If we have been feeling a little uncomfortable with the events that have transpired recently and how these events have been handled, we are not entirely wrong.
To further add on to this thought that democracy, as we have known to live by, has somehow in current times taken a very different turn, the India that we had hoped to become and what we are portraying is widely different than what we had imagined.
Giving more headway to this thought is further substantiated by a report – the fifth annual democracy report by Sweden’s V -Dem Institute, which has demoted India from “the world’s largest democracy” to an “electoral autocracy,” which means – chosen by election – dictatorship.
This is based on reports of “muzzling” of media and overuse of defamation and sedition laws by the current ruling government.
This report comes in and is within a week of US watchdog Freedom House, which also downgraded India’s status to “partly free” in its “Freedom in the World” report.
The two reports that have come in quick succession give much food for thought.
What has been happening around us and to us lately, sure the country has been facing some tough challenges, the Covid -19 pandemic, the farmers protest, the events in the aftermath of the farmers protest, the economic crises, the rising inflation that has led to an exponential rise in fuel prices. Data shows that India is struggling with mass unemployment set to cross levels from which turning it around would be a humungous task, and last but not least, the witch-hunting of social media platforms and the regulatory order on online platforms.
While the government has reasoned or given justifications on many of the present government’s decisions in its many statements, it just doesn’t ring right if one were to look at it objectively.
Secular India has given way to ‘love jihad‘ laws, the freedom and understanding that India displayed towards every citizen as free to express his or her views and opinions, although with enough responsibility and in keeping with the boundaries of not offending and respecting one and all has now given way to a kind of censorship that is both restrictive and enough to ‘feel out of breath.
If one were to give in to the chatter and the manner in which the political honchos and leaders have started to address one another, irrespective of the occasion, formal or not, political or not, the language, the mannerism, the taunts have reached epic proportions, perhaps never in the history of this country has the political environment become so competitive, so unruly, so sickening as it is today.
The report takes into cognizance all the recent developments in the country. It states that India is in the aspect of censorship, as autocratic as is Pakistan, and worse than both our neighbors, Bangladesh and Nepal.
It is not that it is terrible that we are being compared to these three countries. What is worse, though, is that these countries, especially Pakistan, have been known for being regressive regarding citizens’ voices and the freedom that one has in everyday life.
While Bangladesh and Nepal are unquestionably more tolerant than Pakistan, India was touted or said to be much more forgiving, democratic, growth-oriented, history, and our Constitution.
But the report by Sweden’s Institute is an eye-opener, and perhaps we already had begun to get an inkling that we as a country are becoming stifled; the report cites many examples of Modi led governments recent use of laws on sedition, defamation, and counterterrorism to silence critics, and even activists.
The report gives numbers and says that more than 7000 people have been charged with sedition since the time the Modi government has assumed power and that most of the accused are critics of the Bhartiya Janata Party.
It adds that the use of defamation “frequently used to silence journalists” and the use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) have gone against the Constitution’s commitment to secularism and has put constraints on civil society.
It is true that increasingly in India, we are seeing that those aligned with the “Hindutva movement” have received much support and freedom from the ruling party. Civil society is being consistently and increasingly finding itself isolated and muzzled.
“The BJP have increasingly used the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act (FERA) to restrict the entry, exit and the functioning of Civil Society Organizations (CSO).”
The report also mentions that liberal democracies have diminished over the past decade from 41 to 32 countries.
Ironically, the world’s two biggest democracies should find themselves on the list of “electoral autocracies” as it cites both India and the United States of America in this list; the other two countries mentioned are Turkey and Brazil.
So what is happening?
India is in dire need of free, fair, and questioning journalism that is not stifled by political parties and their agendas.
It is within every citizen’s right to question its government; we have elected the government, the government has not elected us; it is that simple.
However, despite India having the best Constitution in the world and a strong judiciary, we, unfortunately, get played at the hands of political leaders.
The younger generation though well-read and more technologically sound, is perhaps also the most “lost,” as the winds of change sweep the world and so do in India, the current environment is most unsuitable for these youngsters who should be questioning and debating on topics that are relevant to their and India’s future.
Instead, what we are seeing is a rebound to religionism, a steady decay is slowly settling in, and it has increased the gap between the have’s and the have’s not, the privileged and the unprivileged, law and order is increasingly being used not for the betterment of the citizens but against the citizens.
India is a very complex nation; it has always been such, simply because we are so diverse, but this diversification was/ is our strength, it has been our honor, it has been our pride; however, in the past few years, we have been charting a different route as a nation, and the question is – is this route good enough for this country and its citizens?
Is this route a direction towards unity or divide, towards progress or destruction, towards a thriving economy or a struggling one, towards peace and harmony or disruptions, towards the upliftment of the nation or a slow plummeting, is it an environment that encourages debate or stifles voices – where and which direction are we headed as a country?
If we take a peek into history, pick up and read any textbook on the past historical events, whenever the voice of citizens has been muffled, it has led to mass uprisings and revolutions.
The thing is, India doesn’t need to head in that direction, we have already paid a hefty price and struggled to gain our independence, and yet as independent India if this is where we are headed, it indeed is a sorry state of affairs.
India prides itself as a democratic, secular, and with a heritage that is both rich and unparallel to any in the world, and to let go of such feats in the name of politics and divide is not only foolish but also a heavy price to pay indeed!