India’s 73rd Republic Day celebration will be in a subdued way because of the unprecedented spread of Omicron. It is also symbolic of the erosion of the democratic institutions of the Republic along with the increasing social divisions and economic distress experienced by millions of Indians. The Republic Day celebration should have instilled hope and expectation in the 130 crore people in view of realizing the vision of India as envisaged in the preamble of the Constitution. But the reality is far from the dream of the Constitution-framers. A critical look at the reality should infuse passion in all Indians to fight against the divisive, communal, regressive and fascist forces that are taking the country to a bleak future.
Secularism or equality of all religions is one of the founding principles of the Constitution and of the Indian Republic. However, even the use of the term “secularism” has become a sort of crime in recent years and those who speak for secularism are branded as anti-nationals. Christophe Jafferlot in his latest book, “Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy”, has described by giving umpteen number of examples how India has become a de facto Hindu Rashtra.
The examples include the draconian type Love Jihad laws, anti-conversion laws and cow protection laws passed by various BJP-ruled states, rewriting the history of India, paralyzing secular NGOs and human rights organizations, stigmatizing and victimizing the minorities --Muslims and Christians -- free hand given to the Hindutva vigilante organizations like Bajarang Dal and VHP to indulge in violence against the minorities and promoting the leaders of these organizations who are involved in violence to become office-bearers of the party and even ministers in the government.
According to the Constitution of India, the state should be neutral with regard to religion; the state should not have its own religion and it should not discriminate against any religion. Ever since the BJP came to power in 2014 at the Centre, the Central and the BJP-ruled state governments have been blatantly discriminatory to the religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians. At the same time, the BJP governments have been favouring the majority religion, Hinduism. Almost all the functions organized by the BJP governments start with Hindu rituals. Money is spent lavishly on the renovation of Hindu religious structures, erecting huge statues and promotion of Hinduism.
On December 13, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the first phase of Kashi Vishwanath Corridor built at a cost of Rs. 339 crores, and the estimated cost of the total project is Rs. 800 crores. The whole inaugural function was organized by the government with tax payers’ money. The Prime Minister appeared like a poojari during the inaugural ceremony by performing priestly functions.
On 11th January, 2022, the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced that his government will build a 108-foot statue of Adi Shankaracharya at Omkareshwar at a cost of Rs. 2,000 core when the M P government has a debt of Rs. 2.56 lakh crores. These are only a few examples of the extravaganza of the BJP governments to prove their loyalty to Hinduism. At the same time churches and statues belonging to Christians are demolished at different places, and Muslims are barred from offering namaz in public places as happened in Gurgaon. All these developments amply demonstrate that Hinduism has become the official religion of India.
The Haridwar dharma Sansad of the so-called Hindu ascetics, calling the Hindus to take up arms and resort to the genocide of Muslims and other minorities in the name of protecting Hinduism, and the silence of the prime minister on this crime show how India is drifting to the depth of communal hatred. Only after a large number of prominent citizens took up the issue with the Supreme Court, the Court agreed to hear a Public Interest Litigation on the horrible hate speech. The Uttarakhand government has shown criminal negligence to arrest the culprits except two.
Christophe Jafferlot has concluded his book, “Modi’s India” stating that an electoral defeat of the BJP may not make much difference in the process of making India a Hindu Rashtra because of two reasons. Firstly, “the Sangh Parivar is so deeply entrenched in the social fabric that it may continue to dictate terms to the state”. Secondly, the “deep state” may remain in a position to influence politics even if the BJP is voted out. Wikipedia defines a deep state as a “type of governance made up of potentially secret and unauthorized networks of power operating independently of a state's political leadership in pursuit of their own agenda and goals”.
Another dangerous aspect of India drifting from the right track is authoritarianism, and the country is becoming an illiberal democracy. According to Fareed Zakaria, “democratically elected regimes, often re-elected or reinforced by referendums, ignore the constitutional limits of their power and deprive their citizens of basic rights and liberties”. If liberal democracy emphasizes the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, a system of checks and balances and respect for human rights and fundamental rights of citizens, illiberal democracy encompasses just the opposites. Some of the explicit signs of India drifting towards authoritarianism and illiberal democracy are the following.
The Parliament has become a rubber stamp, where laws are passed without any discussion or consultation with the main stakeholders as happened in the case of the three controversial farm laws. The opposition parties are not allowed to raise vital issues concerning people and governance in Parliament. This has often led to stalemate in the two Houses of Parliament, leading to passing of laws without any deliberation.
Engineering defections in opposition-ruled states, as happened in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, is one of the strategies used by the BJP to gain power. The BJP is bent upon capturing power in as many states as possible, and it doesn’t hesitate to use any method. The fund at its disposal is enormous. It got 75% of the electoral bonds sold for a total of Rs. 3,435 crores in 2019-20 whereas the Congress party got only 9%. The BJP has used liberally the investigation agencies like CBI, Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax department etc, to harass opposition party leaders whereas the BJP leaders are left free of any investigation.
