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Democracy in the Dungeon?

Like any other country, India has a rich history of civil agitations and mass protests, ones of the sort that resulted in the nation’s independence from the British. Not only were these civil agitations fruitful, but they were also held without inciting violence (at least the majority of them were). Even in recent years, there have been massive agitations, be it after the Nirbhaya Gangrape case in Delhi or during student protests of 2019. The people of this country still have the know-how to lead such mass agitations and express their anger and frustration with the system (read: government) without inciting violence.

Protests are undoubtedly an integral part of the functioning of a democracy, for it gives the ordinary citizen, the aam aadmi, the privilege to participate in the dynamics called democracy. When ‘bad’ laws are thrust upon the people, it leads to pan-nation agitations like the anti CAA-NRC protests and those against the Farm Laws. Rules haven’t been drafted for CAA, making it basically unfunctional while the farm laws have been withdrawn.

Credits: Sri Lanka Guardian

Of course, these agitations prove to be quite troublesome for the party in power, for it acts as a hurdle in their regimen of power. There is, however, a ‘solution’ to this, be it a quasi-solution – to discredit the entire movement. Public protests hitherto have received the same reactions from the government and the people in power; that their demands are unfair, people are happy with the government’s move, and those protesting aren’t actually civilians but “politically motivated” individuals protesting for the sake of it. The media (which is now more and more inclined towards the party in power) engulfs its audience in “debates” over the topic, which tells them how unpatriotic it is to express dissent. Result? Creation of a public perception that the protests are not genuine and the government is not at fault. And if such civil movements lose the support of the civilians, their outcome may not always be fruitful.

This act of discrediting dissent can prove to be more dangerous for democracy than it may seem. With the use of such usual tactics, it becomes effortless for the powerful to dodge accountability. Politicians across the board have accustomed themselves to the practice of labelling those who question them as “politically motivated” and use this as an excuse to escape the hard-hitting questions. Questions like why did so many people across the states die of oxygen shortage during the second wave of the pandemic? Or what did the government in West Bengal do to stop the post-poll violence that took place in its jurisdiction? Or why have schools and universities been shut for so long while everything else has been open for the public?

Consider this example from the UK. Its Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, violated the norms framed by his own government and held a celebration party at his official residence in London. Not only did this story break out like wildfire and make the British people go fuming, but it subjected Prime Minister Johnson to an enquiry by his own governmental agencies. The backlash was such that the PM was forced to issue an apology to the Queen herself!

Credits: Getty

The trend of discrediting dissent and the coming together of people to express their dissatisfaction collectively punctures the true spirit of democracy. Not only is it insensitive to not pay heed to one’s grievances, it is also arrogant on the government’s part to not listen to its citizens, irrespective of to whom they cast their vote. Political parties form governments to serve every individual and not just those who voted for them. Being held accountable for its decisions is a necessity for any democratic regime, and when it comes to the situation in India, who knows how many serving officials might have the same fate as that of Boris Johnson.

Aditya Jha is a student pursuing Psychology from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Diptarka Chatterjee

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Written by Aditya Jha

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