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State of Indian Democracy before 2024 Lok Sabha elections

Fascist Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government is violating every democratic norm in the country ahead of Lok Sabha elections to be held next year. Acting as an authoritarian regime, it is employing every wicked tactic to target and silence its political opponents and dissenting voices including journalists and rights activists as well as religious minorities in the country.

Modi using wicked tactics to suppress opposition

The opposition parties have said that the BJP government is creating rift in non-BJP parties and toppling their governments in states by misusing the central agencies. Experts say that the tactic to orchestrate splits as a means of launching an alternative political system is yet another assault on the democratic fabric that has been ripped apart in India especially since Modi became the country’s prime minister.

Some high-profile investigations against opposition leaders including Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Manish Sisodia, Satyendar Jain, Tejashwi Yadav, K. Kavitha, in recent months vindicate the stand of the opposition parties.

Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were questioned last year by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) over alleged money laundering linked to Young Indian’s takeover of Associated Journals Ltd, the company which ran the National Herald newspaper. They denied the charges.

Rahul Gandhi was disqualified as a member of parliament, a day after being convicted in a defamation case and sentenced to two years in jail on Friday, 24 March 2023. In a tweet following the move, Gandhi said he is “fighting for India’s voice” and that he “will pay any price for it”. Congress officials have described the court order as politically motivated and accused Prime Minister Modi and the ruling BJP of targeting political opponents.

Manish Sisodia, the second-in-command of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which wrested control of Delhi’s city government from Congress in 2013 and is seen as one of Modi’s main opponents, was arrested last month on allegations of corruption. Sisodia and his party have denied the charges. The arrest was in connection with an investigation into a liquor policy introduced by Delhi’s city government last year. He is being held on remand in jail.

Reacting to Rahul Gandhi’s conviction and disqualification, political analyst Pavni Mittal said Gandhi has “accused Modi of crony capitalism and favouring certain business houses for lucrative contracts”. “He has also led the criticism on minority rights and minority issues in India,” she said. “All of this plays out in the larger political context when India is heading for general elections next year. So opposition parties believe these [jail sentences and disqualifications] are intimidation tactics to make sure that BJP has an upper hand in the elections.”

On March 24, 2023, at least 14 opposition parties moved the Supreme Court alleging misuse of federal investigative agencies by Modi’s government.

Earlier, eight opposition parties wrote a letter to Prime Minister Modi alleging the misuse of central investigation agencies to go after them. “The blatant misuse of central agencies against the members of the opposition appears to suggest that we have transitioned from being a democracy to an autocracy,” the letter said. It maintained, “Interestingly, investigation agencies go slow on cases against opposition politicians who join the BJP.”

“Since 2014, there has been a marked rise in the number of raids conducted, cases lodged against and arrest of the opposition leaders…. In many such cases, the timings of the cases lodged or arrests made have coincided with elections making it abundantly clear that they were politically motivated,” the opposition leaders said in the letter.

Targeting religious minorities

Besides, ruthlessly suppressing any voice of opposition, the BJP regime is fuelling the fire of hatred against fellow Indians, viciously targeting Muslims and other religious minorities as well as Dalits. Hindutva leaders aligned to the Sangh Parivar are openly inciting religious violence and calling for genocide of Muslims, with the Modi govt having turned a blind eye to all this.

Press freedom under attack

Since BJP led by PM Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, there have been consistent attacks on journalists who question or criticize the ruling party. Besides physical violence, journalists face a range of threats including censorship, economic hardships, political pressures and job insecurity. They are routinely threatened, intimidated, arrested, booked and silenced through gag orders and concocted charges by the authorities. They are booked for sedition or arrested under draconian laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the National Security Act and the Public Security Act (PSA). Since his re-election in 2019, Modi’s BJP has increased pressure on the media to toe the government’s line. The coordinated hate campaigns waged on social media against journalists who question the government or uncover the truth behind the government’s actions elicit calls for these journalists to be murdered.

Also in February, Indian tax authorities raided the BBC’s local offices, weeks after the broadcaster aired a documentary on Modi’s role during the 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom when he was the state’s chief minister. The Editors Guild of India then said the raids on the BBC were part of a wider trend of using government agencies to intimidate or harass press organisations that are critical of government policies.

Modi’s actions violate essence of democracy

Praneet Pathak, a keen observer of Indian democracy says that the targeted raiding of opponents violates the essence of democracy, adding democracies don’t punish their citizens for opposing the powers that be; criticism, dissent and discussion are considered vital for ensuring accountability, apart from being inviolable rights in themselves. But such actions send a chilling message to anyone seeking to hold the government to account. By instilling terror for one’s politics, he said, such targeting of political opponents defeat the purpose of rule of law to make people feel safe and create an orderly society, instead, by making people feel unsafe (at risk of persecution) for their politics, the state under Modi through its rule by raids has become a threat to the rule of law.

Pathak pointed out that this rule by fear culture has led to citizens being jailed for merely criticising their leaders, journalists being jailed for bringing news critical of the regime and activists being prosecuted for being on the wrong side of power, reflecting the dwindling space for free speech.

Indian academic and political scientist Suhas Palshikar says that during its second term, the BJP regime has made concerted efforts to undermine constitutional democracy but even before that, the process of hollowing the various institutions had begun. He further says that while constitutional bodies like the judiciary or the Election Commission have been tamed or threatened, the most abject surrender facilitating an authoritarian turn of governance has been by the bureaucracy and investigating agencies so much so that these two have become partners of the political establishment in the crime against democracy.

Compiled by Kifayat Rizvi

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