5th August 2019 – the Red Letter Day in the Indian Republic, when the constitutional autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked, with the abrogation of Article 370 that had granted special status to the state.
The central nationalist government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah, nullified the powers exercised by that state under Article 370.
J & K was further reduced to the stature of Union territory and Ladakh was established as a separate UT. The government declared that values relating to democracy, equality and peace were the prime reason for the measure. But was this the truth?
Well, perhaps not. This can be said, because right from that day, the entire valley went on a long term communication blackout, with the deployment of armed forces. J & K was detached from the rest of the nation.
People spoke out about the sheer inconvenience they faced, as they were unable to get in touch with their families in the newly created Union Territory. The people of Kashmir were completely stopped from speaking up. Was this a democratic decision taken in the interest of civilians, by violating their fundamental rights?
Even if the initial blackout was done to combat the anticipated havoc, that could have risen, surrounding the revocation; there was absolutely no strong reason given as to why this went on until the Apex court of India issued orders to the government to restore all the communication services.
However, not all internet services have been restored. As this report explains “The administration also restored 2G mobile data services, but only for access to a set of 153 “white-listed” websites, in all districts of Jammu division and two districts of Kashmir division – Kupwara and Bandipora.”
The next move by the parliament was the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill on the 4th of December, 2019. This is now called the Citizenship Amendment Act, and it has invoked nationwide protests on several grounds. The primary one being its absolutely discriminatory clause of assigning citizenship to immigrants based on religion. This outrightly violates the Indian constitution, on the grounds of sovereignty and democracy. Those who opposed the Act were charged as criminals and rioters.
These two instances are not all. For the past five years, this country has been witnessing many such examples, which completely emphasise the strong violation of democracy and a direct effort towards building a Hindu Ethnic State.
And this was further reinstated by India’s global ranking in the Democracy Index, in 2019; we slipped 10 places, to 51st! The Economist Intelligence Unit cited “erosion of civil liberties” in the country, as the primary cause for the downtrend. India’s score in 2018 was 7.23 which has gone down to 6.90 in 2019.
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) is an annual survey, which rates the state of democracy across 167 countries, based on the following parameters; electoral process and pluralism, political participation, the functioning of government, democratic political culture and civil liberties.
The index indicates which democracy has been eroded around the world in the past year. Then, based on the scores, the countries are divided into four category regimes consisting of:
Full democracy– The scores greater than 8
Flawed democracy — The scores greater than 6 and less than or equal to 8
Hybrid regime — The scores greater than 4 and less than or equal to 6
Authoritarian regime — scores less than or equal to 4
Only 22 countries have been classified as “full democracies” in 2019, while more than a third of the world’s population were found to be living under authoritarian rule, including China. Pakistan and Bangladesh have been categorised as ‘hybrid regimes’. The list was topped by Norway, while North Korea was at the bottom.
India has fallen into the category of a ‘flawed democracy’. So, should we be surprised by this? Statics are the numbers that reflect and testify reality.
Ever since BJP came to power, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, India has witnessed numerous crackdowns on civil liberties, ranging from a ban on protests against the government policies, shutting down of internet and mobile network, restricting the freedom of the press, and the imposition of an of a draconian colonial-era law, that prohibits public gatherings.
Journalists and activists have been targeted in several ways, to the extent that many have stated they feel intimidated, as the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech have been under threat. This stops them from covering stories critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration.
The fact is that when a political party comes to power, to form a government, they are supposed to work towards holistic growth and the interest of the nation; that comprises of each and every citizen irrespective of caste, religion and gender.
However, in India, just the opposite is prevailing. The government is far from being “of, for and by the people”. Students who express dissent and ask questions face attacks. People who challenge the policies are designated as anti-Indians.
Critical issues like unemployment and climate crisis do not get any attention, while irrelevant things keep topping the government’s priority chart. The Muslim and Dalit minorities have been living under the shade of constant fear of being oppressed.
This is the ‘new normal’ of new India. As India steps into the 71st Republic Day, it is on the verge of losing the importance of the word republic. This is an awakening call for all of us. If we do not wake up now, we never will!