The coming 2019 may prove to be a watershed in India’s political history, as were the 1977 elections forty-two years ago. In 1977, elections were held after a declared Emergency, during which the Constitution was suspended, political activity disallowed and opposition leaders and activists imprisoned. The success of non-Congress parties in those elections strengthened the electoral system in Indian democracy. Since then all ruling parties losing elections have demitted office gracefully, rather than attempting to subvert the popular mandate.
However, since 2014, the Modi government has attacked democracy in more insidious, thorough-going and indirect ways. This attack is aimed at weakening the institutional and popular foundations of democracy in India. It should be stressed that the regime has functioned in close proximity with its parent body, the RSS. Its policies are designed in pursuance of the RSS goal of militarising the political culture and creating an atmosphere of perpetual communal conflict. These are some of the elements of this strategy:
- The Modi regime has devalued constitutional institutions, subverted the separation of powers, and used executive power for sectarian and corrupt purposes. It has diminished the legislative authority of the parliament, hidden information from parliamentary committees, and used it as a platform for political abuse. The use of CBI against political opponents, meddling in its functioning—including subverting its internal structure with the help of hand-picked officials—is one of its infamous deeds. It has lied to the judiciary, and interfered in judicial appointments with mala-fide intentions. Governors appointed by it in states ruled by opposition parties have acted shamelessly as its agents.
- The Cabinet system is in shambles, the principle of collective responsibility thrown to the winds. The PMO and a clutch of favoured officials and non-constitutional authorities such as the NSA have usurped the power to make major decisions. This has been exposed most clearly in the Rafale deal.
- The Modi regime has tried to subvert the federal structure of the Union to concentrate central power. Agencies such as the CBI, NIA, ED have been used opportunistically for this purpose.
- The Modi regime has shamelessly subverted India’s criminal justice system. The use of sedition law and the NSA against students, journalists and activists who question it has become pervasive. Prosecution trials of Hindutva activists accused of terrorist acts have been wrecked from within. Upright officials have been victimised, and even judges threatened discreetly. The file containing evidence on Aseemanand’s involvement in the (Malegaon blast case) disappeared. Crucial evidence on the death of Judge Loya and two of his friends was apparently ignored and the case was subject to an indecent burial—the manner in which this was done has brought disrepute to our judiciary.
- In states like UP, police have unleashed a reign of fake encounters to eliminate and threaten opposition party workers. In scores of incidents involving public lynching of poor people transporting cows, the so-called cow-vigilantes filmed themselves carrying out these brutal acts, indicating their confidence that they would be protected. In sum, the BJP/RSS regime has openly enabled hooliganism and violence. With what face can it confront Maoist and jehadi violence?
- The Modi regime has tried to destroy the autonomy of important institutions of governance, which are necessary to maintain impartiality, professionalism and transparency. This became obvious in the case of the RBI, NSSO and CBI. The autonomy of institutions such as the Election Commission, Central Information Commission, etc has been sought to be compromised. Even more sinister is the attempt to drag the military and security organs into their political campaign.
- The Modi regime has used state power to advance the totalitarian programme of the RSS and its affiliates. Marginalised communities have suffered the most from this policy. Religious minorities have been threatened and attempts made to erode their political representation and constitutionally protected rights. There have been a series of attacks on Dalits who question the caste system; and Adivasis trying to assert their autonomy. It tried to pass a communalised Citizenship Amendment bill which makes a mockery of the secular Constitution, and would have destroyed the delicate fabric of community relationships in North-East India.
- The Modi regime has tried to criminalise India’s political culture and reduce it to gutter politics. The Prime Minister and BJP President have lied in public rallies and used offensive language against their political opponents. Its armies on social media have systematically circulated rumours and fake claims, and trolled critics of the government with hate messages in foul language including threats of rape and molestation. Organised groups have attacked and threatened ordinary citizens in the name of patriotism.
- In the aftermath of the Pulwama suicide bombing, RSS fronts (ABVP, VHP, Bajrang Dal) have attacked innocent Kashmiri students and traders in places like Dehra Dun, thus further undermining social integrity, which depends on the impartial rule of law. This propaganda campaign was so poisonous that the CRP command had to run a programme to counter the communal poison being spread on social media by the so-called patriots. Senior retired Armed Forces officers have denounced these attempts at politicising the Services. It is now clear that anyone who differs from the RSS/BJP runs the risk of being attacked as ‘anti-national’
All these are taking India towards a totalitarian and violent mass culture, which will be a threat to everyone who do not come out to support the regime. Any successes of BJP in the coming elections will deepen the hollowing out of Indian democracy. All non-BJP political parties, irrespective of their programmes, and regardless of the social groups they represent, will be victims of the implosion of democracy under BJP/RSS rule.
We appeal to all opposition political parties to realise and confront the gravity of the threat to democracy. It is a time to rise above political competition. Political parties can function only in a democratic institutional structure and popular culture. If Modi, the BJP and the RSS succeed in their plans, our democratic institutions will be destroyed, and political parties will become irrelevant.
Besides an operational and effective electoral understanding, it is essential that parties project a minimum programme to undo the most insidious actions of the Modi regime. This should include the following:
- The law for electoral bonds passed by the Modi government, allowing anonymous corporate contributions should be scrapped. All contributions to political parties should be transparent.
- The colonial law on sedition should be scrapped.
- We need a public commitment to strengthen citizens’ rights by not allowing misuse of draconian laws like the NSA, and further strengthen the right to information (RTI). A charter of citizen’s rights should be brought out.
- Strengthen rights-based social welfare programmes like the MNREGA.
- Laws are needed against social media abuse, particularly ones directed at women, in the light of threats of sexual violence received by many women activists, writers and journalists.
(Petition drafted by People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS); endorsed by over 100 intellectuals and activists from all over the country.)