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A Slow Dissolving of India’s Democracy

These words from lyricist Neeraj’s famous 1960s song best sums up the way 2023 is ending. Step by step, the India we knew is dissolving. From the Article 370 verdict to the new bill excluding the Chief Justice of India from the panel selecting the Election Commissioner, to the Supreme Court’s refusal to stay the survey of the Mathura Shahi Idgah masjid despite the 1991 Places of Worship Act, the last fortnight has been one in which the values we took for granted have been dealt a blow.

Was it enough for the Supreme Court to take a technical view of Article 370, while saying nothing about the way it was abrogated? The state of Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its identity without the consent of its elected representatives, with its citizens cut off from the rest of the world, and even one another. It took five months for mobile connections to be restored. It was under this iron curtain, overseen by thousands of security personnel, who stopped even critical patients from being rushed to hospital, that the much-hailed ‘integration of Kashmir’ was achieved. Did this befit a democracy? Yet, this act has now been given a judicial seal. Meanwhile, under Delhi’s direct rule, the Kashmiri media has been silenced; its human rights and women’s commissions disbanded.

Like China boasts of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, should we now flaunt ‘democracy with `New India’ characteristics’? Among its features would be a reversal of all that we’ve prided ourselves on.

One of the most independent election commissions in the world will now be even more supine than it has become over the last five years. The tolerance and diversity that made India stand apart from the world will be a thing of the past, at least in public life. With ‘humble RSS workers’ becoming chief ministers, minorities will face the brunt, as seen in the very first directive of new Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mohan Yadav: the bulldozing of homes of three Muslims accused of assaulting a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker. So what if ‘bulldozer justice’, a hallmark of BJP ruled-states, violates the cardinal principle of innocent until proven guilty. Yadav’s first policy decision: the shutdown of shops selling meat, eggs, and fish in the open, is also in keeping with the precedent set by other BJP chief ministers.

But Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankar is no RSS man. Indeed, he was minister of state for parliamentary affairs in 1990, when the supposedly socialist but definitely secular Chandrashekhar was Prime Minister, and the BJP sat in the Opposition. This background didn’t prevent Dhankar, as Speaker of the Rajya Sabha, from cancelling the half-hour extension to the lunch break given on Fridays for MPs to offer namaz. Dhankar defended his decision by citing Parliament’s ‘inclusivity’.

The doublespeak was bad enough; what made it worse was that the inauguration of the new Parliament is still fresh in our minds, when the Prime Minister prostrated himself in front of a Hindu religious symbol (the sengol), flanked by a phalanx of Hindu priests. That surely set the tone for the new ‘inclusive’ Parliament!

Like ‘democracy’ and ‘inclusivity’, the meaning of ‘teaching a lesson’ has also changed. Narendra Modi “taught a lesson to rioters” in Gujarat said Union Home Minister Amit Shah last week, listing it as one of Modi’s varied achievements. Official statistics of the 2002 Gujarat violence list the number of dead as 1,044, of which 790, or more than two-thirds, were Muslim. Such was the ‘lesson taught to rioters’ that the Supreme Court ordered reinvestigation into cases of mass killings of Muslims, even shifting two of them out of Gujarat. Eleven men convicted of murder and rape in those cases were freed last year. The ‘lesson taught in 2002’ was reinforced, 20 years later.

With norms of democracy getting violated, protests should be the order of the day. The world over, students are natural protesters. But Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), once the most liberal of our universities, has just introduced a Rs 20,000 fine on students who stage a dharna. IIT Bombay fined a student Rs 10,000 for violating a first-of-its-kind vegetarian-non-vegetarian segregation in a hostel mess.

Be it villagers opposing mining or activists supporting Palestine, protesters face arrest and criminal charges. Even Parliament is no different. In the so-called temple of democracy, the number of MPs suspended has more than doubled since the BJP secured a brute majority.

Given all this, how should we judge the four followers of Bhagat Singh who protested inside and outside Parliament? They didn’t just gaze at the dust as the caravan passed them by.

Source : DeccanHerald