Simply as we had been abandoning the controversy over “an excessive amount of democracy”, we’ve landed into one other one, about too little democracy. The spirited response by the Exterior Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, to the newest worldwide destructive assessments of India’s democracy deserves applause for witty repartee. However is democracy a matter of mere repartee? And is the minister’s response repartee or a critical mental proposition?
Plainly the minister’s response represents a thought-about place of the present regime: The blunt assertion is that outsiders don’t have any enterprise assessing our democracy. The baseline of the repartee is that voters elect a majority and that’s all democracy is about.
Certainly, the methodology and rating mechanisms adopted by organisations like Freedom Home and tasks like V-Dem will be critiqued. However it’s relatively petty to problem them when, and since, your nation is downgraded. Inside their limitations, such assessments fulfil two functions. They permit cross-national comparisons. One might have reservations about their standards however being frequent for all international locations, they provide an affordable concept the place a rustic stands vis-à-vis others. In addition they inform us how a given nation has been performing over time. Subsequently, rejecting them as hypocrisy will not be merely churlish, it characterises the avoidance syndrome. One wonders when our nationwide chicken modified from peacock to ostrich.
However we, too, can depart the worldwide knowledge apart and ask two homegrown questions. First, how does one deal with home criticism of the best way the present regime has corroded democracy in India?
Not all criticisms take inspiration from Freedom Home or the likes of it. This author wouldn’t require proof from V-Dem to argue that issues are going flawed so far as democratic politics is anxious on this nation. Arrests and gagging of media individuals, indiscriminate submitting of sedition instances, unleashing of investigative companies towards critics of the federal government and quite a few suspensions of web in “disturbed areas” have all been extensively reported. The regime has facilitated area for vigilantes to interact not simply in trolling and name-calling, but in addition wanton submitting of instances by means of harassment, and lynching. The judiciary has chosen to keep away from instances involving challenges to main legal guidelines and inexplicably postponed listening to habeas corpus instances. Lastly, the majoritarian flip each in coverage and public opinion has posed an mental problem of evolving an atmanirbhar definition of democracy.
Activists who get arrested for his or her tweets, political employees who’re denied bail, comedians who face trials, minorities that get sidelined and maligned, journalists who need to face FIRs, are usually not going to want V-Dem or Freedom Home experiences to present their expertise a reputation. There is just one lesson for all of them: It’s a mistake to think about that India is a democracy, there’s a stiff price connected to that creativeness and subsequently the unmistakable conclusion is that every one are usually not free nor politically equal. Even when the knowledge of the minister had been to pressure a change within the worldwide evaluation, it is not going to change the bottom actuality.
However within the coming years, a second query goes to occupy the general public area prominently: How will we perceive democracy? Regimes that undo legacies, de-recognise current knowledge, unsettle established practices and usually declare the duty of paradigm change, typically resort to the primary tactic of mental skullduggery: Taking recourse to nativism, they search to alter meanings of concepts and popularise these meanings within the title of exceptionalism or nationalism. The latest destructive experiences about India’s democracy have given a handy deal with to pseudo-intellectuals of the regime to begin this offensive of redefinition.
A time will come when will probably be argued that democracy is a western notion pointless for true and non secular emancipation — moksha. Will probably be claimed that there’s an indigenous that means to democracy. Liberalism and particular person rights are a western vogue, institutional autonomy is a fetish, freedom of expression is a superfluous luxurious (and naturally, no freedom is absolute). The emphasis on Deendayal Upadhyaya and the unapologetic revival of MS Golwalkar are symptomatic of this primary step to arguing that there’s an Indian-Hindu model of democracy. A cautious studying of newer speeches by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat testify to that declare. The declare is usually simplistic — that democracy was invented, practised and theorised in Hindu custom and scriptures a lot earlier than and independently of western mental developments. However past that, there’s a denial of two key sources on which India’s democratic politics relies — specifically, the nationwide motion and the Structure.
That is the place the duty of true democrats is reduce out for them. They should undertake three routes. Probably the most elementary accountability is to not specific glee on the worldwide downgrading of India’s democracy, and throw the outcomes into the regime’s face. It is a second to be sober and to maintain asking how we arrived right here. Second is the theoretical problem. Going past the binaries of western and non-western, a sturdy mannequin of democracy will should be redeemed. As globalisation and the spatial motion of individuals turns into the norm, the query of what constitutes a majority and the way totally different identities relate to one another will change into central to democracies. With out being ultra-nationalist, like spokespersons of the present regime, we have to frankly insist on studying from the goals and experiments of India’s freedom motion and Structure.
Third, the simplistic binary between electoral and non-electoral must be put aside. Regimes which initially cover behind the democratic fig-leaf typically overemphasise the advantage of electoral victories and the need of the individuals. Nevertheless, moments of democracy’s disaster alert us that the division between the liberal and the democratic is shallow and unhelpful. The desire of the individuals can’t specific itself except individuals as teams, religions, and in addition as particular person dissenters are free to precise themselves. The second particular person residents or minorities and marginalised sections are silenced into self-censorship born out of the lure of social approbation or threat of repression, democracy primarily based on the claims of so many votes begins to resemble its reverse.
Whether or not or to not name that reverse of democracy by the title of autocracy, authoritarianism, or partial freedom, is much less vital as a result of non-democracy, by any title, will scent as odious — it is going to crush the “individuals” in whose title it has enthroned itself.
The author, primarily based at Pune, taught political science and is presently chief editor of Research in Indian Politics