The term dictatorship is freely used these days in the national political discourse. Rahul Gandhi and his family feel that Narendra Modi is a tyrant who wants to subvert India’s democracy. Arvind Kejriwal feels that Lt Gov Najeeb Jung is a dictator and his usurpation of government functions will lead to dictatorship in the national capital. Across the political spectrum, many of our enlightened leaders feel that Indian democracy is under threat and the present central government is exhibiting dictatorial tendencies. In the following few paragraphs, I will try to deflate arguments that claim India will be overcome by dictatorship now or in the near future-
1. A glance at history
Democracy in India could have easily been dispatched to the depths of hell in the first couple of decades following the withdrawl of British from the country. Indian National Congress was the sole national party with a pan-India presence and its leaders were the tallest leaders nationally. Leaders such as Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, C Rajagopalachari et al commanded such respect from people that their word was the law, literally. Had they wanted to, they could have dispensed of democracy with the click of their fingers and established a personal dictatorship. Yet they chose not to. For whatever reasons, they felt that democracy with all its flaws was preferable to lead a poor, uneducated country scarred by partition.
Indira’s time was the only time that dictatorship was actually established. The Emergency is actually a constitutional term for what the world would call dictatorship. Indira subverted democratic institutions and used her control over the men around her to impose a personal dictatorship led by herself and her son. Institutions collapsed and for 2 years, India was held in thrall of Indira’s dictatorship. Indira eventually chose to call snap elections to cement her hold. However, the people saw past her nefarious designs and punished her at the hustings.
In the aftermath of the emergency, Indian democracy has been marked by the rule of alliances which typically negate the possibility of dictatorships since most of the alliance partners usually have divergent agenda that makes even day to day administration a mammoth task.
2. The force behind dictatorship
In modern times, dictatorship has typically implied military dictatorship. From Portugal to Pakistan, most of the dictatorships have been military in nature. Gaddafi’s rule in Libya was established by a military coup as was Naseer’s in Egypt, as was Ziaur Rahman’s in Bangladesh and Musharraf’s in Pakistan. Hitler’s & Mussolini’s dictatorships were powered by the paramilitary forces they commanded. The other dictatorships that the world has seen in this period are Communist-oriented dictatorships- from China to Cuba, From North Korea to Angola and so on. These dictatorships are communist in orientation but the force that keeps them in power belongs to the military.
In this aspect, fortunately Indian army has been like Caesar’s wife- beyond suspicion. Our armed forces are marked by professionalism and complete disinterest in the politics that plagues the country. They realize that they serve their political masters who in turn are elected by the masses. The existence of a strong command and control structure dispels whatever little fear is of a military takeover of the country.
3. The power of the country
India is a vast and heterogeneous country, composed of different castes, creeds, religions, languages. Many a times, the interest of these groups are antagonistic. Therein lies the strength of our democracy. It is highly likely that one part of the country will rise up in rebellion, if it feels its interests are being sacrificed by the rulers at Delhi. A dictatorship at Delhi can run only if it creates a gigantic committee composed of representatives of each of the various communities that call India their home. Mind you, were that to happen, we would be dealing with a constituent assembly and not a dictatorship.
4. Closing arguments
The threat to democracy in India comes not from Modi or the BJP. It comes from leaders such as LaMuNi who have created a wonderful concept of untouchability in politics to garner votes. It comes from leaders such as RaGa, who other than that they descend from a privileged bloodline, have no other qualities that entitles them to the Premiership of India. It comes from political parties that believe in stalling the parliament & legislatures to extort concessions. And finally, it comes from leaders such as Arvind Kejriwal, who are spending crores of public money to build a stalinesque cult of personality that brooks no criticism, that portrays them as being holier than others, superior to others and a panacea for all ills that plague the nation. Ultimately, democracy has no bigger foes than nepotism and a personality cult.
Democracy founders when discussions are replaced by sloganeering, sloganeering by fist fighting and fist fighting by massacres