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Declining Democracy in India – An Undeclared Emergency

Since the BJP has attained power over the Indian Government, the democracy of India has been on a steep decline and has gone from bad to worse. With the situation over at Kashmir and the unconstitutional CAA/NRC laws, the country is facing utter demise.

India obtained its Independence from Colonial Rule on 15 August 1947 and became a Democratic Republic. It was an exceptional event where people started recognising their ‘Indianness’ despite of the caste, linguistic and social divisions. India adopted a Liberal Democratic form of governance, granting each citizen the right to vote – becoming one of the first countries to do so at that time. Since 1789, the average lifespan of a written constitution has been around 17 years across the globe contrary to the Indian Constitution, which is still in force since 26 January 1950, making it one of the longest surviving document of any country.

The country has witnessed many ups and downs throughout its Independent History with its constitutional values being compromised, but the Democratic and Secular values has always emerged victorious curbing the illiberal ones. Successive governments have been elected and have worked under constitutional umbrella. The multi-party system has allowed several parties to form government but seldom have they been successful in altering the democratic and secular fabric of the country. The danger to its democratic structure reminds us of the era of 1975-77 when the ‘Indira Gandhi government‘ imposed emergency due to perceived danger to her government repressing fundamental rights and civil liberties of the citizens, posing a dark era for Indian History. The 18 months period of emergency resulted in repression of civil societies, unprecedented cases of sedition against opposition members, executive and judiciary pressurized by the regime and freedom of speech being thwarted. The ‘Indira Government‘ didn’t allow any criticism to take place with one of the former President of Congress D.K.Barooah went further saying that, ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’. The time saw Indira Gandhi as the most powerful person of the country with an unopposed power to her name. Crony capitalism, pliant democratic institutions, hate against Pakistan, PMO becoming government and under-performing democratic institutions were several features of the Indira era. But how far are  these characteristics relevant in modern times? Are we still witnessing such trends, especially in the past few years?

According to V-Dem Annual Democracy Report of 2018 (an international research project by University of Gothenburg), there has been a little decline in several democratic indices since 2009 under Dr. Manmohan Singh’s second term but the situation took a steep decline since 2014 when Narendra Modi assumed the Prime Minister’s Office. Several metres like liberal component index, deliberative component index and freedom of expression index met a downfall since 2014.

The above data clearly depicts the steep decline of democratic indices since 2014. India’s declining democracy is not seen in isolation with anti-democratic activities being promoted in several countries like China, Brazil, Russia, Turkey and USA. An excerpt from the report explains, “The autocratization-process in India has also led to a partial closing of the space for civil society. The government increasingly restricts the entry and exit of civil society organizations by using a law on foreign funding for NGOs, the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA). As of 2017, 20,000 CSOs – mainly working on human rights and environmental issues – have lost their licenses.

With around 12000 newspapers in India there has been a continual attempt to censure it, sometimes leading even to the killing of journalists like Gauri Lankesh. Several TV news channels are being owned by loyalists of ruling party and the fake news propagating on social media platforms have made the situation even worse. According to the Amnesty International’s Halt the Hate Report there have been a sharp rise in hate crimes since 2016 especially in BJP ruled states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana. Dalits and Muslims have been at the receiving ends of such hate crimes with spreading of Islamophobia and mob-lynching for cow-vigilantism. The Prime Minister having his roots to the Hindu Nationalist right-wing RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) has been accused of propagating the Hindu-nationalistic agenda of making Indian an ethnic hindu state. Abrogation of Article 370 without the existence of elected assembly in the state serve their purpose of diluting ethnic culture of Kashmir with the rest of Hindu majority of the country with the help of brute force and internet shutdowns. Excluding Muslim immigrants from the new Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 is a sign of dividing people on religious lines and Islamophobia. Prime Minister Modi has been successful in bringing up Hindu majority at the forefront resulting in his sweeping victory in 2019 Loksabha elections.  Suppressing the voice of dissent with most number of internet shutdowns in a country, demonizing eminent institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University,  Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University and cases of sedition against people criticising the regime have become a common feature nowadays terming the criticism of the government as an ‘anti-national’ action. In the words of Supreme Court (SC) Judge Justice Gupta, “the right to freedom of opinion and the right of freedom of conscience by themselves include the extremely important right to disagree”.

India’s recent fall up-to 10 places to 51st position in Democracy Index by Economist Intelligent Unit is a sharp indicator of degrading democratic structure. The score of 6.9 in the index is the lowest since 2006. Appointment of party loyalists at executive posts of governors and appointing personal favorite bureaucrats at the level of secretaries dilutes the independence of executive and legislature. Formation of government in recent Maharashtra elections and previous state elections by BJP despite of having less seats compels us to think something fishy is happening with the democracy of India. In 2018 four Supreme Court judges came out in public exposing that Supreme Court is working under pressure and in an unjustifiable way. Recently SC Judge Arun Mishra made a statement terming the PM a ‘versatile genius’ with Bombay Bar Association passing a resolution condemning his words. Such incidents obstructs the independence of judiciary and could be lethal for a liberal democracy. The Delhi Police have been accused of its inaction and being politically motivated in recent communal clash between Hindus and Muslims in North-east Delhi. Inaction of police and conduct of judiciary together have posed several questions on their credibility. In a liberal democracy the independence of executive, judiciary and legislature is fundamental to its nature which the state is obliged to hold itself accountable for any decline in its function. We can conclusively trace out several similarities in the conduct of present regime with that of Indira Gandhi era. Pliant institutions, crony capitalism includes contracts to Ambanis and Adanis, fear-mongering over Pakistan and hyper-nationalism and subjugating opposition and civil societies.

The fall in democratic nature of India would be a degraded legacy for the future generation. It is the moral responsibility of the public servants, civil society and every other being to protect the pluralism of the country devaluing the conservative ideologies which have contributed to the shrinking of democratic spirit. India’s strength lies in unity in diversity rather narrowing it down to Hindu ethnic state. The success of the country comes from the success of its people, for which Abraham Lincoln rightly said, “A government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

Aman Sharma is a post-graduation Public Administration student at Jamia Millia Islamia.

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Written by Aman Sharma

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