Mainstream, VOL 60 No 52, December 17, 2022
How Democracy Works in India | Arup Kumar Sen
Friday 16 December 2022, by#socialtags
In her seminal book, Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia (Cambridge University Press, 1995), Ayesha Jalal warned us: “Far from representing a neat and sharp dichotomy, democracy and authoritarianism are reflective of ongoing struggles between dominance and resistance. Without blurring the distinction between them it is important to acknowledge that they may frequently overlap irrespective of the formal designation of polities and states as democratic or authoritarian.”
Very recently, the eminent economist, Pranab Bardhan, has explored the constitutional path of subversion of democracy in his recent book. To put it in his own words: “Even in countries that are not directly responding to the siren song of authoritarianism there is now a palpable tendency for democracies to be hollowed out by a crude form of majoritarianism ...; or by Hindu fanatics in India. They win votes, often in relatively free and fair elections, and declare the system democratic, even as they trash many of the liberal processes one usually associates with democracy.” (Pranab Bardhan, A World of Insecurity: Democratic Disenchantment in Rich and Poor Countries, Harvard University Press, 2022, p. 92)
It may be mentioned in this connection that Gujarat witnessed an anti-Muslim pogrom immediately after a train fire at Godhra railway station killed 59 kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya. In his recent election campaign for the Gujarat assembly elections, the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, said in his controversial speech on November 25, 2022, that the BJP had established “permanent peace in Gujarat” in 2002 by teaching “a lesson” to the rioters. It is reported that in the wake of multiple complaints received by the chief electoral officer in Gujarat against the speech, the Election Commission of India concluded that Amit Shah’s speech did not violate the Model Code of Conduct as the speech referred to teaching “miscreants” a lesson, and not any particular community. Though not specifically mentioned by Shah, everyone knows which community was taught “a lesson” in the Gujarat riots of 2002. (See The Telegraph and The Indian Express, December 10, 2022)
The BJP had a landslide victory in the 2022 Gujarat assembly elections.In fact, the Party has been ruling the State for the last two decades after winning the consecutive assembly elections. To put it in Pranab Bardhan’s words: “They win votes...and declare the system democratic, even as they trash many of the liberal processes one usually associates with democracy.” The “neat and sharp dichotomy” between “democracy” and “authoritarianism” has really got blurred in India in recent times under the BJP rule.