2019 was a bad year for India’s democracy. At least this is what the Democracy Index released by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIC) insinuates. India registered a 10 point drop from the previous year in its ranking from 41 to 51 and this has stoked a storm among the pro-government lot which is very close to discrediting this entire exercise followed by the EIU.
Their anger is warranted, the world’s largest democracy which remains on election mode almost half the year has been classified as a flawed democracy. However, 2019 can very well be deemed a year of paradoxes. India’s democracy flourished in 2019 as arguably the most significant election yet, took place in the same year. The stakes were peaking and Narendra Modi had demonstrated how he runs the nation, how his government functions and what his politics revolves around. Over 600 million, of the 900 million registered voters, turned up at poll booths ready to decide the fate of the country in the Indian General elections. If the election was indeed only about Narendra Modi, then the 303 seats that his party bagged alone, more than the 282 the BJP scored in 2014, was a vindication of his policies and his politics.
The opposition had campaigned with all its might, and tried every trick in the book, but the mandate was clear, Modi had earned his chair for five more years. So, what happened? The BJP, loud and clear about its promises for decades, simply got to work. There was no better time to deliver on the dreams that it had sold for decades, there was no better time to, with a giant mandate, redefine the contours of India as a nation and while they did so, the EIU has sensed a crisis – a crisis for old India and frankly, this is a Freudian slip on the part of EIU, members of which seem to have a preconceived idea of India and have shown readiness in discrediting developments that India voted for and celebrated in 2019.
This has come almost with the same vigour and zeal as the locally discredited Barkha Dutts and Rana Ayyubs of the country or other foreign journalists who have written inflammatory and factually unreliable op-eds for international publications. It is almost as if the parameters, be it government functioning or civil liberties, were analysed with the help of certain left-dominated sources ripe with alarmist claims and shoddy journalism.
The EIU lists a few reasons why it has been so harsh on India – “the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act,” promised years ago by the BJP and finally brought in by the Indian parliament after robust and exhaustive discussions. The CAA shall facilitate the fast-tracking of citizenship for refugees of religious persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, Islamic nations which have, throughout history, institutionally erased large chunks of their religious minorities. While the United States has carried on with its Lautenberg-Specter Amendments, employing a reasonable classification similar to that of India’s CAA – “historically persecuted groups” from only specific countries, and excluding, for example, the Iranian Muslim majority, and facilitating easy entry of Christians and Jews from Iran, India has been unfairly hounded for its sovereign decision, perhaps mostly, for being India and not the USA.
Moreover, this has nothing to do with Indian citizens, be it Muslims or Hindus, and linking it with some sinister attempt to disenfranchise all Indian Muslims is far-fetched, ridiculous, and perhaps the reason why the noise, today, has fizzled out. Protests, laced with rumours, turned into riots in many parts of the country, wherein people went on a rampage destroying public property largely because they believed they were being disenfranchised, but lies and conjecture cannot last for too long.
Coming to NRC in Assam, also criticized by the EIU – every nation has the right to ‘detect and delete’ illegal immigrants, and India is having one of the biggest crises related to illegal immigrants given its highly porous border with Bangladesh. Among these illegal immigrants are also religious minorities fleeing religious persecution while the news of kidnapping, rape or temples being ransacked hits our televisions sets and twitter feeds every week. While identifying and deporting illegal immigrants was in BJP’s manifesto, throwing the religious minority back into the sea of institutionalized religious discrimination wasn’t and with the Citizenship Amendment Bill introduced in 2016, BJP’s goals were clear as day.
However, there was indeed an erosion of ‘civil liberties’— in Jammu and Kashmir and a large part of India’s electorate is guilty of that, the rest is complicit in the deaths of hundreds of Indian Jawans every year at the hands of Islamist terrorists in Kashmir.
One of BJP’s heroes, Syama Prasad Mukherjee died under suspicious circumstances, when he was taken in custody by Sheikh Abdullah, the then leader of the state of J&K. Mukherjee was a minister in Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet, and in 1953 he had boldly resolved to ‘illegally’ cross the J&K border and assert India’s sovereignty. ‘Illegally’ because the special Article 370 for J&K provided for it to function as an autonomous region, an affront to India’s nationalistic trait. The BJP, subscribing to this ideology, maintained a stern stance and all of India knew, for decades, what the BJP intended to do to Article 370. Every mandate to the BJP, was a mandate against Article 370.
2019 served the best window for India to do what the double-dealing political dynasts of J&K threatened to secede from India over. Before they could expedite their fear-mongering aimed at a paranoia-induced rush for survival among the Muslim populace, they were detained and kept in lavish home-stays, and still are, while the centre seeks to de-normalise tolerance for Islamists and dealing with terrorists in Kashmir’s politics. With the support of the Parliament, Art 370 was de-operationalised and J&K was bifurcated into two Union Territories which now fall under New Delhi’s direct jurisdiction. To contain the repercussions of what yanked the carpet off the Pakistan-terrorist-politician nexus in Kashmir, the Islamist-wrought Kashmir valley faces an internet shut-down and other parts of J&K have internet services partly restored.
Therefore, while J&K has become an integral part of India in practicality and its politics is destined to shed Islamist tendencies which had earlier led to an ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley, an encroachment of civil liberties has indeed taken place but it is just a pinch on the skin compared to the terror that Islamists wreaked in Kashmir every year. The second half of 2019 has been good for human life in Kashmir and the following years shall fast-track both democracy and progress in the region, albeit with India’s restored sovereignty and the elimination of terror.