Institutions at various levels are the pillars that hold up the edifice of democracy. Any political party forming the government is naturally expected to uphold the autonomy of these institutions, irrespective of its ideological bent. Contemporary examples have shown that any hindrance by the democratically elected government to significant institutions jeopardises the very existence of democracy. This article aims at critically analysing the subversion of various institutions by the current BJP government, in slight juxtaposition with the previous regimes of the Indian National Congress.
The constituent assembly intended the Prime Minister to be the ‘first among equals’, deliberately disregarding the presidential system of USA. However, Prime Minister Modi has been constantly refusing to acknowledge the intentions of the Constitution makers by treating governance as an isolated affair between himself (the messiah) and the people of the nation.
Firstly, the government seems to be spending a hefty amount of tax payers’ money on publicity (mostly for the Prime Minister). The current regime has already spent ₹4,300 crores on its publicity in the last 4 years, as compared to ₹3,400 crores by the UPA II in 5 years. Secondly, the Prime Minister has a track record of making things both personal and political in instances where he is expected not to do so. In the aftermath of demonetisation, he appealed to people to accept the hardships of the move through statements like “I know what kind of powers I have taken on. I am aware they will not let me live”, “I will be prepared for the punishment that the country decides for me” and “I left my home, family, everything for the country.” On breaking his long silence on cow vigilantism, he said “If you have to attack, attack me; if you have to fire bullets, shoot me, but don’t target my Dalit brothers,” thereby making the entire issue not about the Dalits, but himself. The very nature of democracy in a country as large as India is altered if the headman, who is supposed to be first among equals, makes the show about himself.
It is not uncommon for the ruling governments to appoint party veterans as Governors of various states as a gesture of appreciation for their loyalty. The BJP seems to have taken the equation to newer heights. The party has been subverting the constitutional position of the Governor to further its political interests. While the Governors of Goa and Manipur chose to invite the BJP alliance to form the government, disregarding the Congress, which was the single largest party, the Governor of Karnataka refused to apply the same equation when it was the BJP that emerged as the single largest party. It was only after the BJP virtually failed the floor test that the Congress and JDU alliance was invited to form the government. The series of such instances is clearly indicative of the BJP’s disregard for its responsibility as the ruling party. Though the nature of the Governor’s role is to be a nominal head of the state, the post comes with great prestige, subversion of which is pernicious to the democracy, both practically and symbolically.
The Judiciary is one institution that was intended to have utmost freedom by the makers of the Constitution. The significance of the institution, it seems, does not deter the ruling party from intruding into the judiciary’s freedom. Beginning with the passing of the NJAC Bill 2014—which took away the autonomy of the judiciary in appointing judges—the BJP expressed all intentions to exert executive influence in judicial appointments. The tussle between the ruling party and the judiciary became more obvious when the BJP cabinet sent Justice K. M. Joseph’s nomination back to the collegium on the grounds that he lacked seniority. Behind the veil of formality was the displeasure of the saffron party over Justice Joseph, who had struck down the imposition of President’s rule in Uttarakhand.
What the BJP fails to acknowledge is that intrusion into the judiciary has far-reaching consequences to the scheme of things in a democracy. The BJP and Prime Minister Modi must take cue from the whole series of attempts by Indira Gandhi to subvert the judiciary by appointing Justice A. N. Ray in the ’70s. The aftermath of the Emergency saw the Parliament implement the 42nd Amendment, dubbed as a ‘mini constitution’, primarily aimed at undoing the effects that the Emergency period had had on the country. The entire episode of Emergency witnessed the country’s citizens losing faith in the Constitution that they were supposed to have given themselves. The framers of the Constitution had provided for various checks and balances to ensure the freedom of the judiciary, having already contemplated such attempts of intrusions. History seems to only suggest that citizens in a democracy would neither want another Emergency nor a government that jeopardises the freedom of other institutions that protect their rights.
The most recent controversy that surrounds the ruling BJP is the resignation of the RBI Governor Dr. Urjit Patel, due to personal reasons. It, however, doesn’t seem plausible given the track record of tussles that the ruling government has had with the country’s apex bank. The government elevated Patel to the post of Governor of RBI and its refusal to give the former Governor Dr. Raghuram Rajan a second term was seen as an attempt to bring the institution in line with its interests.
The government seemed to have almost no qualms about demonetising currency that formed 86% of the total cash flow in the country. The subsequent endorsement of the move by the RBI under Dr. Patel indicated that the government finally had the top institution in its control. However, the coins were flipped when the RBI refused to lower interest rates, and when the government started blaming the RBI for the country’s low rate of economic growth. That the nature of interaction between the apex bank and the right government is evident from Dr. Patel’s resignation, also citing personal reasons. A source of greater worry is the fact that the ruling government finds trouble in functioning in its sphere of authority while giving the other institutions that are equally significant in the democracy, their due freedom. A government that expects other institutions to bow down to its whims and fancies negates the very intention behind the existence of those institutions.
The media, which is often dubbed as the ‘fourth pillar of democracy’, seems to be suffering the most from the right-wing nationalism’s ascendancy to power. Though not a discrete institution, the media is one of the key players in a democracy. That being the case, the news for Modi’s reign is not too great. According to the ‘World Press Freedom Index – 2018’ by Reporters Without Borders, India’s rank has further slipped two places with 6 journalists being killed in 2018 alone. The report further states that Modi’s brand of nationalism forces the media into ‘self-censorship.’ The entire community of journalists was shocked by the assassination of senior journalist Gauri Lankesh. That the entire group of accused persons in her assassination belong to staunch right-wing organisations seems to suggest that suppression of the media is encouraged, if not directly exercised by the central government.
History has it that India defied all odds to survive as a democracy, negating the claims of Western opportunists who said the country would soon become an autocracy. That being the legacy that our country holds, the extent of systematic subversion of institutions during the four-year regime of the BJP is a serious concern that needs to be tackled. While a party’s radical ideology is the concern of its followers, its actions after forming a democratic government are everybody’s concern especially when the events suggest that its actions are pernicious to the democracy.