Democracy in the world today
Indian democracy faces challenges, yes!
Freedom and democracy are the two words that had been with us for ages, from Greece to our own times. They are the most sensitive words. They also carry a heavy load of history. The meaning of the words have been twisted and turned many times in history. So it needs much qualifications and credibility for anyone who tries to trample upon so much of history and even some current relevance at a time when the world’s most powerful democracy, namely, the USA is witnessing to such Presidential campaigners like the maverick Donald Trump.
Even today, these two words can mean anything to anybody depending upon who the users are and who the manipulated. So, Modi’s US visit and his high rhetoric-ridden speech to the Congress has to be seen at a deeper level. Even freedom and democracy invite more detailed and critical assessment even in the light of the events inside the country. We have to see the international trends as well as events inside India.
What have been the Indo-US relations since Independence, for some 70 long years can’t be overturned in Modi’s two years. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US has given him a new image of a leader of a great democracy and an articulate speaker on a range of issues.
Certainly, he has raised the country’s potential for investors and a likely friend in common goals for the two democracies. His impressive address to the US Congress stands out. Let us concede this. On the face of it, the speech looks good but one can’t call it a great speech for various reasons.
There is what is called the credibility gap. On the very next day when most of the Indian media outlets, both print and the TV news channels only concentrated on the surface announcements. Only one news paper (The Hindu carried a six column write-up on “Rights issues spoil Modi’s American party”, June 9, 2016) reported some disconcerting news. It is a rather detailed report with names of the particular senior American representatives,18 members of the US House wrote to Speaker Paul ,before Modi’s address to “prioritise religious freedom in India etc…”.
Obviously, the many who were seen applauding Modi’s speech were also part of the audience and they must have had their own reservations on what Modi said all through his almost an hour-long speech.
Even for Indian observers, for those who don’t share Modi’s views and visions, must have thought otherwise as these big claims made by the Indian PM came in the background of a series of happenings back in India. One such news item was the Gulbarga society massacre’s judgements and the screaming people affected by that gory event many years ago.
So, there is something to be said about Modi in the US and his, let us concede, his endeavours to cultivate the American public opinion.
Many have written and many would write hereafter about the many hurdles and many questions that may arise in the way India serves the interests of both the countries.
Indians know for long, long before Modi became such a good friend of the incumbent President that America and India have their own commonalities as well as their divergences.
Commonalities lately have come too many, millions of Indians live there and they constitute a significant new white-collar, technology-driven American working force and they mann many of the latest technology companies. Two of the world’s biggest IT companies have as their CEOs, two young Indians! This, the Americans, more than Indians, would know what it means to be friends with Indians.
At the same time, politically and otherwise, there are a huge lot of differences between American foreign policy and that of India.
And let us admit that India, though now growing at a faster rate, is still a very poor country and a very low human development index. We have Pakistan and China to live with and also we have a history of the Non-Aligned Movement in our foreign policy sphere. That historic heritage had brought friends from far and wide in Asia and Africa and the Middle East. Russia is a long-time friend and we a have the Commonwealth countries to deal with. India is looked upon by the outside world as a special country. This, no one political party, let alone the ruling BJP, can overturn it so easily.
Indian democracy too has some unique strength, as it is. Just now, I read a latest book on Pakistan (India vs. Pakistan, why can’t be just friends, Husain Haqqanin (juggernaut, 2016). There are other books too keep coming. So too with China. Apart from cultivating a deeper sense of individual freedom and a genuine democratic commitment, India has its other dictated by our own geo-strategic considerations.
After Modi took over as the Prime Minster he has brought to the Indian polity a new reality of a different ideology. Ideology of Hindutva is now all pervasive in a variety of ways. That is both an emerging reality and also, in my opinion, a greatly troubling reality as well!
In a significant way, this new ideology, to put bluntly, is not a liberal ideology. In the USA certain words and expressions would a different connotation. But in a developing country like India, words like democracy, liberalism and secularism carry certain definite connotations and also certain commitments on the part of leaders and political parties.
In the whole of Modi’s speech there was not one moment to suspect that Modi was sweeping aside the many distinct connotations he sought to hide, rather than to define and emphasise.
The US Congress was seized with the complaints from Congressmen about harassment of minorities, the Americans only said of the religious minorities. But we know that there are other minorities, caste and other factors that oppress people, inject fear and insecurity and thereby increase fear.
Who doesn’t know the media is compromised, there is almost fear to report all the news, the very coverage of the PM’s US visit didn’t give a hint there was this American reservations over Indian affairs, right now!
There is more openly the current tussle between the judiciary and the executive going on. The RSS, says a veteran journalist (Kuldip Nayar), are active and so too the Bajrangdal.
In short, extremism, extremist politics is pursued simultaneously along with Modi’s superficial liberal look from the outside.
He said to the American Congress the Indian people live free from fear. Just the opposite, right? He doesn’t speak to the press; he doesn’t take the pressmen on his foreign journeys.
How do people get a free view things, unless it is reported freely by the media?
As for depending upon the USA for defence and other strategic needs, this has never happened in the last 70 years of our Independence and I am certain that this will never be possible in the next so many years to come. India has to retain its own independent foreign policy while co-operating with the USA.
The world is multi-polar. India is a big and complex nation with a long history of oppression and suppression, both from inside and from outside.
Indians should become more mature, must study the political ideologies that are taking shape in the more mature democracies. Right now, in the Central and Eastern Europe, including in Austria there is a shift to liberalism across Europe, reports the prestigious (Financial Times) FTWeekEnd 15 May report.
The report avoids the word, Fascism. In other times, it might have. But not at present. The very same FT reports “it subverts the independence of judiciary, the media and other pillars of democracy” Fine. What is the scene here in India? India has a multiparty system and many sorts of freedoms of religious minorities, why, even the freedoms of the majority population, the individual freedoms are suppressed and one man, one party and one ideology gets prominence. There are so many defamation cases in the courts, often filed by the incumbent power-holders against helpless individual citizens. Political corruption is a serious issue even now. The many promised anti-corruption institutions are not in place yet.
To that extent there is danger lurking in somewhere in the whole system.
In India, more so under Modi, no such fine distinctions are not possible. They, the Sangh Parwar, is accustomed to use a bit of a crude language, some inarticulate expressions to justifying their actions, including using violence. The many violent acts in recent days are left out of the discourse here. The newly elected MPs and other office bearers of the BJP don’t speak the English language, they use Hindi and also they want to change the education system in the Hindutva manner.
There is one strong background in India, of the well-entrenched middle class and it is Westernised over a long period and, in my opinion, this Westernised class would see to it that after a limit there would be resistance to further rightwing shift.
There is anxiety, fear and uncertainty as to the future of the democratic values in our national and social lives. Suppression of the NGOs too is another ominous sign.You can’t use strong arm tactics, bit the NGOs or other dissenting voices.
Anyway, India has become accustomed to use a better political vocabulary, certain modern expressions but lately, after the latest elections, in some states, new types of coarse politics have come into play, corruption of voters and the elected representatives for elections to the Rajya Sabha are the new concerns.
We, here in India, have to pursue a different political dialogue and we have to move with new reform proposals, of the Constitutional reforms, electoral reforms, why, even the political party structure reforms so that the emerging cursed of dynastic politics is put an end to and more open and transparent electoral process cleanse the polity in tune with the genius of the common people.
To talk of democracy, anyone can do and many talk. But then to lay down clear and strict rules call for experts. This, Mr.Modi has to realise and earn the goodwill and trust of the people.