By Syed Ali Mujtaba
There is an interesting book; “To Kill a Democracy: India’s Passage to Despotism” by Debasish Roy Chowdhury and John Keane, published by Oxford University Press (2021) dealing with the steady decline of democracy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule.
The authors Debasish Roy Chowdhury, a Hong Kong-based journalist, and John Keane, a professor of politics at the University of Sydney, in a hard-hitting, relentless chronicle of social and political ills of India delineates how democracy is being ruined by the destructive Modi-style populism.
The authors document the functioning of Parliament to suggest how democracy has corroded in the world’s largest democracy, a country of 138 crore people. They cite that in 2008, eight Bills were passed in 17 minutes. In 2018, Parliament took 30 minutes to pass funding demands from 99 ministries and government departments, along with two Bills containing 218 amendments. On neither occasion was there any debate on the subject pointing that the process of decomposition of Indian democracy has accelerated under the Modi government.
The authors are of the view that India has now moved from democracy to an elective despotism system of governance. The creeping despotism is reflected in many decisions taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Examples like note ban, GST, revoking the autonomous status of the Jammu and Kashmir, announcing Covid lockdown, all have imprints of elected despotism without any grains of democracy.
The authors discuss that India’s passage to despotism is not just in terms of shrinking civil rights and broken governing institutions, but also from the perspective of welfare provisions and economic and social well-being.
The authors are of the view that India is no more a federal republic but a unitary state with some token federal features. An example is a way the health subject was usurped by the Union government during the Covid outbreak in 2020 and the country was put under ‘lockdown’ without consulting the states, which suggests that Indian democracy is being subverted by the Modi government.
The authors tore into pieces Prime Minister Modi’s pet slogan “sabka saath sabka vikas”, saying the reality on the ground portrays totally contrasting picture. “When Modi bid for national power in 2014, he ran on a campaign of inclusive growth, with the slogan of “development for all” but overseeing an economy that has progressively worsened under him, Modi embarked upon divisive politics to enlist the support of the Hindu majority.
The authors attribute regular attacks on Indian Muslim traders, a crackdown on interfaith marriages, and mob lynching, to the Hindu mobilization act. How “indignity in the form of generalized social violence” has led to the heartbreaking collapse of the social fabric of India is vividly described in the book.
The radical supremacists calling for the genocide of Muslims are an increasingly common theme in social media. Videos of small groups of self-appointed saviors of Hinduism tormenting lone Muslims are also seen in social media. All these have led to frequent attacks on Muslims aimed at driving them out from their livelihoods and businesses.
The author linked frequent attacks on Muslim traders and their economic boycott, and discriminatory laws in the states ruled by BJP with the boycott of Jews that started in the 1920s at the regional level and ended as “Judenboykott,” the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses that formally became a state policy by 1933.
The authors say; “while Modi eloquently wags his tongue on the global forums on the need for “rational thinking” to counter radicalization, Hindu fanatics linked to his party have been warning salons and shops against hiring Muslim men.”
“The core message that comes out is that Hindu supremacists feel that development in India is not possible because of the Muslims, who constitute 14 percent of the population. They view Muslims as eating up the fruits of progress that should go to the Hindus, who account for 80 percent of the population.
Recently, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Aditya Nath echoed such sentiments with his “Abba-Jan” comment that blamed Muslims for cornering the government-subsidized food meant for all.
“With not much to show for its last five years in the state, the memories of COVID losses and hardships still raw, and an intensifying farmers’ protest that threatens splits in its captive Hindu voter base, the BJP is left with no choice but to escalate its campaign of hate against Muslims” the author’s opinions.
Digging at Narendra Modi’s pet theme to fight “Islamic fundamentalism”, the authors are of the view that it’s a ploy to hide his own failures and to mobilize Hindu votes so that he can remain in power forever.
“For Modi Islamophobic campaigns such as this help to avoid scrutiny and debate over governance and turn elections into a referendum for protecting the supposedly endangered majority” the author feels and adds; “…for Modi, whose Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) uses Muslims as the electoral bogeyman to consolidate a culturally diverse and caste-riven Hindu vote base against a common “other makes sense to bang on about ‘Muslim radicalization’ as a means of Hindu mobilization.”
The authors raise alarm about the danger of the rising radicalization of the Hindus and call it a “much bigger threat “to India than the rise of “Islamic fundamentalism.”
The authors a journalist and a political theorist with a unique narrative combining moving life stories and scholarly insights have teamed up to offer a radical re-appraisal of Indian politics and society. They have spent 336 pages convincing that Indian democracy is on its last legs. However, they hold out the hope that the Indian people can save the decline through mass action, to sum up, “India does not lend itself to simple, reductive conclusions.”
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com