Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

The Death of Indian Democracy

By Dhruv KumarPublished March 31, 2016

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Written by Dhruv Kumar, 3/31/2016 By filing criminal charges against student protesters and opposition leaders, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a significant mistake. Now it is up to the Indian people to respond.
Indian citizens have long taken pride in the idea of being the world's largest democracy;. hHowever, that status is currently being threatened — if current Prime Minister Narendra Modi is currently threatening this coveted status by continues his trend of suppressing non-violent opposition. The very existence of Indian democracy is being chipped away and has only become more vulnerable. Concerns about Modi's character came about with his rise to power and his role in inciting the 2002 Gujarat Riots, in which over 1000 Muslims were killed. It is now only to be a matter of time until something similar occurred during his term as Prime Minister.

Last month, Modi had nonviolent student protesters arrested under colonial-era sedition laws. The protest was held at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India, to voice support for the rights of the Kashmiri people. A convicted terrorist from the Indian state of Kashmir had recently been executed, and Kashmiris all over the country were protesting the use of capital punishment. The arrests, justified by an antiquated sedition law, were a clear violation of free speech rights. The nonviolent protest was simply voicing a dissenting opinion; however, Modi took advantage of the situation to solidify his own power.

After the students' arrests, however, Prime Minister Modi took his undemocratic actions even further by authorizing police to press charges against opposition leaders in parliament for raising their voices in support of the students' who supported the students' cause. Simply for a raising dissent, the Chief Minister of Delhi—equivalent to a Governor in the United States—Arvind Kejriwal, and the Vice President of the opposition party, Rahul Gandhi, are being charged by the Indian Government. Moreover, they are being charged with sedition, along with the student protesters, through a law created by British colonizers in the 19th century to silence dissent. What began as a violation of free of speech has become a full-blown attack on the Democratic process.

Further perpetuating the problem are the actions of other Indian citizens. Supporters of the Modi government have been accused of creating fake tweets to portray protesters as had terrorists connections, and of doctoring videos to make their  protesters' chants seem violent in nature. In December, a Muslim man was killed for allegedly eating beef. Furthermore, after the famed Indian actor Aamir Khan condemned this murder, a movement instigated by Modi supporters began across the nation against him — a man who was previously idolized all over the country. Additionally, just a few months earlier, a 77-year old rationalist college professor spoke out against Hindu idol worship was killed as well. This January, a graduate student in India who committed suicide made headlines as his suicide note circulated. His motive? He was a Dalit — the lowest caste in traditional Hindu society, and the discrimination was too much for him. These events demonstrate that there is a significant problem in India: intolerance is widespread, and a solution is necessary.

The root of the problem becomes apparent, the problem and potential solution lies in the government. Nationwide intolerance is reaching frightening levels and manifests itself, and being manifested in horrifying violence. But intolerance is a worldwide occurrence, and someone will always hold those opinions — the perpetuation of the cycle lies in the government. When people attempt to speak out against the intolerance that the ruling party supports, they are silenced. It does not matter whether one is a student protestor or a leading member of parliament. The Modi government has demonstrated its blatant disregard for free speech and democracy. It is now up to the Indian people to change this.

History has shown us that there is one clear solution to the restoration of democracy: popular action. By the very definition of extremism, the majority of the Indian population cannot possibly be extremist. The majority of India must therefore fight the suppression of free speech by being even louder. The best way to raise one's voice, however, is at the polls. The Indian populace voted the Modi government in, and it has the capacity to vote it out. This issue is not a policy matter, nor does it have to do with political ideologies. This is a matter of democracy.