World’s largest democracy: toppling and crumbling
India is labelled as the largest democracy in the world. The Preamble to the Constitution of India declares it as the Democratic Republic. But it hasn’t been smooth always, over the years, India’s democracy has received a few shakes. The previous governments misused their powers, the Indira Gandhi government announced Emergency. Gandhi suppressed freedomp of the press, all the newspapers were to take permission from Press Advisor before publishing anything. The majority of her political rivals were imprisoned and several human rights were suspended for a long span of 21 months.
India then witnessed one of its darkest phases after independence. This came as a huge blow to democracy but according to experts, the hardest blow to the Indian democracy has come under the Modi government. Warmongering has risen as compared to that of Congress’ time. There has been a constant mentioning of Pakistan and wars by media and BJP politicians since it has gained power.
Over the years we have seen a severe degradation in the right to speech and expression. Several cases have been reported where people were arrested for uploading or sharing something that goes against the government. In 2014 a man in Goa commented critically of the PM Narendra Modi, he was charged for promoting communal and social disharmony. In 2017, hours after Yogi Adityanath’s oath as the CM of UP, seven people were arrested for objectionable posts about him. These are just two examples while the list continues till date. Freedom of speech and expression has been shoved down the gutter. Dissent has been criminalized, you aren’t allowed to question the ruling party. India has never seen such suppression of speech and expression before, in the regimes of previous governments.
Mob lynchings have also increased dramatically. The lynching of minorities has become normalized in India now. Data shows that 90% of religious hate crimes in the past decade have happened under the Modi government. There have been cases of forced conversion of Christians to Hinduism by Hindu-nationalist groups through the Ghar Wapisi campaign. Mass conversion of 500 Christians was reported in Andhra Pradesh, several forced conversions to Christianity have also been reported and the government has done nothing to stop these conversions. The Judiciary also remained silent. All these small blows to democracy came during the first term of the Modi government.
A couple of months after the Modi government entered into their second tenure, there it took a huge and extraordinary step of robbing Kashmir of its special status, keeping the political leaders under house arrest and suspending all sorts of communication, thus cutting the entire State from the rest of India. This came as one of the major blows. Political experts claim it to be Modi Government’s step towards making India a Hindu-only nation. Not long after the scrapping of article 370, the government introduced an unconstitutional bill, now an Act, Citizenship Amendment Act. The act does not only discriminate on a religious basis but is also unconstitutional. The act aims at tearing down the secular and democratic fabric of the nation. There’s fear and panic in people that this new act will be implemented along with the nation-wide National Register of Citizens (NRC). The citizenry will be asked to prove their citizenship by providing certain documents, which a large number of Indians don’t have.
Students and the common citizens of the country are leading protests against it all over the country. But they have constantly been attacked by Police and right-wing mobs. Amidst these protests, Jamia Milia Islamia students were beaten up inside their library by the police. Nothing like this has ever happened before in India. Some days after it, we saw images of masked goons entering the JNU campus and beating up students while the police stood outside motionless. This shook the Indian democracy to its roots and destroyed our global image. India is no longer seen as an exemplary democracy. The foreign media criticized the Indian government enough to blot our image. One of The Economist’s magazine covers for January, read INTOLERANT INDIA – How Modi is Endangering World’s Largest Democracy.
Media is the 4th pillar of democracy, and we have seen that pillar toppling and crumbling. A certain section of media has played a huge role in marginalising almost everything. Media plays a great role in impacting the minds of the masses and they have done it religiously by providing a communal angle to everything, even in the pandemic that is creating havoc all across the globe. Communalism has been here since ages, it is a sapling watered by BJP, while sown by previous governments. But we have seen it grow exceptionally in these last six years. Recently an FIR was filed against the editor of the news portal The Wire, Siddharth Varadarajan for wrongly crediting a quote to Uttar Pradesh CM, Yogi Adityanath. Later, Mr. Varadarajan clarified that it was an honest mistake and the quote belongs to someone else. Many look at this as an attack on the freedom of the press. Earlier too, UP government arrested a journalist, Prashant Kanojia illegally. Supreme Court ordered the state to release him. The right to liberty is a fundamental right and non-negotiable, the Court said. Punya Prasun Bajpai’s exit from Aaj Tak because he did an anti-Modi programme on the channel and constant threats and attacks on journalists who speak up against the government gives a clear picture of India’s failing freedom of the press. Reports show 54 journalists were attacked in a duration of 16 months through 2016 and the 1st quarter of 2017. The bootlicking of government by a certain section of media and the suppression of the other section has lead to a great downfall of the World’s Largest Democracy. In the World Press Freedom Index 2020 India has ranked 142nd out of 180 countries.
Democracy stands on four pillars – Legislature, Executive, Judiciary, and Media. If these pillars remain intact, so does democracy. But along with media, Judiciary has crumbled too. A lot of senior judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court have expressed concern over the current state of the judiciary. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has recently become a member of Rajya Sabha, nominated by President, Ramnath Kovind. Former Chief Justice of India(CJI) has presided over some of the very major cases, like the Ayodhya verdict, Rafale scandal, Assam NRC, and the repealing of Kashmir’s liberty.
All these verdicts were in favour of the ruling party. Albeit in the long lingering Ayodhya case, the court acknowledged the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 as an act against the law and a wrong-doing to Muslims. The court admitted,
“Muslims have been wrongly deprived of a mosque which had been constructed well over 450 years ago,” yet the decision didn’t favour them. Not only this but the eminent citizenry of Kashmir constantly asked the courts to do something about the lockdown of the State but the Court looked away.
People claim that all these favours to the government by Ranjan Gogoi has earned him the prize of being a Rajya Sabha Member. While he seems to have flattered the government, he has miserably failed the people of the nation. Judiciary has maintained its dead silence through everything -mob lynching forced conversions, suppression of freedom of speech, and press and whatnot.
This is how over the years the largest democracy in the world took a dramatic turn. With Judiciary trying to impress the government, media doing the exact opposite of what it should be and dissent and protests becoming crimes, how long can India maintain its “largest democracy” label?