Vote matters

Periodic Elections are no guarantee of democracy, albeit ‘Modi guarantee’ is now a new phrase in India’s electoral politics. Then it is also true that democracy doesn’t exist without elections. In 2024, more than half the world’s population will go to polls—4.2 billion citizens, almost 65 countries, in what appears to be a stirring spectacle of electronic media made hysteria and fanaticism. Any election in India, the world’s largest show-piece of democracy is a festival of masses though everybody knows elections don’t change the ground reality.

Modi, who won elections in 2014 and 2019, is on the ‘right’ course for the third term as per opinion polls of dozens of pro-establishment media houses. In reality Modi has transformed India’s constitutional democracy into an elected autocracy by way of dismantling old democratic institutions, silencing the Opposition through coercive laws and systematically eroding whatever remains of federalism, denying states their legitimate dues. India is now more unitary than what it was at the time of framing the constitution. The so-called biggest democracy without freedom of speech is all about deepening the ruling elites’ impunity to do whatever they want. The space for political competition and civil society is shrinking. Election in India is no longer free and fair. Muscle power is part of the game called universal adult franchise. Criminalisation of politics is so deep-rooted that no election is free from violence. Then money is the deciding factor in every election, local or national.

Central Agencies are being increasingly used to keep opposition politicians behind bars. Also, they are treated badly in custody. Very recently a deputy commissioner in the Goods and Services Tax department in Chennai wrote a passionate letter to the President of India, making allegation that ‘the Ministry of Finance has converted the Enforcement Directorate into a BJP policy enforcement directorate’. For all practical purposes these central agencies supposed to function neutrally are actually working as extended arm of BJP.

Tragically enough, Modi who won elections in 2014 and 2019 because of disunity in the Opposition camp, having no unified and alternative programme of action, to combat his party–Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]–continues to remain in limelight by any means, fair or foul. How Modi is being courted by world leaders seems to have tied his larger than life-size image to that of “an India finally on the rise”, thanks to pliant media. Only recently the President of UAE came all the way to praise Modi for his dynamism and take part in a road show with his host. Road-show is a new fashion in political culture to mobilise voters. Perhaps the show-diplomacy was an indirect message to minority community people that all was well. During his second term, Freedom House, a pro-democracy think tank, downgraded the country’s democracy rating from ‘free’ to ‘partially free’ as his government targeted critics and independent news media and blatantly followed discriminatory policies against the Muslims.

Despite global outreach, Modi’s party with its dozens of frontal outfits; is tirelessly whipping up Hindu primacy while continually conjuring threats about Muslims. Modi’s storm-troopers have created an atmosphere of fear psychosis for the minorities, Dalits and tribals. India is now the biggest prison house with hundreds of thousands of innocent people languishing in jails for years without trial. Modi has wielded sedition and sweeping security laws at dissenters, opposition leaders and any critical media, ‘imposing more than 700 internet shutdowns–most on Earth–since coming to power in 2014’.

Meanwhile, all political parties have started poll campaigns, resorting to all sorts of gimmicks and tricks. For the BJP inauguration of Ram Temple was a grand occasion to polarise voters on religious lines and politicise the issue. Congress too was in the same league while trying to make their presence felt by boycotting the event under the specious plea that the temple was still under construction. Not for nothing 55 people belonging to the Hindu society in 50 countries were invited to witness the gala opening of the Temple. BJP’s NRI backers reportedly donated huge sums for the construction of the Temple. Then BJP didn’t miss the chance to make overtures to the Dalit voters. So, family members of Dalit icons B R Ambedkar, Jagjivan Ram, Kanshi Ram and other ‘prominent people’ belonging to the scheduled castes were among those invited for the January 22 consecration ceremony. In addition to so many ‘guarantees’ Modi is now offering ‘Ram guarantee’. Maybe, Lord Ram is the saviour for Modi and his party in 2024 general elections.

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Vol 56, No. 31, Jan 28 - Feb 3, 2024