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Traits of Dictatorship

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
29 May 2023
Plenty are the signs and proofs for India drifting towards authoritarianism and dictatorship.

A statement by Satya Pal Malik, the former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, on May 22, 2023 as reported by PTI, points to the present status of democracy in India and its bleak future. “Elections (Lok Sabha 2019) were fought on the bodies of our soldiers and no investigation was done. Had an inquiry been done, the then Home Minister (Rajnath Singh) would have to resign. Many officers would have been jailed and there would have been a huge controversy,” Malik said at an event in Bansur of Alwar district in Rajasthan. He urged people to change the government. “Because if you vote from them again, you will not get a chance to vote thereafter. After this he will not let you vote, he will say that every time only I win, then why spend on elections,” he said according to PTI.

Plenty are the signs and proofs for India drifting towards authoritarianism and dictatorship. Passing laws and making decisions without taking into account the hardships caused to people and without adopting a process of dialogue at various levels to assess the views of people are one aspect of the drift towards authoritarianism and dictatorship.

Rampant human rights violations, denial of fundamental rights, imprisoning dissenters and those who are critical of the government by using draconian laws, investigating agencies like CBI, ED, NIA, Income Tax Department etc. haunting oppositions leaders, denial of freedom of expression and large chunk of the media becoming subservient to the government form another aspect of India moving towards authoritarianism and dictatorship.

A few international agencies have brought to light in their reports the determined flagging of democracy in India under the Modi regime. According to the latest report released by global media watchdog, Reporters without Borders (RSF), India’s ranking in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index has slipped to 161 out of 180 countries. India slipped 11 ranks in 2023 compared to the rank in the 2022 report.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its latest report once again called on the US Department of State to designate India as a “country of particular concern”, saying that conditions in the country for “religious minorities” continued to worsen throughout 2022.

India’s performance in protecting human rights of its people is also of great concern. As per the latest report of The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), a global initiative to track the human rights performance of countries, India has performed worse than average in providing social and economic rights to its citizens when compared with other South Asian countries. India also performed poorly in providing civil and political rights to its citizens compared to 37 countries.

Some of the recent policy decisions of the government expose its dictatorial characteristics. First among them is the RBI decision to withdraw Rs. 2000 currency notes from circulation. First of all, the introduction of the Rs. 2000 note was a foolish measure because one of the avowed goals of demonetization was to flush out black money and, introducing a high value currency provided a facility for hoarding greater quantities of black money. Now the government claims that the move to withdraw Rs. 2000 notes is to flush out black money.

If people were shocked by the demonetization of Rs. 500 and 1000 notes, they are amused by the present decision of the government. Nobody is convinced of RBI’s clarifications. According to the RBI, printing of new 2000 rupee notes was discontinued in 2018-19. Many people have not seen a 2000 rupee note for more than a year. The RBI says that the total value of 2000 rupee notes is 3.62 lakh core or 10.8% of the total currency in circulation. Instead of making a sudden announcement that these notes will not be in circulation after September 30, RBI could have gradually withdrawn a large portion of 2000 rupee notes.

According to the RBI guidelines, no form is to be filled up, no declaration is to be made at the time when currency for 20,000 rupees is exchanged or deposited in the banks. Even after the deadline of September 30, Rs. 2000 notes will remain legal tender, says the RBI. All these confusing signals have raised a lot of suspicion in the minds of people. Nobody knows what the hidden agenda is behind the sudden announcement.

P Chidambaram, former Finance Minister, says that it is a “red carpet to black money keepers”. “Ordinary people do not have Rs 2,000 notes. They shunned it soon after it was introduced in 2016. They were useless for daily retail exchange. So, who kept the Rs 2,000 notes and used them? You know the answer. The Rs 2,000 note only helped keepers of black money to hoard their money with ease. The keepers of Rs 2,000 notes are being welcomed on a red carpet to exchange their notes! So much for the government's declared objective of rooting out black money," says Chidambaram.

