The Myth of Indian Democracy

Author Name: Ghanwah Cheema      24 Sep 2019     India

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote, ‘The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over’. Each nation has created its own national mythology. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda maestro and perhaps the most accomplished media-wizard of the modern age, allegedly explained his method succinctly by stating that ‘A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth’.

With Jawaharlal Nehru’s “Tryst with Destiny” speech on August 15, 1947, the desire of a progressive and secular nation was extended, which promised its people the luxury of liberty, equality and justice.

India is famously, the largest democracy in the world and secular among fellow South Asian states. Given the failures of democratic political systems in so many other former colonies, it is remarkable that the country remained a democracy except for a brief period between 1975 and 1977 when the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, declared an “emergency” and suspended the Constitution.

Some political scientists define a mature democracy as a country that has had six successful handovers of power from one legitimately elected leader to another. If that is the case, India has passed the test of mature democracy, but of course, the spirit of democracy floats above and beyond elections.

The soul of democracy has been torn apart in India since its inception. The political elite constructed the idea of democracy and secularism among its own people and the public, whereas in reality, power politics remained a dominant factor for a long time. Congress had firm control and had faced no threatening opposition till the 1980s, but by the end of that decade, the long period of the absolute dominance of Indian politics by the Congress Party came to an end.

The government under Rajiv Gandhi drifted, its programs were in disarray, and he became embroiled in damaging charges of corruption at the highest levels, notably in the “Bofors affairs”, insurgencies had gathered momentum in Punjab and Assam, and then in Kashmir, and there appeared to be growing violence and instability across the country.

In December 1992, a mob of supporters of the movement of Hindu cultural nationalism, tore down an old mosque in the north Indian town of Ayodhya. This was the point when the Bharatya Janata Party (hereinafter BJP) emerged as the major force of opposition to the congress party, nationally.

This was the period when political instability struck in the Indian political arena. There were five general elections in ten years in the 1990s (in 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998, and 1999), whereas there had been only eight elections in the previous 40 years.

Provided facts prove that political entities failed to come up with a democratic environment in India, for instance Article 356 “President’s rule” was used by governments at the centre, regularly dissolving the state governments; Indira Gandhi used this instrument 39 times between 1966 and 1977 and altogether it was used for a 100 time before the end of the twentieth century. Even with such distorted designs, India managed its outlook of liberal democracy and secular status but, what now? Can we actually attach words like liberal democracy and secular nation with India anymore?

There was no prominent theoretical dent on the democratic and secular pattern of India up till now. But now Modi and company, is driving India towards hard-core religious orientations. There is no democracy in India, other than some strange beast that has the paraphernalia, but not the substance of rule of, by and for the people. Instead it is of, by and for the chowkidars (watchman), who are only interested in self-aggrandizement.

India today is a unique and deplorable case of a state which promotes hate crimes against minorities and consistently fails to bring to account those who are involved in cow vigilantism, mob lynching, forced conversions and violating India’s own law. Amnesty International India has called on the Indian government to release all political prisoners in the occupied valley and “put an end to the deliberate silencing of voices in the region”, to which the government responded by bashing the international institution. Such attitudes of the BJP have become the new normal for Indian society. There are plenty of examples which can be quoted to demonstrate un-democratic exercises, for instance the subjugation of institutions or the disruptions in the working of an institution; the most striking examples of it can be the undermining of Parliament the “resignation first, discussion later” group of BJP has proven the fact now and then. Shashi Tharoor, who is currently serving as Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, argued in a parliamentarian session that the house is used as a “notice board” where the people in power post the decision. He also argued that the unilateral decision of revoking Article 370 has proved to be a dark day for Indian democracy. In 2018, even the Supreme Court judges have warned that democracy is in danger.

At present it is up to the people of India; do they really want to live the lies of Modi’s totalitarianism and gradually end their status of a secular and democratic society, or they want to preserve the values, system and patterns of their forefathers? On the flip side, the responsibility squarely lies on the international community; will they allow a state to retort from its basic belief? Will they allow India or any other state to retract from democracy to any other form of government? As of now, India has set a precedent. At this moment in time, the constructed bubble of democracy and secularism should be popped and we need to act responsibly.

The writer is a Researcher at Center for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). She can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com

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