Tomorrow is Independence Day. A day of celebration and introspection into our past and look at the future. Our Independence came at a time when democracy and freedom were in the air around the globe after the Second World War. In 1947 poverty, illiteracy and a deeply entrenched caste system- all of which do not allow democracy to flower, were the order of the day in our country.
It was a most daring gamble in Indian history that Pandit Nehru decided to set up an election commission in 1949 with the hope of conducting elections in 1951, based upon universal adult suffrage. That successful gamble gave us a place in history as the world’s largest democracy. Nehru appointed Sukumar Sen as the CEC a move that jump-started the land of famines to a land of democracy.
Now, India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. It is also one of the most unequal countries. Top 10% control 77% of national wealth. The number of dollar billionaires is increasing in a booming economy (OXFAM International). We have the third-largest middle class. Our record on food and hunger is poor. The ‘Gujarat model’ accelerates such a development.
Times are now different. Democracy is no longer the flavour of the season. Autocrats are also rising all over the globe. We are not far behind. The dismantling of democratic institutions its ideals and practices has put the world’s largest democracy in peril. That’s actually bad news for democracy itself. Today the world’s largest democracy is seen as one of the top ten autocratsing countries. It ranks 108 in electoral democracy ranking below Tanzania, Bolivia, Mexico, Singapore and Nigeria. Last independence day we were ranked at 100. It’s a drop 8 places down. India’s ranking in the world freedom index dropped to 161 among 180 countries below 11 points from last year.
On the eve of this Independence Day, we get another bad news of the downgrading of the CEC. Earlier it was a vigilant press, a robust judicial system and a no-nonsense Election Commission of India that made democracy a matter of faith. The autonomy of these institutions is now being felled.
In this Amrit kaal period the world’s largest democracy is given an ethno-religious rule driven by a strange cocktail of nationalism and populism. What the country will look like in the near future can be seen from the happenings in Manipur and Haryana. The PM’s silence on Manipur and the collective punishment of a community through the bulldozers in Nuh in Haryana is a majoritarian narrative practised with perfection. When a PM remains silent and keeps away from parliament or when a state is bruised and battered or when the established justice system gives way to a bulldozer system, it only brings out a frayed and a failed system and a failing state.
The template is the same. Talk of development, look the other way as mobs and vigilante groups take on the minorities. Christophe Jaffrelot has clearly highlighted the encouragement of vigilantism, demonizing of dissent, the lynching of Muslims and Dalits, assassination of rationalists, trolling of scholars and incarceration of activists as a record of our current times when future generations shall struggle to explain the swift collapse of Indian democracy.
2002 Gujarat riots brought rich dividends at election time. In 2014 Muzaffarnagar was another laboratory which also provided gains. Bulldozer justice seen as instant justice has benefitted Yogi in UP. A community got a warning. ‘Friday is followed by a Saturday’ when bulldozers shall roll out the demolition of the houses of rioters of the ‘other’ community. In Nuh, the maintenance of law and order is managed by sister organizations that get easy access to arms. In Manipur also the powerful Meites community has access to state armouries. Whether it is Haryana or Manipur, the state’s complicity in conflict is loud and clear. Many times it looks as though the riots were made to order!
How long can riots run amuck? As long as the governments want! History will tell us that there is always a method behind that madness. When the state fails in its primary responsibility of law and order rioters take over – what follows is lynching, rape and destruction. Whether it is the Hindu-Sikh riot of 1984, the post-Babri Mumbai riots in 1992 or Gujarat in 2002 and Manipur today; one thing stands up either a political party fuelled the riots or the government of the day just looked the other way. The question that needs to be asked is: who benefits from the riots?
Those who live by a daily dose of Veer Savarkar’s teachings believe that Majoritarianism is a legitimate political authority representing the arithmetic majority of the country, and that’s the way to get a majority at elections. They have it made possible by the consolidation of the Hindu vote making the caste cleavage in the Hindu society redundant. They do not believe in a plurality of religions, cultures, or languages sects. They have no belief in ‘unity in diversity’. For them, democracy is all about elections. Majoritarianism can never be an inclusive society. It is that antithesis that has brought the world’s largest democracy to where it is today a single-party dominance and demolished the democratic spirit.
How has the Indian society come to accept this? The assessment of Ashutosh, a senior journalist and Editorial Director of Satya Hindi, is so correct:
‘Propaganda driven politics which manipulates large section of the population and creates an eco-system where any positive assessment of opposition parties and its leaders is sin and any criticism of Modi becomes blasphemous’.
Power through ethnic cleansing is extremely divisive. But that continues unabated. Sanjay Hegde is spot on when he says we voted for a Gujarat model but got a Manipur!