Attacks on Democratic Institutions in India

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By Philip Mudartha
Bellevision Media Network

30 Jun 2023:

In Namo’ste America, I wrote: “Ever since Modi came to power in 2014, India has attracted global attention on a range of concerns that indicate that some of its goings on are inherently undemocratic. Modi has regularly fuelled majoritarian sentiments in the country and has maintained silence on a range of human rights abuses, even as his government had passed one discriminatory order after another”.


Here is the supplementary to document dozens of “human rights abuses” and “attacks on democratic institutions”.


The Elgar Parishad case:



The sixteen activists shown above are in jail since 2018. They are known for their life-long advocacy of civil liberties and opposition to any form of discrimination against people living on the margins (read Tribal and Adivasis).


Using the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act {UAPA}, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has turned a protest event into a case of conspiracy against the state. Without producing any credible evidence and without trail, NIA is successful in keeping them in prison because of the severe provisions of UAPA. Since then, Stan Swamy, the Jesuit priest has died in custody. Others, four academicians, two journalists, three lawyers, a poet, a union organizer, a social activist and three performing artists rot in jail.


Gagging the media:



Rarely has any Indian government clamped down on free media like the Modi government. The government has not only used indirect means to silence critical media but have also from time to time used official power to force digital platforms like YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook to take down content that is critical of the government.


The Modi government gave itself the power to take down media content directly using its Information Technology Rules. The government can now take down not only news but also entertainment content if it is perceived as “defamatory” or against “national” interests.


Under Modi’s watch, India has constantly slid in global press freedom rankings. Given the PM’s claims about India’s high democratic standards, it is quite ironic that the Reporters without Borders in its latest World Press Freedom Index ranked India at 161 out of the 180 countries.


Hundreds of journalists are facing stringent charges for mere reporting work. Various global bodies have documented the arrests of journalists in India during the Modi regime. Even as the country was reeling under the emotional and financial stress of the COVID-19-induced lockdown, various governments in India, including those run by the BJP, arrested, booked, or threatened 55 journalists for reporting on the miseries of the lockdown.


Systematic persecution of Muslims and Christians:



Since 2014, Hindu extremist groups have enjoyed unprecedented impunity in threatening and attacking Muslims and Christians across the country. The lynching of Muslims have made global news. In such incidents, the increasingly powerful Hindu fringe right, in the name of preventing cattle slaughter, have killed poor Muslims.


Blessed by the ruling BJP, Hindutva leaders in Uttarakhand have given a call to boycott Muslims economically. Such calls are heard in coastal Karnataka too where Muslim traders are barred from setting shops at the temple fairs.


BJP leaders, including Union ministers, have constantly indulged in Islamophobhic statements demonising Muslims and accusing Christians of fraudulent conversions.


Such groups and individuals do not operate in a vacuum but with direct and indirect support from the government. The Modi government has been blatantly Hindu majoritarian in its posturing, which has also reflected in some of its policies. It celebrated the Supreme Court order on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi land dispute in which the SC held the demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindutva groups illegal yet handed over the land to the Hindus for construction of Ram Temple.



The Modi government bestowed citizenship rights to religious minorities   of the neighbourhood but excluded persecuted Muslims under its Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), if they sought refuge in India.


Abolition of Article 370 that guaranteed a special status for J&K in August 2019 was seen to be another majoritarian policy stance by Modi government. The statehood of J&K was also dissolved, creating two union territories ruled from Delhi.


The clamour for a Hindu Rashtra (New India), as opposed to a multicultural, secular state enshrined in the Indian constitution (Nehruvian India), is growing in India rapidly. The Hindu Right feels unprecedentedly empowered in Modi’s regime. The politics of polarisation is espoused by none other than the PM himself who has regularly fuelled majoritarian sentiments. He and hard-line Hindutva leaders, have attacked Indian Muslims in election speeches, and advanced Hindu symbolism in government affairs.



The age-old bias against Muslims shows itself in the Modi’s regime, where not even a single BJP parliamentarian is a Muslim. In fact, the BJP has taken care not to allow any Muslim to contest a major election as a BJP candidate.


