Modi and Future of Indian Democracy

Modi and Future of Indian Democracy


For writers of Pakistani-Muslim origin to write on politics, democracy, or personalities of India, requires to cross various minefields. If they praise the Indian democracy and values, they are taunted by their compatriots, are many a times targeted by agencies of the Pakistani establishment, and their loyalty to Pakistan is suspected.  If they criticize the Indian political or social systems, then they face the ire of their Indian friends, and are also watched by Indian spy agencies.

Despite these difficulties, the students of global democracy attempt to objectively study Indian issues. Certain facts should be noted about India. It is the world’s largest democracy; where more than 800 million citizens cast their votes in recent elections. These elections spanned over several weeks, and there were literally no accusations of rigging or violence during this exercise. The fundamental reason of this is that the founding fathers of India dreamed of a system in which neither feudal, princes, tribal leaders, nor military officers would be able to control the citizens. They envisioned a society where people could live in peaceful coexistence without any differences of caste, creed, or religion. With a regular democratic process, they trained their people in the fundamentals of democracy and prepared them to hold politicians accountable to the people.

The names of Baba Sahib Ambedkar, and Rajendra Prasad are etched in history as visionaries who determined the identity of the Indian constitution. The preamble of the constitution determines that India will be   a Sovereign, Secular, Socialist, Democratic Republic, and the Indian system will be based on:social, economic and political justice; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote fraternity among all citizens assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation. It is important to note that despite the freedom of faith and worship, the words Secular and Socialist were added to the preamble in 1976 through the 42nd amendment, among several other changes. A secular political system is recognised as the separation of religion and state throughout the world. A very clear example of this is the system in the US where the president can neither establish a religion nor can restrict the practice of any religion.

The Indian people disagree on many political principles in the same way as people in any mature democracy. Political parties here struggle to win the right to govern on democratic principles. For many years after the independence of India, the Congress party ruled the country, and considered that leadership is its entitlement. This attitude promoted corruption, nepotism, and bad governance.  With the maturity of democracy and political training of the people of India, the Congress party began losing its grip and other parties began posing serious challenges to its monopoly. As a result, for the last two decades, India saw minority governments led by the Congress party as well as the BJP. The BJP and its allies which declare themselves as Hindu Nationalists, became the formidable opponents of the Congress party, and formed two minority governments in 1998 and 2004.

After many years of persistent political struggle, the BJP has achieved the singular majority in the most recent Indian election. With its own majority, and with the support of its allies, BJP can now rule India for many years. It should also be noted that though the BJP has obtained 282 seats in the Indian parliament, it could obtain only 31 % of the popular vote. As a comparison when the Congress party won a similar number of seats in 1967, its share of popular vote was about 41 %. This fact indicates that though the BJP has succeeded due to a desire for change in Indian politics, the Indian vote has been extremely splintered in the recent elections.

It is commonly known that the leader of the BJP and the new Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi professes to be a Hindu Nationalist. He considers secularism as foreign import, and calls Nehru, who was among the respected founders of India, a pseudo-secular. It should also be noted that Hindu Nationalism really means Hindu religious extremism. Any other explanation of Hindu Nationalism is meaningless and misguided.

With the growth of religious fundamentalism in the world, led by Islamic extremists, and Christian Evangelists, there has been a simultaneous rise in the Hindu religious extremism, and the hardening of attitudes in its adherents. Due to Pakistan’s infiltration in Kashmir and its alleged role in terrorism in India, the Hindu extremist has also become aggressive.  This led to the Gujrat riots during the tenure of Modi as the chief minister of the state. Several thousand Muslims were murdered and mayhem took place during those troubled times. Though the courts have cleared Modi of any criminal wrong doing, many in the word hold him morally responsible for those heinous crimes. He has been denied visas to the US and the UK under this cloud of doubt.

We should also try to look at the allies of Modi and his BJP. Sang Parivar is an alliance of Hindu Nationalist organizations to which the BJP belongs, and it includes various extremist Hindu organizations like the RSS, Shiv Sena, and the Bajrang Dal. The BJP itself is an incarnation of Maha Sabha, another extremist Hindu organization. It is parties like Shiv Sena, the RSS, and Maha Sabha that accuse leaders like Nehru and Gandhi to be soft on Indian Muslims and to be involved in appeasing Muslims. It was the ideology and influence of the RSS and Maha Sabha under which, Nathuram Godse murdered Mahatma Gandhi. The RSS is a private paramilitary Hindu nationalist organization that has also trained Modi in his youth.

Shiv Sena is also a very extremist Hindu religious organization that has been accused of terrorism in the past. It has also been directly linked to the infamous violent riots in Bhiwandi and Mumbai, and accused of attacking and terrorizing media. It was under the threats of Shiv Sena, that M F Hussain, the iconic Indian artist had to leave India and died in exile. Shiv Sena is an important ally, and exerts considerable influence on the BJP and Modi. Their Hindu nationalist allies have inherent enmity against Pakistan and also carry parochial attitudes towards Indian Muslims.  These are the reasons that many Indian Muslims and secular people around the world suspect that Modi’s allies may pressurize Modi to work against the Muslims and other minorities in India; and that in any future communal violence, Modi may display a similar attitude to that which he adopted during Gujrat riots.

It is the secular nature of the Indian constitution that provides protection to all minorities. Several of Modi’s allies have tried to redefine the secular principles of the constitution in the past and may attempt it again. They also plan to make various amendments to the constitution and may succeed at their will, based on their majority in the parliament.

Modi has tried to reassure Muslims and other minorities, as a result of which some well-known Muslims have recently joined the BJP. Indian journalist and scholar M J Akbar is one of those converts. It is ironic that M J Akbar penned the authoritative biography of Nehru, and Modi calls Nehru a pseudo-secular. Due to this irony the conversion of M J Akbar appears to be whimsical at best.

The current reality in India is that the BJP and Modi have obtained a majority in the parliament on the basis of only 31 % of the popular vote, due the wave of change against Congress’s bad governance, and on the promises of economic progress and well-being of India and its people.

The world expects and demands of them that they focus on the development and prosperity of India and its citizens, and avoid any controversial action that may harm the fundamental principles of the world’s largest democracy. The respect of Indian democracy is based on its secular identity, and any attempt to change this identity will severely harm both Indian values, and democracy itself.

(This is the English version of my Op-ed published in Urdu language, at Urdu Times, US,UK, Canada, and Europe, on May 21, 2014

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