In Greek there are two words, ‘demos’ and ‘kratos’. The former means ‘people’ while the latter means ‘to rule’. The etymological origins of the term ‘democracy’ hint at a form of government in which, in contradistinction to monarchies and aristocracies, the people rule. However, the productivity of this system is often debated as democracies warrant a throughput system of governance where every person is given a right to choose for the country regardless of their political partisanship and erudite acumen.
The real safeguard to a functioning democracy is education; unless people, the ones who express their choices, are able to choose wisely, democracy can never succeed. The literacy rate in India (64.8%) reveals the wretched and pitiful state of Indian democracy. In an ideal democracy, education is given primacy for it is a pre-requisite for the survival and success of the democracy. Similarly, education fosters a democratic outlook in the minds of people with the sole purpose of enabling every person to have a say in deciding the greater collective social worth.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “What is really needed to make democracy function is not knowledge of facts, but right education”.
India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by PM Modi champions ‘Hindutva’, a term instituted initially during the 1920s by an admirer of Hitler’s, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. It is an ideology that gives the Hindu majority privileges over religious minorities in India. Hindutva has grown from a fringe movement into the central player in national politics. Prejudices embedded in the government of the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP have infiltrated independent institutions such as the police and the courts, empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass, and even attack religious minorities with impunity. The Modi government’s actions have stoked terror and communal hatred, created deep fissures in society, and led to fear and mistrust of authorities among minority communities.
The history of collaboration between the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) took roots in the 1980’s, following the assassination of PM Indira Ghandhi. The BJP and the RSS goons took full advantage of the opportunity and incited the fanatic Hindus to carry out killing of Sikhs. Independent sources estimate the number of deaths at about 8,000–17,000. The 1984 anti-Sikh riots, also known as the ‘1984 Sikh Massacre’, was a series of organised pogroms against Sikhs. This was the time when India could safely be equated to the Weimar Republic phase of Germany in the 1930s. The demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, by BJP leader L K Advani, resulted in riots and violence against Muslims, with an estimated killing of 2,000 of them. Following the demolition of the mosque, the BJP gradually clawed its way up from two seats in parliament to eventually form a coalition government in 1998. During the Vajpayee administration, and with Modi in Gujarat in 2002, the RSS, and other militant Hindu groups collaborated to stage major Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002. Muslims were blamed for burning a train and Hindu mobs were allowed and encouraged to run amok and carry out a pogrom in which thousands of Muslims were brutally killed. Over 100,000 Muslims were pushed into the state’s ramshackle refugee camps, with minimal basic amenities and abysmal living conditions.
Modi’s first term (2014-2019) saw a spate of attacks on Muslims and Christians with increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academicians and journalists, and a bigoted attacks, including lynchings which targeted Muslims for allegedly slaughtering cows. Christians were also attacked and their churches destroyed.
Despite the economic failures of his first term, Modi won a second term ‘based on hate narrative’ in 2019 and an unending series of carnage of Indian minorities. In India, the government established a National Register of Citizens (NRC) and introduced a religious element to the conceptualisation of Indian citizenship, distinguishing between genuine citizens and illegal immigrants. Citizenship based on selective exclusion was reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Race Laws. Modi’s government intensified its crackdown on protesters opposing the discriminatory citizenship law and arrested dozens of journalists who voiced criticism against the Citizenship Act.
Political rights and civil liberties in the country have deteriorated since the government of PM Modi and its state-level allies took power, and their response to COVID-19 included a ham-fisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers. The ruling Hindu nationalist movement also encouraged the scapegoating of Muslims, who were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by mobs. Judicial independence has also come under strain; in one case, a judge was transferred immediately after reprimanding the police for not taking action during riots in New Delhi that left over 50 people, mostly Muslims, dead. In many states, the criminal justice system increasingly reflects the discriminatory views of the BJP, targeting religious and other minorities and critics of the government, and shielding government supporters.
In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Democracy Index published in early Feb 2020, India is classified as one of the world’s 52 flawed democracies. Its score dropped from 7.92 in 2014 when PM Modi came to power to 6.61 last year, and its global ranking slipped from 27th to 53rd among 167 countries surveyed in 2020. The report discusses the mounting pressure on India’s democratic norms by a fascists Indian regime under the leadership of PM Modi who has formulated laws and policies that systematically discriminate against Muslims and other minorities and stigmatize critics of his government.
In August 2019, after the Indian government revoked the constitutional autonomy of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu Kashmir, it imposed broad restrictions and arbitrarily detained thousands of people, including elected officials, political leaders, activists, journalists, and lawyers. The authorities also detained a number of people without informing their families about their whereabouts; several were even transferred to jails outside the state. Hundreds of habeas corpus petitions were filed in the courts by families seeking information about those detained and challenging unlawful detention. The harsh and discriminatory restrictions on Muslim-majority areas in Jammu and Kashmir remain in effect till date, with scores of people detained without charge and critics threatened with arrests.
The government continues to clamp down on journalists and human rights activists, including bringing politically motivated charges of terrorism under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and using counterterrorism operations to harass and intimidate them.
Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practices, Modi and his party are tragically driving India toward an authoritarian mayhem. India appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader, elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of ‘inclusion’ and ‘equal rights’ for all. India has completely transformed itself from a secular democracy (as is mandated by its constitution) into an avowedly Hindu nation, 276 million non-Hindus will always remain under threat. The world needs to act fast to stop India from these growing human rights violations.