‘We’ve been made to vanish’: Slums razed and curtains drawn before G20 summit in Delhi

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi accused of using summit to campaign for next year’s general election

New Delhi came to a standstill on Friday in advance of the weekend G20 summit, with offices, schools and shops closed, major roads barred to public traffic and hundreds of flights and trains into Delhi cancelled.

The city underwent a revamp in advance of the summit, but this has come at a cost for poorer sections of the community – some of whom have been relocated and had their houses knocked down.

More than 130,000 security personnel, including snipers, special forces paramilitary commandos have been deployed to safeguard delegates from the world’s richest countries. Indian Air Force combat and surveillance aircraft, as well as anti-drone and missile units, are on standby to shield guests from aerial threats. Those attending include US president Joe Biden, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, French president Emmanuel Macron, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman and Japan’s Fumio Kishida.

In the run-up to the summit thousands of shanty dwellers across the city were rendered homeless after their dwellings were bulldozed, and in many areas makeshift corrugated plastic walls were erected to hide slums,from the visiting delegates’ gaze.


Social activists said the movement of some 300,000 daily-wage labourers, vendors, hawkers and beggars was also restricted for the summit’s weekend duration.

“We have been made to vanish,” said 32-year old Sunil Kumar, whose shack in an unsanctioned South Delhi neighbourhood was recently flattened. Columnist Harsh Mander said the demolitions showed the intent of the Government – led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – to expel or hide its poor.

Delhi’s numerous gardens and parks have received a makeover, with gushing fountains and elaborate water falls built around them in recent weeks in addition to the installation of large new statues of lions, bulls and other exotic sculptures.

Scores of historical monuments have also been refurbished and illuminated with the summit’s logo – a globe within a blossoming lotus flower, which bears an uncanny likeness to the BJP’s electoral symbol – and the tricolours of the Indian flag.

Ever since India’s G20 presidency began last December, posters, billboards and LED screens have carried the logo, overlaid with a photograph of prime minister Narendra Modi. The images of the prime minister appear across walls, train and bus stations, the back of tuk-tuks and cycle rickshaws in Delhi and other major cities.

This has led opposition leaders to accuse Mr Modi of using the G20′s presidency as a platform to campaign for next year’s general election. Congress Party leader Jairam Ramesh recently posted on X, formerly Twitter, that the “election campaign” being run by the BJP in advance of the summit had not occurred in any other country since the G20′s founding in 1999.

Opposition politician Asaduddin Owaisi claimed that India’s decision to defer its G20 presidency from 2021 to 2023 was to ensure that it occurred closer to the 2024 polls in which Modi and the BJP are seeking a third term in office.

With Chinese president Xi Jinping opting to skip the summit and Russian president Vladimir Putin also staying away, Indian officials are concerned over the inability of G20 members agreeing, for the first time, on a concluding joint communique.

Media reports, quoting unnamed officials, revealed that any consensus in pre-summit consultations had so far eluded G20 members as China and Russia had disagreed on matters relating to the Ukraine war, renewable energy, climate change and mineral exploitation.

China, which will be represented by premier Li Qiang at the summit, is believed to have insisted that the final communique confine itself exclusively to economic issues.