

More than 32,000 police were to keep protesters from getting too close to the world leaders attending.

G20 protests in Hamburg 2017

In 2018, thousands of demonstrators marched in Buenos Aires to protest the G20’s economic policies as the world’s leading industrialized nations opened their annual summit in the Argentine capital. Police, coast guard, and border patrols cordoned off a 12-square-kilometre area around the riverside Costa Salguero convention centre where the summit was held. Buenos Aires was largely locked down for the march, which was organized by a coalition of labour unions and rights groups.

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G20 protests in Hamburg 2017, where protesters clashed with police

In 2017 in Hamburg, Germany, around 100,000 protesters came for the G20, and almost all of them were peaceful. These stories go back years, as the G20 summit is a tool of anti-people neoliberalism.

Protests have happened at the G20 summit almost every year since the second summit in London in 2009.

Why Kashmir? Using the infamy of G20 to promote repression

The G20 Summit is known for inviting protests from those who oppose neoliberal policies. These policies are believed to marginalize communities and prioritize order and beautification over the needs of marginalized groups. The Indian government is taking advantage of the summit to rearrange parts of the map in Srinagar. This move is part of a larger effort by the government to deploy the army in more urban areas. Kashmir, which is already highly militarized, could potentially see draconian measures implemented by the Indian government without consequence.

Given that Kashmir is recognized internationally as a conflict zone, the Indian government is prepared to shift the narrative in its favour, regardless of whether protests or violence occur during the summit. With many countries participating in the event, the Indian government is expected to be in control.

Domestically, holding an international conference in Kashmir is seen as a way for the Indian government to imply that the international community supports its position on Kashmir. However, this move has been met with objections from Pakistan and China, who have both claimed the areas where the summit is being held. These objections highlight the complex geopolitical tensions at play in the region.

The G20 Summit in Srinagar presents an opportunity for the Indian government to reinforce its position on Kashmir and to take advantage of the international attention on the summit to deploy further militarization and potentially implement harsh measures in the region.

How the G20 is being sold in India

Narendra Modi has touted the summit as a matter of national pride, it is little more than a showcase for neoliberalism and authoritarianism. The entire event is a giant Public Relations exercise by the government to show the Indian people that this government has strong international standing. Modi hoped that the summit could have been held in 2022 to coincide with India’s 75th Independence celebrations. Modi has even made the rotating post of G20 president a matter of nationalistic pride, suggesting that India’s hosting of the event is a sign of its growing global influence. The choice of location is a deliberate attempt by the Indian government to prevent protests against the summit, which would symbolize the disenfranchisement of many people around the world.

The G20 summit will have significant implications for people across the world, and decisions made behind closed doors will affect millions of lives. This anti-democratic summit has the added effect of justifying the suppression of dissenting voices worldwide.  This is the first major international summit in Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370. India’s decision to place the summit in Kashmir shows an eager willingness to crack down on any protests or dissent even before it happens. The promotion of the event by the government shows a wilful disdain for the concerns of the people.

Author is a mathematician and activist based in Bangalore. Views are personal. 

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