‘Surfeit of Democracy’

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be the saviour of Congress that desperately needs a national issue to remain in focus. The saffronites are continually attacking Rahul Gandhi for his caustic remarks about Indian Democracy under the Modi dispensation before a select audience at Cambridge. Congress leaders who have been wandering in wilderness for long are happy. The reason is simple: what they have failed to do in years is being done by BJP in a matter of few weeks—projecting Rahul Gandhi as the opposition face. For one thing BJP too needs a diversion as pressure is mounting on them, domestically and globally, for what may be called ‘Adani fraud’ and opposition parties in parliament have made it a single point of agitation to grill Modi and his corporate friend—Adani. Congress and its allies think they could downgrade the image of Modi by highlighting Adani’s manipulative business tactics and the meteoric rise of Adani house due to Modi’s patronage. The net result of opposition’s protest in the house is repeated adjournment of parliament. How much people are gaining from their shouting and counter-shouting is open to question. Unemployment is staggering and no sustained movement demanding gainful employment of the jobless. In truth all have started their election campaign for 2024. Rahul Gandhi’s murmur about erosion of democratic rights and emergence of authoritarianism under the Modi regime does hardly elaborate the gravity of the problem and the emergency situation people are being forced to live in.

India is among 22 countries and territories out of 179 in the world where institutions and ‘scholars’ enjoy significantly less freedom today than 10 years ago as per the new ‘Academic Freedom Index’ published by the V-Dem Institute. Last year India received a score of0.38 in a table of 0 to 1, where 1 is the highest academic freedom. Surprisingly, India was behind Nepal (0. 86), Pakistan (0.45), Bhutan (0.46) and before Bangladesh (0.25) and junta-ruled Mayanmar (0.01). ‘India along with China, Afghanistan and Mayanmar, are identified as countries where political events have severely reversed promising developments in the academic sector.’ The V-Dem report further specifies how ‘around 2013 all aspects of academic freedom began to decline sharply, reinforced with Narendra Modi’s election as prime minister in 2014.’ There are no laws that particularly protect academic freedom, leading to their increased vulnerability under the Modi dictatorship. Centralisation, bureaucratisation, and politicisation have historically produced weak university autonomy in India and under Modi’s steam-roller things have become just alarming and yet they boast of projecting India as the world’s largest democracy. A sense of fear-psychosis has gripped the education sphere. Academic freedom is a thing of the past.

For all practical purposes India is an ‘electoral autocracy’. If anything India began to drop on the electoral democracy even when Rahul Gandhi’s party was in power. Modi has just aggravated it. Not that only academics’ freedom of expression is curtailed. No voice of dissent is allowed. The Congress-led opposition is hardly serious about declining democratic space in the country. Their protest remains confined within the four walls of the House. They have no intention to take it to the streets and involve people against Modi tyranny.

The crux of the matter lies elsewhere. A united opposition now looks a mirage. It will never be materialised unless something dramatic happens, the possibility of which seems remote. A Congress-led broader opposition against the Modi brigade is a non-starter. Only the other day some regional outfits came out strongly in favour of a Congress-less opposition alliance. Samajwadi Party, TMC and some other regional parties are against a Congress-led opposition. It means in the end Modi’s party will laugh the last laugh.

Parliamentarians of all hues are too naïve to resort to extra-parliamentary activities. Without massive mass mobilisation the mountain will not move. Finally, it will be more of the same—ever declining academic freedom and civil rights.


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Vol 55, No. 40, April 2 - 8, 2023