India And America

‘‘Two Democracies’’

Raman Swamy

Rightly or wrongly, India and America are often described as the two largest democracies in the world. But voices are sometimes raised questioning the veracity of this assertion.

What does "largest" mean? What is the definition of' "democracy"?

Can America still call itself a democracy when the main Opposition party and almost the entire mainstream press refuse to accept the verdict of the November 2016 presidential elections?

The partisan gridlock and political polarization, the tortured politics of health care reform, the threats of government shutdown over deficit reform and the multiple investigations into alleged Russian interference in elections, have virtually paralysed the US decision-making apparatus.

America today is hardly a role model of a healthy, functioning democracy. Moreover, a moral cloud hangs over past deeds and decisions—most notably the shock-and-awe military attack on Saddam Hussein's Iraq on the false pretext of unearthing Weapons of Mass Destruction, a claim that even the present President admits was a blatant lie.

Also being frankly admitted by an increasing number of American commentators, contemporary historians and scholars is that the birth and rise of global terrorist organizations like ISIS can be directly linked to brutal "War on Saddam".

The issue is—is America really a genuine democracy living up to its inspiring anthem: Land of the free and Home of the brave.

By the same token, does India really uphold the ideals enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution regarding "Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship" and "Equality of status and opportunity?"

According to a study released at the World Economic Forum in January this year, just 57 billionaires in India now have the same wealth ($216 billion) as that of the bottom 70% population of the country. Is that the equality?

As for Liberty, there have been numerous instances in recent years of freedoms—of thought, expression and faith—being curbed rather than allowed to flourish. There are ominous signs of concerted and conscious efforts being made to transform India's diversity into conformity. Voices of dissent raised against various executive fiats aimed at imposing uniform orthodox values and customs are being stifled.

Press freedom is one of the hallmarks of democracy. One of the paradoxical contrasts between contemporary America and India in regard to the media is that in the US the largest circulating newspapers and most influential television channels are vehemently against the new Administration and are engaged in a virulent personal campaign against the newly-elected President.

Whereas in India, the mainstream print and electronic media are almost entirely pro-establishment. Only a handful of newspapers and TV channels attempt objective and critical analysis of government policies and propaganda.

Even these few feeble voices tend to be frowned upon, as recent developments in the prestigious Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) and the popular New Delhi Television (NDTV) seem to indicate.

Full details of the circumstances surrounding the sudden resignation of the editor of EPW, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, are still emerging. Bin in the case of NDTV, the latest developments signify intensification rather than a resolution of the dispute.

Recently the TV channel issued a public statement titled "Income Tax Department Lies about NDTV: Silencing The Press''. The statement says:

"First the government tried to 'ban' NDTV's Hindi channel—there were protests all across the country. Next, the politicians asked the CBI to raid the journalist-founders of NDTV on the flimsiest of charges—for the restructuring of a private banking loan. This is such a normal practice, and the charges were so bizarre, that there was a storm of criticism and protest both within and outside the country.

"Now, the politicians have asked the Income Tax authorities to step up their baseless attack on NDTV, again, with complete disregard for the facts of the matter.

"In short, the Income Tax authorities have held that a bona fide investment in NDTV by the American media giant NBC and GE (General Electric, one of the most reputable corporations in the world) was a "sham transaction". These are such serious allegations by the Income Tax department that even if remotely true, it would lead to the one of America's biggest corporate scandals and send the CEOs of both these organisations to jail in America.

"The reckless levying of accusations against reputed foreign investors is certainly not in the national interest. How can we expect foreign investors to want to come to India if their bonafide investment will be called "bogus" on the flimsiest of pretexts? We understand that the authorities want to silence NDTV by any means possible. But frankly, this is a bit like burning down your own house to get rid of a fly.

"It is evident that political instructions have been issued to try and crush NDTV by any means possible. This has huge implications for the freedom of the press, and also for the nation".

Vol. 50, No.9, Sep 3 - 9, 2017