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DECAYING AND DYING DEMOCRACY IN INDIA

Author: Utkarshinee Verma, IV year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, Uttarakhand


Looking back at what history has to offer, the emergency announced by Indira Gandhi from 1975 to 1977 and the imposition of President’s Rule in the country was one of the earliest instances of suspension of democratic rights in India. This act received heavy backlash from all around the world. It caused the decline of the Indian National Congress, induced separatism in Punjab, Kashmir and parts of the North East. But somehow even after this instance democracy in India managed to recover.


Contemporary events like the revocation of constitutional autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir“on 5th August 2019 during the governance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah, withdrew the powers exercised by that state under Article 370 and converted it into two new Union territories with “significantly reduced autonomy[1]. Ironically the underlying reasons given by the government for this act of extremism were democratic values, equality and peace. But when the veil of this pretence is dared to be lifted the desire to build a Hindu Rashtra i.e. a Hindu Ethnic State is found.


The desire for a unified Hindu state over the last five years has concerned dismantling and demolishing India’s democracy and turning it into a hybrid regime, which is capable of becoming outrightly authoritarian. This detriment is structurally done in several steps.


Organisations endorsing secularism, the idea of equality and democratic values are targeted, followed by the media and finally minorities — Muslims, Dalits and Christians. These people from minority communities live in the constant fear of being outcast from their own country for not subscribing to the new common norms of Hindu nationalism. This fear strategises forced conversions, attacks under the pretext of protecting cows and the propagation of a yoga-inspired ideology that sees homosexuality as a sickness that needs to be cured.

INSTANCES WHERE VOICE OF DEMOCRACY WAS SILENCED WITH AUTHORITARIAN METHODS

  • Gautam Navlakha, a journalist, is facing charges from the Pune police claiming he aided Islamist and Maoist terrorists. He is also accused of agitating for Dalit rights, leading to the Bhima Koregaon protests in 2018. None of the allegations has so far been proven. Navlakha is indeed working for civil liberties and human rights. He also reported on the Naxalite movement in Chhattisgarh and the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. But this is not a crime in a democracy.”[2]


  • Gauri Lankesh, another journalist, criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party and worked for women’s rights. In 2017 at her home in Bangalore, Lankesh was shot in the head, neck and chest with seven bullets. Her murder, and that of other activists working for democratic and secular values, was it seems carried out by organisations intent on building a Hindu Rashtra.”[3]


  • The government argued that since Jammu and Kashmir were under presidential rule, its lawmakers could not be consulted. In this scenario, parliament was to be seen as the body representing the people of Kashmir. It voted overwhelmingly to shut down Article 370 and convert Jammu and Kashmir into Union territory. This is how the folks of Kashmir were ‘consulted’ when the most dramatic changes to the constitutional status of their state since independence were created.


  • The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha on August 5, 2019, was a long-awaited day for the transgender community in India. However, the bill turned out to be rather a weapon of further degradation and subordination of the transgender community and was thus termed as Gender Justice Murder Day’[4]. Gender fluidity has forever been a phenomenon society has preferred to brush under the carpet and lay over it. The organic nature of the society and the constant exposure to western practices and revolutions have given a rather firm voice to the subjects of gender fluidity and its supporters in our country. These non-conforming individuals walk down the streets of cities around India celebrating themselves in the internationally recognized month of “PRIDE”. But much can’t be done when even after being the world’s largest democracy the one’s running it still undermines the alternative sexualities in the cave of heterosexual and cisgender norms. The Government handling of trans rights. has been forever chaotic, untimely, insufficient and problematic. The Transgender Persons Act is an example of such handling. The Bill was an act of shrewdness on the part of the ones in power as it passed, without any debate, amid the chaos that subsisted then due to abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir on the same day.[5]


EVIDENCE INDICATING DECLINE OF DEMOCRACY IN INDIA

  • DEMOCRACY INDEX: India slipped two places to 53rd position in the 2020 Democracy Index's global ranking, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, which said the "democratic backsliding" by authorities and "crackdowns" on civil liberties has led to a further decline in the country's ranking.


  • “With mounting pressure on India’s democratic norms, India’s score fell from a peak of 7.92 in 2014 to 6.61 in 2020 and its global ranking slipped from 27th (in 2014) to 53rd as a result of democratic backsliding" under the current regime, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said.”[6]


  • “It further alleged that the Narendra Modi-led government has "introduced a religious element to the conceptualisation of Indian citizenship, a step that many critics see as undermining the secular basis of the Indian state."[7]


  • “Recently, the Swedish organisation Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) came out with an impressive looking ranking of the extent of liberal democracy across the world. The institution believes that the status of democracy in India right now is as of during 1975-77 emergency.”[8]


[1]https://thedailyusnews.com/indias-declining-democracy/

[2]https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/09/27/indias-declining-democracy/.

[3]https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/09/27/indias-declining-democracy/.

[4]Fatima Khan, ‘Murder of Gender Justice’-activists urge President Kovind not to sign the transgender bill, THE PRINT (Feb. 11, 2021, 11:05 PM), https://theprint.in/india/murder-of-gender-justice-activists-urge-president-kovind-not-to-sign-transgender-bill/327360/.

[5]Rajya Sabha Debates on the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019, CENTRE FOR LAW & POLICY RESEARCH, (Feb. 11, 2021, 11:30 PM), https://clpr.org.in/blog/rajya-sabha-debates-on-the-transgender-persons-protection-of-rights-bill-2019-day-1/.

[6]https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/india-falls-to-53rd-position-in-eius-democracy-index-207879/.

[7]https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-falls-to-53rd-position-in-eius-democracy-index/article33739128.ece/.

[8]https://swarajyamag.com/ideas/an-analysis-of-the-v-dem-data-on-the-decline-of-democracy-in-india-reveals-interesting-insightsabout-v-dem/.