Today is International Day of Democracy. The day is celebrated since 2007 as a universal value born out of the “freely-expressed will” of people. There is no doubt that democracy had been under siege for the longest of time on many historical grounds, but, have we really won?
When we speak about democracy, what comes to mind is the timeless struggle that people have gone through to achieve against intense dictatorial regime.
We all know what happens when unbridled power falls into the hands of ruthless tyrannical dictators like Timur, Genghis Khan, Hitler, Napolean, Stalin, and Mussolini. In India, the British rule was kind of the same but not exactly dictatorship, so to speak.
Fast forward to 2021, how democratically free are we? Does Prime Minister Narendra Modi believe in democracy? Not quite.
Modi supporters claim he is a ‘strong’ ruler, a euphemistic term for ‘autocratic’. Many international organizations have come out with reports on the status of democracy in the world in which India has fared badly, especially under Modi’s rule since 2014 – we will come to this later.
With an attempt to destabilize the fourth pillar of democracy – Media, where does democracy stand? It is quite evident how the Modi regime tries to suppress the voice of ‘real’ journalists. Time and again, we see the government slapping stringent laws against journalists who try to criticize him and his governance. Better yet, get raided by central agencies for supposed ‘tax evasion’.
Over 7000 people have been charged with sedition after the BJP assumed power and most of the accused are critics of the ruling party.
Meanwhile, a popular TV news channel host who is basically a mouthpiece for the government, shouts every day on our screens and calls himself a journalist, gets all the support when he glorifies the deadly Pulwama attack where 40 soldiers were martyred. (“this attack we won like crazy”)
With the help of these mouthpiece media (there are a few), Modi has successfully maligned and defamed the Opposition using lies and propaganda. The Opposition is an important part of a democracy as it’s main role is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable to the public. This also helps to fix the mistakes of the Ruling Party. The Opposition is equally responsible in upholding the best interests of the people of the country.
But what happens when the Opposition is completely diminished, and subsequently eradicated? There will only be one ruling party, one ideology, one decision…. one ruler – ring a bell?
Speaking on the Pegasus issue, it is a serious breach of privacy, and unsurprisingly, the Modi government has been absolutely silent on the matter, even after repeated requests by the Opposition and many intellectuals in the country. Initially, they said there was no such thing as Pegasus spyware, but later, after multiple media reports surface, a union minister finally admitted of its existence. How democratic is having spyware as a tool to snoop on the people of the country?
The Modi government has made lying an art form. This non-stop obvious lying was described by George Orwell as doublethink: “Every message from the extremely repressive leadership reverses the truth. Officials repeat ‘war is peace’ and ‘freedom is slavery,’ for example. The Ministry of Truth spreads lies. The Ministry of Love tortures lovers.”
In 2020, Modi shouted in top of his voice that there had been no talk of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in his government, but he was probably unaware that the President and the Home Minister mention it in the Parliament. Right?
While speaking about black money during a state rally, Modi said everyone in India will be given 15 lakh each in their accounts if voted to power. It is clear that Modi’s remarks are more rhetoric than poll promise.
The list of lies goes on.
As per a report, India lost its status as an ‘electoral democracy’ and has become an ‘electoral autocracy’ because its Liberal Democratic Index (LDI) has declined from 0.57 in 2010 to 0.34 in 2020, following restrictions placed by the Modi-led government on multiple facets of democracy such as civil society and free speech. Among the top ten autocratising countries, India occupies the seventh position, and no country in South Asia is performing so badly.
Another report by Freedom House, an international organization, had released it’s “Freedom in the World 2021” report earlier this year. In their assessment, India dropped from “Free” to “Partly Free”.
‘The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its state-level allies continued to crack down on critics during the year, and their response to COVID-19 included a hamfisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers,’ this report said.
The report further stated that the ruling Hindu nationalist movement also encouraged scapegoating of Muslims, who were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilant mobs. ‘Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and counterweight to authoritarian influence from countries such as China, Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism,’ it said.
Modi supporters and his ministers will claim it as an “international conspiracy to defame India”, but will never accept criticism.
Perhaps the most dangerous threat of all is complacency. Whether doomscrolling Twitter or ignoring politics completely, most Indians share a baseline confidence that democracy will endure. But will it?