By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, April 24, 2021: India will celebrate 75th year of Independence next year on August 15. However, India’s democracy is under threat as the world’s largest democracy is sliding toward competitive authoritarianism under the Modi regime. The Parliamentary sessions held in September last year in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic have already exposed the vulnerability of our democracy. Serious doubts have been expressed whether the country will continue to remain sovereign, united and integrated politically and geographically in its centenary year 2047.

In the past, the country has gone through dark phase when the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi lurched in crisis to an “emergency” dictatorship in 1975-1977. While Indira was Prime Minister for most of the two decades (1966-1984), Modi was in his formative 16th and 34th years. In his mid-twenties, Modi went underground resisting “emergency.” Her Congress party lost the polls in 1977. Ever since, there have been serious crises, ups and downs, assassinations of Prime ministers or national leaders, separatists challenging federal unity, from Nagas and Mizos to Khalistan Movement, but they could be overcome. The Parliamentary Democracy, however, survives till now.

Interestingly, there is a great resemblance between Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi. Most importantly, both have scant regard for parliament and constitution. Indira brought in maximum amendments to the law and constitution to consolidate her position and ideology, strengthen the centre at the cost of federalism, and curtail the freedoms of citizens. She maintained a limited presence in parliament and even cabinet ministers used to find out about many decisions including clamping of emergency and bank nationalisation after these were taken.

Modi has even less regard for parliament. He got more than 40 Bills passed, including the Union budget in the last session, without a discussion. Many decisions, including demonetisation etc., were taken first by the prime Minister and his inner circle and only then shared with the cabinet and legislature. In the last session of parliament, the speaker, another Modi loyalist, ensured the opposition’s proposed no-confidence motion could not be taken up.


Modi’s rule since 2014 has itself been called an “undeclared emergency,” which is not true as he hasn’t resorted to the draconian repression and mass imprisonment of opponents carried out by Indira during 21-month dictatorship. Nevertheless, the constitution has been pushed to the limit and manipulated, as under Indira, from the blocking of social media to the arrest of journalists, and the manipulating of the Supreme Court, the state media and the Electoral Commission.

Democracy prospers with a fair and transparent judicial system. But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Narendra Modi is using state powers to intimidate its political opposition as well as critics. It sought to quash political dissent through the use of anti-terrorist laws, most notably the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), which allows the state to designate individuals as terrorists on extremely flimsy grounds.

One such case was the riot that took place in January 2018 at an annual gathering of Dalits in the village of Bhima Koregaon to commemorate a military victory against high-caste rulers more than 200 years ago. Several left-wing intellectuals and activists were detained under the UAPA in February last year on the grounds that they were guilty of “promoting enmity between groups” and involved in abetting terrorism.

The riots in various parts of the country largely stemmed from protests against Modi’s controversial Citizen Amendment Act, which allows many Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jains, and Sikhs from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to obtain accelerated citizenship in India on the grounds that they constitute oppressed minorities in those countries. However, the legislation does not apply to Muslims—a fact that protesters rightly highlighted as discriminatory and going against the secular values of India’s constitution.

India’s democracy largely hinges upon the idea of secularism, federalism, pluralism, sovereignty, liberalism, institutional autonomy and freedom of mobilisation as well as independence of media. However, Modi appears to be in a hurry to dismantle the system and its values as they evolved over a century of Freedom Movement. The prime aim behind making “Congress-Mukt” Bharat slogan is to completely erase from history and memory the whole ethos of the struggle for independence under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the Indian National Congress and replace it with the Hindutva ideology with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

COVID-19 pandemic has sped it along the way. Last year, the Modi government all of sudden clamped a nationwide lockdown, and adopted a governing style that weakened the position of states and virtually excluded the opposition parties out of decision making. The systematic abuse of police and judicial powers throws a new and major challenge to India’s commitment to impartial justice. It is a dangerous trend that could, if unchecked, upend Indian democracy.

Besides, the virtual ignoring of judicial review and frontal attacks on the media have exposed the Modi government’s hidden agenda and the weak opposition could do little to confront the BJP’s authoritarian politics to halt erosion of democratic values.

Next year will be the turning point for the Modi regime in executing the plan. In the 75th year of Independence, the Modi government will look for an auspicious moment to pave the way for a New Republic, by leaving past the one that was adopted in 1950. Incidentally, the new parliamentary building will be operational and the present President’s term also expires next year.

Modi could defy all and opt for Constitutional amendment for establishment of the Presidential Form of Democracy, in place of the Parliamentary Democracy. By adopting the idea of majoritarianism, the BJP has expanded the threats to the Parliamentary Democracy and integrated India. But the moot question is will there be a paradigm shift at the centre and will we have President Narendra Modi in 2022?

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