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75 Years: Is The Glass Two Thirds Empty Or Full-1?

16/08/2022 at 7:40 AM

Sutanu Guru, Executive Director, C Voter Research Foundation

In part one of a three part series on political, economic and civilisational independence, the author tries to bust some political myths. The promised column on Bollywood dynasties will come after that.

Yesterday, even as Indians celebrated 75 years of independence, the prime minister exhorted citizens to collectively ensure that the so called “Amrit Kaal”-the next 25 years-makes India a developed nation. His fans or “Bhakts” were ecstatic over the eloquence of the Red Fort speech of Narendra Mod. Those who viscerally detest him mocked and scoffed away his speech as empty, meaningless and bombastic rhetoric. Let the two bitterly adversarial groups wage war on each other and cling to their extremist positions. For people who have more independent minds, the fundamental questions that need to be asked at this stage of independent India’s journey are two: Is Indian democracy in danger and freedom of speech in peril? Second, is the overwhelming dominance of the BJP good for the health of Indian democracy? Both are important political questions and critics of the Narendra Modi regime are correct in raising these concerns.

What do ordinary Indians think about these concerns? And what does real world data say about these two crucial issues related to Indian politics?  The latest issue of the magazine India Today features the results of an exclusive Mood of the Nation survey conducted by C Voter. With a sample size in excess of 1,10,000, it is a thorough, comprehensive and fully representative peep into the minds of Indians. People were asked their opinion on the state of democracy in India. Close to 48% of the respondents said democracy is in danger in India, up from 41% about 18 months ago. A significantly lower 37.3% were of the opinion that democracy in India is not in danger. For those who love to hate Narendra Modi, this seems like justification of their claims that an “authoritarian” Modi is subverting democracy in India.

But hang on. One critical element of a functional democracy is the ability of citizens to express their views openly. When free speech is undermined, democracy is automatically undermined. Habitual Modi critics cite the arrest of “dissenters” and civil society activists like Mohammed Zubair, Teesta Setalvad and Umar Khalid, among others, to insist he is throttling both free speech and democracy. But what do ordinary Indians feel and think? The C Voter survey for India Today asked the following question: Do you feel free to express your opinion on politics and religion? Close to 50% of the respondents stated they felt free to express their opinion on both politics and religion. Less than 10% stated they did not feel free. Significantly, 23.6% of the respondents felt free to express their opinion on politics but not on religion. In effect, 3 out of every four Indian feels free to openly express her political views. Which means they enjoy freedom of speech. Then how is democracy in danger?

The answers lie in the rapidly declining faith and trust in the institutions that are supposed to uphold democratic values as enshrined in the Constitution. The survey asked Indians: Out of the four pillars of democracy, which do you think has best upheld democratic norms in India? Quite predictably, the executive (10.5%) and legislature (17.8%) were given low ratings by ordinary Indians. But what should worry citizens who genuinely care for democracy is the fact that just 28.7% gave a thumbs up to the judiciary while the media got a shockingly low rating of 13.5%. So democracy is indeed perceived to be in danger. But not because people think they have lost their right to free speech. It is because our institutions are decaying and need an urgent overhaul. No matter what his fans and critics think and say, it is impossible for Narendra Modi to overhaul and reform the so called four pillars of democracy. It requires a collective effort of top functionaries and representatives of all four pillars.

The second question and concern is about the overwhelming dominance of the BJP in Indian politics. There is little doubt that a monopoly like situation in electoral politics cannot be healthy for any democracy. As of today, the C Voter survey for India Today gives an overall majority to the NDA if Lok Sabha elections were to be held now. And the persistent failure of opposition leaders and parties to present a united front against the BJP, despite occasional displays as recently seen in Bihar, makes objective political contend that Narendra Modi is odds on favourite to win a third consecutive term. Ergo, the health of Indian democracy stands imperilled. Yet look deeper and more dispassionately and the claim looks far fetched. The BJP does enjoy a dominance at the overall national level. But to say that it completely dominates politics is a joke.

Look at the largest states of India. The BJP does rule UP and Gujarat. It is running governments in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka that could lose assembly elections next year. It had to break the Shiv Sena and instal the rebel leader Eknath Shinde as chief minister to regain Maharashtra. It has just lost Bihar. It lost badly in West Bengal last year and is a fringe player in Tamil Nadu. Pray, how is that overwhelming political dominance?

About the Author:

After his master’s degree in economics, Sutanu Guru has been a journalist for more than 30 years in media outlets like Times of India, Economic Times, Business Today, Business World, Business India & others. Currently, he focuses more on research and writing.

DISCLAIMER

This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write-up have nothing to do with those of prameyanews.com.

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