NATO Allies, including Britain, see India as key to preventing Chinese dominance; but Narendra Modi's attacks on the free press and on Western businesses bode ill for the future, writes David Davis.

The UK's invitation for Prime Minister Modi to attend the G7 (he will do so virtually) is a further confirmation that the West sees India as perhaps the greatest strategic ally in the effort to contain China, expand Western values, and maintain the balance of power in Asia.

The Prime Minister is in good company in holding this view. The first foreign visit by President Joe Biden's Defense Secretary – Lloyd Austin – was to India. The European Union has recommitted itself to a closer partnership with Delhi, and both of the major Asian trade pacts – RCEP and CPTPP – continue to lobby for India's attention.

President Biden is right to place great store by the 'Quad' of democratic nations (India, Japan, Australia, US) as an alliance to check Chinese aggression. This determination is clear-eyed about where lies the greatest geopolitical threat of the 21st century, and correct in the calculation that India is an essential player in reducing that threat.

The problem is that the Indian government has not committed itself to the path that the West would prefer. For every step that Prime Minister Modi takes towards the democratic Western alliance (e.g. recommitting to the Quad) he seems to then take two steps away (his government is currently kicking critics off social media platforms, and has seized by force the property of at least three American and British companies operating in India).

It is time for Modi and his government to choose: does India's future lie in committing to the Western alliance of free democratic nations, or will she instead attempt some hallway house between democracy and despotism, between freedom and oppression, between the rule of law or the arbitrary whims of rulers, between the West and Chinese Communist Party.

Regrettably, some in the Indian Government clearly prefer the latter course. In the past twelve months, fifty Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) have been unilaterally cancelled by the Indian government: these may be little-discussed texts, but they are fundamental to the free flow of capital and to encouraging investment. The British company Cairn Energy is owed almost £1bn in compensation from the Indian Government – after India breached the terms of the UK-India BIT. Cairn has not received a penny. Vodafone finds itself in much the same situation, with £1bn of compensation awarded by international tribunal, and an Indian government unwilling to live up to its legal obligations.

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British investors are not alone in feeling that the Delhi wind is blowing away from the West. The Indo-American satellite and communications company, Devas Multimedia, is owed over £1.2bn in compensation after the Indian government arbitrarily cancelled a contract after the company had invested tens of millions of pounds. The Indian Solicitor-General has urged the nation's courts to forcibly liquidate Devas and seize its property, as a tactic to escape payment of the international award. It is no exaggeration to say that these practices would not feel out of place in Beijing.

This matters because the Western alliance, based on freedom and democracy, must practice what it preaches. Military might (or size of population) alone will not see the West prevail in the ideological and geopolitical battlefield with China and other authoritarian states. The international rules-based system of treaties, legal protections, shared values, free media and independent judiciaries is the platform on which democracy and freedom is built. India should be a core partner in defending this rules-based system; but that requires commitment from the government to uphold these freedoms even when it may be uncomfortable – or expensive.

Investors are not the only group that needs protection. Reporters Without Borders rates India as 'one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist', and Western social media firms are treated as the government's censorship tool. Added together, these illiberal elements mean that in India today it is extremely dangerous to be a critic of government policy.

How should we approach this conundrum? Britain and others must push Modi to take seriously the broader principles of democracy, freedom and rule-of-law without which India cannot be a full member of the brotherhood of free Western nations (it is, as autocracies around the world have demonstrated for decades, entirely possible to both hold elections and be wholly undemocratic). This, coupled with the self-interest inherent in attracting Western support for India's own skirmishes with China, should be a strong enough argument on its own.

India spent decades in hock to the 'non-aligned movement' in a conscious effort to avoid committing to one geopolitical side or the other. If there ever was past utility in that position, there certainly is none now.

India is now too large, too important, to sit this one out. The paths ahead are simple: one leads to the free world with its unpredictable democracy, free speech and open trade. From the other path floats the siren song of autocracy: more media shut-downs, and more seizing of Western companies' assets.

India is so important now that its choice is likely to determine that of the whole world.

India's decision has the potential to shape global politics for decades. Prime Minister Modi has been invited to the G7 deliberations in Cornwall: the timing could not be better. It is time for India to pick a side – in other words to decide which ideals she stands for.

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