A few weeks ago, India’s main opposition party leader Rahul Gandhi was sentenced to two-year jail for a defamation case. The case was about his remarks, made during a political rally in 2019. Rahul Gandhi, in his remarks, referring to two fugitive businessmen, both surnamed Modi asked: “How come all thieves have the name, Modi?” The next day of the court judgment, he was disqualified and lost his seat in the parliament. Later, the 14 opposition parties jointly petitioned the Supreme Court of India, saying that the opposition groups were being specifically targeted by federal investigative agencies.
After the Independence, Nehru and Sardar Patel successfully integrated a large number of princely states into India. India adopted its first Constitution in three years, established the election commission, and held the first election four years after independence. These efforts had put India on the way to becoming a successful and stable democracy – emergency rule during Indra Gandhi’s term was one exemption.
To unify such a diverse country, the Nehru administration made secularism the base of the Indian constitution. For example, in 1951, he did not let the then-president Rajendra Parasad attend the inauguration ceremony of the Somanath temple. He believed that a public post holder should refrain from publically showing any tilt toward any religion or religious symbol.
Division along the religious, linguistic, and cultural lines was identified and respected but not allowed to hamper a national character. Unity in diversity became a national slogan, which the Indians proudly propagated on many occasions. In India, one could belong to a minority religion, caste, or culture but he/she could still hold the highest public office – APJ Abdul Kalam and Manmohan Singh are a few prominent examples. This was India, based on the secularist ideas, preached by India’s founding fathers and cemented by Nehru’s vision. Despite some of his unconstitutional moves, Nehru tried to achieve what he pledged and dreamt of after the independence.
Acche Din (Good Times) was a popular slogan of Modi before the election in 2014. Sab ka Sath, Sab ka Vikas (Together with all, development for all) was another slogan that Modi rose, asking people for support. People believed in these slogans and a dynastic founding party was defeated. BJP won the election and Modi became the PM of India, but Acche Din, as people were waiting for, never came. However, as former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha mentioned, “Better days did not follow, but the people were mesmerized by a barrage of new slogans”
On the economic front, India under the Modi regime had done quite well. It left the former colonial power the UK behind and became the world’s fifth-largest economic power. India is moving towards becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25. But whether this economic prosperity is based on inclusivity or it’s just the progress of and for a few selected elite? Whether this economic progress is bringing social and political progress or it’s being done at the expense of India’s ideological vision?
Modi’s demonetization scheme, another masterstroke, as they called it, turned into a masterblow. According to the Economic Times, cash in circulation nearly doubles in six-year post-demonetization. Again the most affected were the lower and middle-class not the Ambanis or Adanis. Now after seven years, neither the BJP nor PM Modi dared to discuss their masterstroke and it seems they have deleted the word demonetization from their dictionary.
Like Russia, Modi is creating a managed democracy in India, supported by the oligarchs like Adani. Recently, a US-based short-seller Hindenburg Research issued a report about India’s top business conglomerate the Adani group. It shows the serious irregularities in Adani’s business and how the Modi government unconstitutionally and illegally supported the Adani group to get some mega business projects both at home and abroad. “Adani has pulled off this gargantuan feat with the help of enablers in government and a cottage industry of international companies that facilitate these activities. These issues of corruption permeate multiple layers of government,” the report alleged. Ashoke Sawain observed, “Modi and Adani probably share the closest relationship a politician can have with a business person; certainly, it had never happened in India. Their rise has been together.” The Adani group blamed the Hindenburg report as a Western conspiracy against ‘India’.
India’s per capita GDP is still among the lowest in the world, around $2300 as compared to its neighbor Bangladesh’s $2457. Moreover, there is a huge disparity among Indian states. Southern states are economically well off than the northern ones. For example, in 2020-21, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have per capita income of $2863 and $2767 respectively while the UP and Bihar have per capita income of $832 and $588 respectively. This economic disparity has a huge impact on the social and political structure of both regions.
Citizenship Amendment Act is a major example of how the Modi government carried out a planned campaign against a specific community. Modi government, following the Hindutva ideology of considering some communities as non-Indians just because of their religion or caste, asked Muslims living in India to show documentation to prove that they are actually living here for generations. Immigrants, who arrived in India in the 1950s or later, were asked to prove and bring documents that their grandparents and their grandparents have signed, or otherwise leave the country. While the other non-Muslim communities from different countries were allowed to enter into India if there were any threats of being persecuted. BJP’s aim was to bare a large chunk of Muslims from voting and to win a simple majority by exploiting the Hindus’ sentiments.
Despite being the 5th largest economy, India ranked 132 out of 191 on the Human Development Index. It ranked 126 on the world happiness index, even lower than its neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. As usual, BJP and Hindutva supporters blamed the West and considered these Indexes as a Western conspiracy against rising India.
In 2022, on World Press Freedom Index India has fallen to 150 out of 180 countries compared to 142 in 2021. The BJP has successfully tamed the media to its will. Last year, most of the shares of NDTV, once a leading data-driven, impartial, and neutral media outlet, were acquired by the Adani group. Now, in mainstream mass media, there is not a single media outlet to question the government – few newspapers are exceptions here. On the social media front, BJP has mastered propaganda techniques. Now, with the immense penetration of the internet and low digital literacy, youth is becoming an easy target of the BJP’s propaganda machine. It’s easy for the Modi government to reject any report by the International media questioning the government by declaring it a conspiracy against India. Sometimes, if BBC dared to telecast a documentary on Modi or Facebook shows some posts criticizing the great leader of the BJP, their offices can be raided.
Modi has successfully created a cult following, especially among the majority Hindu community. Tired of the dynastic politics of the Congress, people turned to Modi but now, Modi in himself has become a cult. Through propaganda, exploring and exploiting the fault line the India society, and using Hindu sentiments, Modi has brought the Indian democracy to a level where its very bases are in danger. Hindu fundamentalists like Yogi Aditiyanath are ready to become the successor of Modi. The way Modi has transformed India, there are likely chances that one day people can elect Yogi as the PM of India.
India is rapidly turning from a diverse to a divisive democracy. The rift in Indian society is getting deeper and wider every day. Extremist tendencies of the Modi government are creating a polarized, extremist, and deeply divisive society. Cult politics, restriction on media freedoms, and elite-driven interest-based politics are the new norms of democracy in India. Acche Din, however, surely has come but for the selected ones like Adani. India is on its way to becoming a managed democracy like Russia.