THROTTLING DEMOCRACTIC FREEDOM?

Warning Signals

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

In recent days there have been voices of protest from a cross section of society against the policies of the present government. Even BJP veteran, L.K. Advani, who has been sidelined in the party, has talked of the need for freedom of expression and the controversy centred around what is really Indian nationalism. As he aptly pointed out: “The party has been committed to freedom of choice of every citizen at the personal as well as political level”. Advani clearly stated that, “we never regarded those who disagree with us politically as ‘anti national.

Before Advani’s post, theatre figures issued a joint statement in 12 languages which stated that the Constitution is under threat. “The institutions that have to nurture argument, debate and debate have been suffocated. To question, to call out lies, to speak the truth is branded ‘anti national’. The seeds of hatred have entered our food, prayers and festivals”. The statement regretted that the ways hatred has seeped into our daily fabric are ‘alarming’ and it has to stop. The appeal clearly urged the people to “vote bigotry, hatred and apathy out of power” and named the BJP and its allies,

Even a group of 150 scientists from top academic institutions recently observed the need to protect the most fundamental guarantees of the Constitution, including the rights of faith, personal liberty and freedom of expression. “To defend these rights, we must reject those who lunch or assault people, those who discriminate against people because of religion, caste, gender, language or region”. They further pointed out “we cannot endorse politics that divides us, creates fears, marginalises a large fraction of our society – women, dalits, adivasis, religious minorities, persons with disabilities or the poor”.

It may be pertinent here to mention that scientists from across the country had over the past three years or so expressed concern at what they viewed as poor governance of scientific institutions, lack of autonomy in these institutions and retreat from evidence based policies to growth of lumpen populism. In fact, some political leaders of the ruling party have referred to mythology to negate proven scientific achievements and substantiate India’s role in this regard. Though there has been no open criticism, the international scientific community has made a mockery of such claims.

Finally, some retired bureaucrats in 15 open letters have stated of attempts to weaken the constitutional framework and frequent departures from the rule of law. This collective that goes by the name of Constitutional Conduct first sent out an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in June 2017 articulating their deep discontent over religious intolerance, particularly targeting Muslims.

Elections have already started at such a critical and unprecedented situation. There are two clear indications of the present state of things – one, that every individual who matters and also every organization cannot retain its independence and has to toe the government line and second, the secular fabric of the country would not be allowed to continue.  These clearly reflect strands of autocracy and fascism creeping into political fabric. In fact, the ‘State of Democracy in the World 2018’ titled Me Too? Political Participation, Protest and Democracy made news last year when India slipped 10 straight positions from 32 to 42, ranking below Latvia and South Africa.

The centralised manner in which the government has been functioning would thus continue if the party in power is re-elected. Moreover, even educational institutions run by the government would have very little or virtually no autonomy not to speak of institutions like the Reserve Bank of India, CBI etc. The control will be at the top in the hands of one or two persons who would dictate matters. Obviously this would not improve governance and efficiency which would mean the bottom segments of society would suffer.

The centralisation of power is manifest in most political parties. The decision making is centralised at the apex level amongst a very few leaders, may be two to four or even less. These leaders are the face of the party and are also involved in extensive campaigning. While these parties swear in the name of Mahatma Gandhi, whose 150th birth celebrations are under way, people’s power is completely absent in their functioning. How can decentralisation of political and economic power become a reality in the country, when the major political forces do not themselves practice this?

The other tricky problem of religious fanaticism, which has been ushered in by the ruling party, is to show how ardently they follow Hinduism. Only the illiterate or the half-educated believe in the so-called devotion of the party towards Hinduism; not the educated ones. Moreover, those from Bengal and most parts of South India, who are proponents of Swami Vivekananda’s school of thinking, believe in the unity of religions and not imposing one’s religion and religious practices on the other.

The ruling dispensation is interested in furthering its own interest in being in power at any cost. As their working clearly shows, they have very little regard for democratic values and cannot tolerate any form of dissent. This trend is dangerous for a country like India where diverse forms of interest persist and where there is a sizeable section of minorities.

In the economic front, the same strategy of controlling every institution like the NSSO has been amply manifest. The autocratic manner in which demonetization was announced not only affected small traders but had an overall a negative effect on the economy. There have been allegations of the government’s pro rich attitude and ignoring the interests of the poor, specially the rural impoverished and the farming community.

Delving into the problem, one finds that the government lacks an effective plan to generate employment and very little encouragement has been given to labour-intensive sectors. Also though much hype was generated on ‘Made in India’ programme, but due to various factors, manufacturing activities did not pick up. It needs to be mentioned here that there was need to give a boost to set up small and micro industries, specially in the rural and semi urban areas but this was not on the government’s agenda. The government’s focus was on modernizing airports, building expressways, starting bullet trains all of which did not benefit the common man nor generate jobs.

But though these may be failures that could be rectified, the social fabric suffered with the government encouraging division on the basis of religion, caste etc. Democratic values were being thrown to the winds and secular outlook that bind Indian society were getting loosened. Due to all of this apprehensions have been expressed about the threat to the Constitution and the government’s fascist tendencies which may get aggravated if voted to power once again.—INFA

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