The second authoritarian act of the Modi government is the ordinance passed by the Central Government to establish the National Capital Civil Service Authority. According to the new law, decisions pertaining to the postings and transfers of IAS and DANICS officers will be decided by a committee consisting of Delhi Chief Minister, Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary for Home. It shows abundantly clear that Delhi's elected Chief Minister will never get his way. 

The ordinance was promulgated to nullify the recent verdict of a five-judge constitution bench headed by the Chief Justice of India. The verdict of the SC made it clear that the posting and transfer of officials will be with the elected government of Delhi and not with the Lieutenant Governor, who serves as the central government’s representative. Delhi being a Union Territory and national capital, the central government will have control over law and order and land.

The ordinance shows disdain for both India’s federal system and the elected Chief Minister. The basic structure of the Indian Constitution includes the federal structure. In that sense, it is an attack on the federal structure, one of the basic structures of the Constitution of India. It is an explicit sign and proof of authoritarianism.

The third issue is the impending inauguration of the new Parliament building by the Prime Minister and not the President of India. As per media reports, the Vice-President also is not invited for the function. Most of the opposition parties have decided to boycott the inaugural function. They have denounced the plan of the Prime Minister inaugurating the Parliament building. "Prime Minister Modi's decision to inaugurate the new Parliament building by himself, completely side-lining President Murmu, is not only a grave insult but a direct assault on our democracy... This undignified act insults the high office of the President and violates the letter and spirit of the Constitution. It undermines the spirit of inclusion which saw the nation celebrate its first woman Adivasi President," the opposition parties said in a statement.

The opposition parties have also objected to the choice of the date, 28th May, the birth anniversary of V D Savarkar, the Hindutva ideologue. It is to be remembered that the RSS had objected to the Indian Constitution when it was adopted, and it wanted a Constitution in tune with the Manu Smriti.

It is pertinent to quote what the TMC leader in Rajya Sabha said about the inauguration of the Parliament building by the Prime Minister. “Parliament is not just a new building; it is an establishment with old traditions, values, precedents and rules -- it is the foundation of Indian democracy. The Prime Minister doesn’t get that… For him Sunday’s inauguration of the new building is all about I, Me, Myself. So, count us out,” he tweeted.  

In a democracy, the ruling party and the opposition are two sides of the same coin. The government has to work in tandem with the opposition. Considering the opposition as an enemy in itself is inimical to democracy. It is the function of the opposition parties to critically assess the policies and decisions of the government and expose the flaws of the government to the public. Narendra Modi during his campaign for 2014 election declared a “Congress-mukt Bharat”. The Congress being a pan India party, Modi’s slogan means that he wants a government without an effective opposition. A government without an effective opposition can easily become dictatorial and authoritarian.

Ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, he has not left any stone unturned not only to weaken the opposition parties, but also to decimate them. Spreading calumnies about opposition party leaders by the media cell of the BJP-RSS combine, alleged ‘purchase’ of opposition MLAs by hook or crook for dethroning opposition party-led governments in states, raids by the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI on opposition leaders and filing cases against them are the main means adopted to decimate opposition parties.   

The only way to save democracy from degenerating into dictatorship and authoritarianism is to defeat the BJP government at the Centre, as advocated by Satya Pal Malik. In order to make this happen, the opposition parties have to come together on a common platform with people-oriented common agenda. The decision of as many as 19 opposition parties to boycott the inauguration of the new Parliament building is a good beginning. 

The opposition parties had objected to the construction of a new Parliament building when people were struggling to survive during the Covid 19. It is a luxury and a sign of false pride. It is like building luxurious palaces in olden times by the kings when people were starving. Hence, not participating in the inauguration of the new Parliament building by the opposition parties is a protest against insensitivity and inhumanity.

The opposition parties have to keep away their petty interests and work together, if democracy is to survive in India. There are many odds against them like huge financial resources at the disposal of the BJP, the organizational strength of the Sangh Parivar and the possible misuse of investigating agencies. The emphatic victory of the Congress in Karnataka gives a lot of hope to the opposition parties. If they remain united, focus on the issues of people and present a viable plan to address the problems of people, the BJP can be defeated and India can be saved from authoritarianism and dictatorship.  

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