Raids on opposition:


Even as the Prime Minister spoke about high democratic standards in India, investigation bodies were conducting raids on a close relative of Bihar’s finance minister. The raids were timed with Bihar’s hosting of the biggest-ever opposition meeting in Patna ahead of the 2024 Parliamentary elections. The opposition leaders had gathered to unite on a broad range of issues that relate to the failing democratic standards.


The last five years have seen frequent raids by central investigation agencies on opposition leaders, even as none of these raids have been taken to its culmination. The agencies have rarely filed charge sheets; they haven’t taken these cases to trial but have still indulged in conducting raids on one opposition leader after another.


Houses and offices of several bigwigs in the opposition parties have been raided but the government has maintained conspicuous silence on the charges. In contrast, several tainted BJP leaders have remained scot-free. However, those opposition leaders who face corruption allegations but have switched over to BJP have managed to evade any form of scrutiny, leading to the widespread belief that the raids on opposition leaders are selective in nature and cater to the interests of BJP.



Attacks on human rights activists:


Although the government’s action in the Elgar Parishad case is an example unto itself, there are several more stark examples which display the government’s propensity to shut down voices which stand up for those without a voice.


Many of the Hindutva leaders who gave hugely provocative speeches against Muslims face no legal scrutiny. Those involved in the peaceful protests have been charged with allegations of treason and terrorism. Students like Umar Khalid, Gulfisha Fatima, Sharjeel Imam, Natasha Narwal, Asif Tanha and Devangana Kalita – three of whom are still in prison – were charged under UAPA. Several Muslim activists are still lodged in prison as under trials. Most of them, the government claims, were responsible for hatching a conspiracy to create a bad name for India at a global stage, even as the police haven’t produced any evidence to back the claim.


The unforeseen use of non-bailable offences and draconian laws against activists and critical voices in Modi’s regime has been worse than a similar dark period in Indian history, the Emergency for 21 months between 1975 and 1977. The picture below is a collage of foreign press on Modi’s New India:



One of the tallest social justice activists in India, a former bureaucrat Harsh Mander, a former member of NAC under UPA government, has been under attack from the government on several fronts. His offices, house, and several organisations with which he has been associated with have been raided.


Several Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) licences that allow a non-profit to accept donations from abroad to carry out advocacy programmes have been abruptly cancelled by the Modi government. Mother Theresa’s charity is one such case. The NGOs whose FCRA licences have been cancelled are conspicuously those who have been publicly critical of the Modi government’s majoritarian politics.


Similarly, the number of cases registered against critical social media users have increased tremendously in the last few years. The chances that a person with anti-BJP biases can be booked, arrested, or threatened have increased manifold, as is reflected in a huge number of cases against opposition activists, journalists, and common folk. In most of these cases, the accused persons have been charged with sections which say that they were trying to disrupt peace and harmony or were acting against public interests.



Heightened surveillance:


Finally, who can forget that the Modi government has remained persistently silent over the global story that it was allegedly one of the most active users of the military-grade spyware Pegasus, developed by Israel’s NSO group? The investigation revealed that the Modi government could have used the spyware on 174 persons, including judges, ministers, journalists, opposition leaders, scientists, business tycoons, and many others who were in prominent positions. It allegedly used the spyware at crucial times to seek information that could benefit the ruling BJP politically.


For instance, some of the opposition leaders in the Karnataka were possible targets of Pegasus at a time when the BJP was engineering defections in the opposition-led state government. Similarly, a former Chief Justice of India was also a possible target when he was facing allegations of sexual harassment and at the same time hearing multiple cases of political significance. The former chief justice is now a parliamentarian appointed by the Modi government.


There is a world of gap between what the prime minister preaches at global events and what his government practices. Although Modi has denied promoting any form of discrimination under his rule, it is evident that he is blatantly misleading the world.


The next is on UCC, another BJP project for 2024.

(Compiled from Internet News Sources)



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