How to dismantle a republic

Yogendra Yadav | Updated on September 06, 2019 Published on September 06, 2019

Actions speak: It is the unwritten change in the culture of governance that threatens to extinguish constitutional freedoms   -  PTI

Modi 2.0 signals a move away from the ‘unity in diversity’ model of nation-building. India is regressing from being a democracy to an authoritarian system with a new architecture of power

The first hundred days of the second Modi regime may appear to be an assortment of random events — some designed and others accidental. But seen from a distance, all of these fit into a pattern and give us a glimpse of a new architecture of power, a new kind of political system.

Let us call it plebiscitary authoritarianism: A system where access to power is through a more or less democratic plebiscite, but the exercise of power is in a more or less authoritarian manner. Slowly but surely, India is regressing from being a democracy, with howsoever many deficits, to an authoritarian system, albeit with some openings.

On paper, the formal institutional apparatus of liberal democracy is still there. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in no hurry to dispense with it. He doesn’t need to. The first 100 days of the second regime have confirmed what could be seen during the previous regime — this formal façade of liberal democracy does not constrain a non-democratic use of state power.

Having successfully turned the Lok Sabha election into a plebiscite on Modi’s leadership, the new regime has gone about creating a new architecture of power in four ways: Constitutional amendment, such as the decision to abrogate Article 370, as and when absolutely necessary; legal changes, such as an amendment to the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA, wherever needed; simple executive orders, such as those invoked to imprison and curb dissenters, as the staple diet; and, unwritten orders that leave no trace, winks and nods, as the most potent means of exercising power. This new architecture of power is already changing the ground reality in multiple ways: Concentration of effective power with the supreme leader, erosion of autonomous institutions, dilution of civil liberties and dismantling of the secular State.

The outcome of the Lok Sabha elections paved the way for a concentration of power matched only by the Indira Gandhi regimes. The opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as also the opposition to Modi within the party stand decimated. The overnight downgrading of the state of Jammu & Kashmir sent a clear message that all national power is concentrated in the hands of the Union government. The process of concentration of governmental power in the hands of the executive has been ongoing since the first Modi regime. The second victory has completed the process of transfer of all executive power into the hands of the prime minister and his close coterie.

Institutional erosion was always a harsh reality of our democracy, made worse during the first Modi regime. But with the downgrading of the Central Information Commission, refusal to share mandatory documents with the Comptroller and Auditor General, arm-twisting of the Reserve Bank of India, and pushing any legislation any which way through Parliament, we are now headed for institutional dismantling. Unless the Supreme Court (SC) surprises everyone in the Kashmir case, we may well be witnessing a capitulation by the judiciary as well.

This is directly linked to the dilution of civil liberties. The amendment to UAPA gives the government the right to declare pretty much anyone a terrorist. The way the government went after not just its political opponents but also civil society and the dissenting media, sends a message loud and clear: You dare not!

More than legal changes and executive orders, it is the unwritten change in the culture of governance that threatens to extinguish constitutional freedoms. The SC’s refusal to hear a habeas corpus petition, and remaining a mute witness to the abrogation of fundamental rights in the Kashmir Valley, is a loud announcement that civil liberties may now be a special and occasional privilege.

Finally, these 100 days have given the strongest possible signal of a move away from the ‘unity in diversity’ model of nation-building to the ‘unity in singularity’ model. If you read the scrapping of Article 370 with the proposal to extend the National Register of Citizens to the rest of the country and the Bill to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955, you begin to see a full picture of what lies in store. De facto, minorities have been reduced to second-grade citizenship; this may get a de jure stamp as well.

We are witnessing a mobilisation of the public for dismantling the republic.


Yogendra Yadav   -  THE HINDU / R RAGU

Yogendra Yadav is a political scientist and founding member of Swaraj India

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Published on September 06, 2019
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