Any criticism against the government or dissent is branded as anti-national. Journalists, social activists, writers and opposition leaders are charged under the draconian laws like National Security Act, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and Sedition Law (Section 124 A of Indian Penal Code) and they remain in jail without bail or trial being started.
The arrest and incarceration of sixteen activists, including late Fr. Stan, in the Bhima Koregaon case, is an example of violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Often the judiciary fails to be the guardian of the Constitution and the fundamental rights of citizens. According to Christophe Jaffrelot, the accused of Bhima Koregoan case are “victims of judicial authoritarianism” and are 'political prisoners'.
The media, the fourth pillar of democracy, except a few newspapers and news channels, have become the propaganda machine of the government. Media have failed in fulfilling their responsibilities of disseminating right information among the public and critiquing the wrong policies and actions of the government.
A vibrant democracy requires a strong opposition. Unfortunately, the opposition parties are disunited and as a result they have become ineffective in opposing the wrong policies of the government. A weak and disunited opposition has contributed immensely to make the BJP government authoritarian.
The decline of democracy in India has been well documented by many national and international surveys year after year since 2014. For example, India was rated Partly Free in “Freedom in the World 2021”, Freedom House's annual study of political rights and civil liberties worldwide.
The third aspect of India drifting from the right track is the current socio-economic scenario. The socio-economic situation is characterized by increasing hunger that affects the poorest and the most marginalized, widening gap between the rich and the poor and rising crimes against the Dalits, Tribals and women in general.
According to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021, India has slipped from 94th position to 101st position among 116 countries for which the report was prepared. In 2020, India was ranked 94th out of 107 countries. The 2021 report shows that India is in the “alarming” category along with its neighbours Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
According to the World Inequality Report 2022, “India stands out as a poor and very unequal country with an affluent elite”. The top 1% of India’s population earned more than one fifth (21.7%) of the country’s total national income in 2021, while the bottom 50% received just 13.31% of the income. Regarding wealth distribution, the report says that the top 1% and 10% of the population own respectively 33% and 65% of the country’s total wealth whereas the bottom 50% owns a meagre 5.9%.
As per the annual inequality survey of Oxfam India released on January 17, 2022, the Indian billionaires witnessed their combined fortunes more than double during the Covid-19 pandemic and their count shot up by 39 per cent to 142. The report also states that the wealth of India's ten richest is enough to fund school and higher education of children in the country for 25 years.
Ever since the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014 there has been a rise in the crimes against Dalits, Tribals and women. According to the data released by National Crime Records Bureau in September 2021, crimes against Dalits and Tribals increased by 9.4% and 9.3% respectively in 2020-2021. The growing frequency of caste-based atrocities reflects how the BJP encourages and promotes Brahmanism. It happens at the cost of those Hindus who do not belong to elite castes according to the traditional caste hierarchy.
The drifting of India to a majoritarian Hindu Rashtra, authoritarianism or illiberal democracy and increasing socio-economic disparities should not discourage the citizens of India, especially the followers of Jesus. The Republic Day celebrations should remind every citizen to recommit himself/herself to work hard for the realization of the vision of India as envisaged in the preamble of India: A Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic with Justice, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity assuring the dignity of the Individual and the unity and integrity of the nation. The followers of Jesus have a greater responsibility to work for the realization of the constitutional vision because it is nothing but the vision of Jesus: The Kingdom of God or Reign of God. They may specially focus on the following.
• In the context of India being converted into a Hindutva Rashtra, there is an urgent need for educating people about the core values and principles of the Indian Constitution along with practicing these values and principles. All Christian schools should pay special attention to educate their students and teachers about the Constitution, especially the pluralistic (secular) nature of the society and the dangers of a theocratic country.
• The disciples of Jesus are to join hands with civil society organizations that oppose the government policies and actions that violate the Constitution and the fundamental right of people, the policies that are discriminative and contribute to widening the gap between the rich and the poor, and the policies that lead to large scale displacement of people and destruction of environment.
• A pluralistic atmosphere is to be created in all Christian institutions meant for the public by conducting inter-faith prayer instead of conducting only Christian prayers, exhibiting the symbols and quotes from all religions in view of promoting universal values like love, forgiveness, compassion, justice, and equality.
• The poor and the marginalized people, who constitute about 70 percent of the population, are to be made aware about the present socio-political situation, how the government is failing to fulfil its responsibilities, how the policies of the government are favouring the rich and the upper castes, and how the government is using religion to hoodwink ordinary people. This awareness creation is to be a part of all ministries of the Church.