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The Arrest Of Five Activists Is No Surprise – India Has Already Ceased To Be A Democracy Since May 2014!

As elections are getting closer, India is going to witness the further use of all sorts of non-democratic methods by the regime to retain the power.

The recent nation-wide crackdown by security agencies on rights activists has again pushed commentators to ask if India is passing through a period of undeclared emergency. Even international media have taken note of this development and have started to highlight the rapidly deteriorating conditions of the Indian democracy. While the world is passing through a period of democratic decline and developed democracies in the West are worried over their own freedom indices, the authoritarian rule of Narendra Modi in India has become the new normal. However, for a highly-segregated country like India to survive, democracy is not a choice, it is a necessity. India cannot afford to remain undemocratic like other mono-ethnic nations.   

As elections are getting closer, India is going to witness the further use of all sorts of non-democratic methods by the regime to retain the power. While the state machinery is being used to stifle any voice of dissent, the ruling party machinery is being used to divide the country on the basis of religious and nationalistic binaries. If a dissenter is not a Muslim or a Christian or a Dalit, then s/he is being branded as an anti-national and/or so-called ‘urban Naxal’. Ruling party supporters under the protection of the state are engaged in harassing, lynching and killing opponents and are creating an atmosphere of hate and fear. However, the real surprise is that many commentators in India seem to have realised only now that under Narendra Modi, Indian democracy is under serious threat.

It is no surprise that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a highly controversial and polarising politician. Since his infamous entry into the national political discourse in 2002, there have been regular reports about his authoritarian temperament and dictatorial working style. Modi himself boasted about his imaginary 56-inch chest before the 2014 national election. Even Modi’s supporters and party candidates projected him as a ‘decisive’ leader, including film actor and BJP MP Paresh Rawal who asserted before the election, “A benevolent dictatorship is what India needs.” Some opposition leaders before the 2014 election were also open about their fear of Modi. National Conference President Farooq Abdullah had warned,“If Modi becomes the Prime Minister, India will become a dictatorial nation and only God knows who will survive that (his rule).” So, no one should be surprised at Modi’s dictatorial behaviour as Prime Minister now. To a large extent, he had even used it as his trump card to project him as a powerful and decisive leader to sell his candidature as the Prime Minister of the country.

In the last 50 months, Modi has failed miserably to fulfil his election-eve promises of bringing achhe din for the country by making it rich and powerful. His promise to bring back black money from abroad and put Rs 15 lakhs in each Indian’s bank account has already been declared a jumla. His election slogan, ‘less government more governance’ changed to ‘more government and less governance’ immediately after the election. However, one thing Modi had promised at the time of election and has delivered it lock, stock and barrel is his ability to take a decision, even if the quality of the decision is extremely dangerous for the country and its people.

There is no doubt that the demonetisation decision was taken by Modi himself and it has failed to achieve any of its stated objectives. His abrupt decision on 8 November 2016 to invalidate 86 percent of the value of cash in circulation caused immense hardship and terrible pain to millions of Indians, particularly the poorer section of the society. Nearly 150 people died due to this whimsical administrative decision and no one knows when the misery for India’s economy and its small businesses will end, if at all. As Amartya Sen has described, the idea and implementation of cash ban by Modi was a “despotic action” and “only an authoritarian government can calmly cause such misery to the people.”

Another such issue which is being seen these days by many as Modi regime’s biggest scam is the Rafale Deal with France. On his visit to France in April 2015, Modi decided on his own to purchase 36 French-made Rafale fighter jets. He overlooked previous price negotiations, and not only decided the number of the fighters to buy but also bypassed the state-owned HAL with 78 years of experience in the business, to select a private company with no experience to be the Indian partner. This can only be termed ‘decisive’, but it can never be considered democratic. Only a dictator can take this highly arbitrary and extremely controversial decision.

Modi as the Prime Minister of the country has shown his utter disregard for human rights and is never hesitant towards the crude use of state machinery for censoring critics. His regime has been trying all the tricks to undermine the independence and power of judiciary and using both constitutional means and Hindutva foot soldiers to suppress religious freedom. Academic freedom has been seriously curtailed and student activism is brutally suppressed. Survival of free and independent media in the country has been extremely hazardous. More than 10,000 NGOs have been prohibited from receiving monetary support from abroad.

There is little doubt that democracy in India has gone into a deep slumber after Narendra Modi came to power in May 2014. Someone can be very well become a dictator even if they have come to the power through an election. In the past, dictators used to capture power through violent means, but that has gone out of fashion these days. Dictatorship means that the regime rests on a single individual. Any regime can take good or bad decisions. However, when a dictator takes a decision, it might look decisive and bold but it lacks checks and balances and suffers from the absence of a safety net. A government, which considers the wish of a sole individual the interest of the whole country, is a dangerous proposition.

India has ceased to be a democracy after the 2014 general election and is being ruled by an elected despot. Undoubtedly, Narendra Modi has all the characteristics of a copybook dictator. Dictators are usually charismatic and cunning and at the same time extremely self-absorbed and possess a huge lust for power. They are also compassionless and prepared to go to any extent to suppress dissent in order to maintain their domination over the system. Thus, it is important for political opponents and regime critics to accept this fact and plan accordingly. India’s ride to the next general election is not going to be smooth and business as usual and the election itself will not be fought on a level playing field. The arrest of activists is just a sentence in Modi’s handbook of how to win the next election at any cost.

The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.

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