The political well-being of a nation-state is reflective of the social well-being of its citizenry. Indian democracy is unique. As our country’s political leaders adopted a democratic setup at its outset as an independent nation, the whole idea of it was mocked at by political commentators across the globe. India was considered too diverse a nation and Indians too illiterate as citizens to sustain a democratic form of government.
When India, unlike other newly-decolonised South-Asian and African countries, ensured a continuation of the democratic process by surviving Jawaharlal Nehru’s death, it was not just a national victory but a victory of the democratic spirit worldwide.
On 26 January, India celebrates its 72nd Republic Day. As nationalists hyperventilate, appropriating icons of the freedom struggle to make them their own, a sombre sense of introspection clouds our desire and ability to celebrate.
On 5 January last year, the campus of one of India’s most respectable institutions faced a horrifying attack by a masked mob. Reflective of the anti-intellectual sentiment accumulated in the country over the years, this attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University somewhat legitimised the hounding of opponents of the ruling party as Anti-Nationals, Urban-Naxals and the Tukde-Tukde Gang. While the police inaction that followed was disappointing, the conspiracies floated on our nationalist news channels made sure that perpetrators of the crime were not held accountable.
The observable apathy of the Indian state and media-fuelled antipathy of the Indian society towards intellectuals languishing in jails on frivolous grounds today suggests that society is increasingly turning undemocratic. The mere criticism of hyper-nationalist ideas is enough for a person to be labelled as an anti-national. This sentiment is clearly in opposition to the ideals of democracy which call for engagement among different ideas and opinions.
Articles 25 to 28 of the Indian constitution guarantee freedom of religion to all. The Indian state adopted a secular form of government, as opposed to Pakistan that was explicitly formed on religious grounds. While the task of uniting different religious denominations together was daunting in itself, nevertheless, it materialised.
The word secular was added to the Preamble of the Indian Constitution to state explicitly that India does not subscribe to a state religion. This amendment to the constitution was held valid in the SR Bommai vs Union of India case.
The current state of India, however, is worrying. Communalism has seeped deep into Indian society. The ease with which the ideas of a Hindu-Rashtra are expressed and people lynched in the name of religion shows how communal hysteria has engulfed the masses.
The North East Delhi riots were only a manifestation of the communal agenda that runs on news channels “Prime Time” every night. The passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act only opened what had been closeted for a long time; the idea of relegating people belonging to a particular community to secondary citizenship was brought to the mainstream.
As the de-facto head of the Indian state laid the foundation stone for the Ram temple’s construction, it must have invited chuckles from the secular spirit of the Indian state. Further, the passing of ordinances against religious conversion by many Indian states has facilitated state interference in personal matters of religion, much against the ideas of personal choice and individual liberty. These bogus ideas of Love-Jihad are eaten up by people who are on a daily dose of fake news and misinformation, spread through campaigns carefully run by the power-holding bigwigs.
As farmers who gathered to protest against the Farm laws are bracketed as Khalistanis, the country’s communal colours have come out in the open. The arrest of Munawar Faruqui on frivolous grounds was just another instance of the blatant misuse of power. We are only left to question, where is Indian democracy?
The coronavirus pandemic first showed its presence in India towards the end of January. The management of the crisis aside, the pandemic brought a humanitarian crisis that revealed the fault lines in Indian society.
With the hurriedly imposed lockdown came a migrant crisis to the fore that saw people from the bottom of the class pyramid being ignored by the state. As most of these people lost their livelihoods, many lost their lives too. As billionaires continued to mint money and were extended relief benefits by the state, the working hands were left to fend for themselves.
With the Hathras case, the caste divide in India was once again brought to the limelight. As the victim’s body was burnt in the pitch dark of night by the police, the incident’s nerve-wracking images made us question the social privilege enjoyed by a selected few at the top of the caste and class pyramid.
In casual state-supported patriarchy, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh reminded us that patriarchy is still alive and kicking with victim-blaming measures to control (crimes against) women.
As we enter another year of India’s existence as a republic, let us remind ourselves that democracy shows in a country’s institutions when it shows in its society. By relying on our past’s greatness, we cannot shy away from the persisting problems in our society today. Having disturbed the democratic temperament of our society, we are walking a tightrope between aristocracy and mobocracy.
Like one gentleman recently commented, does India have “too much of democracy”? As New Delhi marks the Republic Day with another parade, let us understand the importance of India’s cosmopolitan ethos.