Indian police intervened to stop a meeting of prominent activists, academics and politicians discussing global issues ahead of a summit of the Group of 20 industrialized and developing nations that will be hosted in New Delhi next month, the meeting’s organizers said Sunday.
Nearly 400 participants had spent two days debating the G20 agenda and key issues that affect much of the world’s population, including food security, climate change, labor rights, natural resources and rising inequality.
The meeting also featured speakers who were critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government’s role in hosting the G20 summit, saying it was using the event to bolster Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of a general election next year.
Meeting organizers for the “We20” conference said they received a letter from New Delhi police on Sunday morning telling them to end the meeting since it did not have the proper permission in a high-security zone, according to Kavita Kabeer, a spokesperson for the group.
“We are shocked that we need to have permission to practice democracy,” a statement by the organizers said.
Critics of Modi say India’s democratic principles are under threat, and that assaults on the press and free speech have grown brazen under his government. Modi’s ministers deny this and say India’s democracy is robust and thriving.
Suman Nalwa, a Delhi Police spokesperson, declined to comment.
The Hindu newspaper cited police officer Sanjay Sain as saying that no police permission was sought for the meeting.
“They had erected tents outside the building. And there was a considerable gathering of people in an area where Section 144 (prohibiting gatherings of four or more people) had been imposed,” Sain said.
The organizer’s statement said police had also tried to disrupt the meeting on Saturday by preventing people from reaching the venue, but the program went on as scheduled.
Jairam Ramesh, an opposition Congress lawmaker, said it is “extraordinary that Delhi Police are stopping people from attending the We20 meeting.”
A. Raja, a leader of the Communist Party of India, said the police action was an attack on freedom of expression.
We20 meeting organizers said the G20 is a “popular networking event for the rich and powerful, under the pretense of saving the world.”
The Indian government has mounted an advertising campaign ahead of the G20 summit to showcase the country’s growing global clout under Modi, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat said.
Critics also challenged the interests of the G20 and whom it served to benefit.
“The G20 is being organized to secure the corporate interests of a few. We need to work to secure our interests, our rights, our forests, our water,” said Roma Malik of the All India Union of Forests’ Working People.