Street lamps illuminate once-dark sidewalks, walls are painted with colorful murals, and flowers and trees are planted. Street dogs and monkeys have even been driven away in some neighborhoods.
Prime Minister Modi’s government wants New Delhi to shine during the G-20 summit, and he’s willing to do just that: the “facelift project” costs about $120m.
Many powerful world leaders will travel to India for the G-20 summit later this week, including US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
But some of the efforts to reach the summit come at the cost of housing thousands of Indians. Since January, hundreds of homes and street vendor stalls along the road have been demolished. Dozens of slums were flattened.
Homes could be built illegally on government land. The housing minister denies that the slum destruction has anything to do with the G20 summit, but residents and critics don’t have much confidence in that.
Some residents of the slum have applied to the New Delhi High Court to block the evictions, but the court has also ruled that the settlements are illegal.
Indian historian and expert Lawrence van Haaften suspects that the demolition is actually linked to the upcoming summit and the country’s image. “Poverty simply does not fit the image that the Modi government wants to present,” he says. “The country wants to radiate that it is an emerging economy and a global geopolitical power. It is a country of importance. It is cruel that the country wants to present itself as an emerging global power, but it does not control poverty in the country.”
He says slum demolitions have happened before. “On a visit by an American president, for example. But not before that on such a scale.”
turned into ruins
“It’s not that these slums have just been built. They may look like temporary homes, but they are not. They have often been there for generations. And removing these slums has enormous social and economic consequences for this vulnerable group of people.”
Like the residents of a slum in the Janta Kamp district of New Delhi. And when they were told that the G-20 summit would be less than 500 meters from their home, they hoped to take advantage of it. “I thought the ‘great people’ of the G20 would give something to the poor,” Mohammed Shamim, a resident, told Reuters news agency. “But the opposite happens: these great ones will come and sit on our graves and eat.”
The residents of the slum are now homeless. Many of them only received eviction notices shortly before the demolition began.
The Kusboo Devi family had been living in the area for 13 years when they were asked to leave. “The area needs to be cleaned up. But cleaning doesn’t mean they want to remove the arms, right?”
Also for Indians
Van Heaften believes that polishing India’s image is not just about impressing visiting world leaders. “On the one hand, of course, this is about it: especially since the access roads to the neighborhood where the conference is being held will be beautified. Leaders of foreign governments do not have to see so much ‘misery’.”
But the Indian expert explains that the success of the G-20 summit is certainly also important for India and its people themselves. “The Modi government wants to show itself emphatically in this G20 as the mouthpiece of the global south, in order to increase its influence.”
So demolishing the slums arouses resistance, but not all Indians seem to oppose the decision. “Prime Minister Modi’s policy is about restoring Indian pride, and many Indians are sensitive to this: they find attractive the feeling that India is competing with the ‘big boys’ in the world. And that a group of people of a lower social level should be forced to do it.” Making room for their economic situation is acceptable to many Indians.”
G20 Summit: The Netherlands will also attend
The G20 – or “G20” – is a group of twenty major economies that meet annually to discuss economic issues. And it concerns 19 countries and the European Union. together G-20 countries account for about two-thirds of the world’s population and 85 percent of global revenues.
The G-20 is due to meet again this weekend in India. Outgoing Prime Minister Rutte will also travel to New Delhi. “The Netherlands as a country is not a member of the G20, but in recent years we have received an invitation from the host country,” says political correspondent Fons Lambie.
This is useful: “It provides the Prime Minister with the opportunity to see and network with many international colleagues and maintain contacts. It provides the opportunity to speak with many heads of government simultaneously.”
And in the run-up to the G-20 summit, there was more controversy this week in host country India. In invitations to dinners at the G-20 summit, Indian President Draupadi Mormo refers to himself as the “Bharat Chief,” another name for the country. This fuels rumors that the Indian government may want to change the name in the near future.
India straight to Bharat?
Both Bharat and India are two common terms. But there is a growing call to replace the word India with the word Bharat, especially from the Hindu nationalist angle, says Van Haften. “Bharat comes from the Sanskrit language. The word India, according to critics, has its origins in the ancient European languages, and was imposed by the British colonialists on the current political state.”
With the name Bharat, the country can further assert its political and cultural independence. “The word Bharat also has a more Indian, spiritual connotation.”
According to the Indian expert, the discussion about the use of the names Bharat and India reveals in great detail the division in Indian politics. “The adoption of the term Bharat allows Modi’s Hindu nationalist government to move away from India in the 1950s, which was led by the Congress party, today’s main political rival.”
There is even speculation that the government might want to change the country’s name to Bharat. “Although it doesn’t have to be very exciting, of course. The use of the term bharat is not new in itself, but it is noticeable in this way in official communications. I am very curious as to how this may develop further.”
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