The democracy deficit

Despite being defeated, the Modi dispensation fails to uphold tenets of democracy

NEET question paper leak protest

The Narendra Modi-led BJP lost the General Elections of 2024 and is now propped up by allies in a coalition NDA government. Yet despite being defeated the Modi dispensation is failing to uphold the tenets of democratic administration and acting as if it has won a majority on its own. Here are 15 ways in which Modi is continuing to create a democracy deficit in India.

1)  The Modi-led government still shows no visible empathy towards suffering citizens. Empathy is a crucial aspect of good governance. Yet is entirely missing from the NDA dispensation. When confronted with the leaks in the NEET-UG 2024 examination, Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan first denied the leak, then called student protests “motivated” and finally appeared in a press conference to announce a probe into the National Testing Agency. There was little systematic reach out to students. In 2023 as many as 26 students took their own lives in the coaching city of Kota due to examination-related anguish. Where is empathy?

2)  Agencies of the state are still being used for partisan ends. Astoundingly, just when Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s bail petition was due before the Supreme Court, the CBI  suddenly materialised on June 26th to arrest Kejriwal in Tihar jail. The timing, just before the bail hearing, smacked of political vendetta.

3)There is a democracy deficit when citizenship is defined according to religious belief. The Modi-led NDA boasts that the government has started granting citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Act. But citizenship based on religion is entirely unconstitutional. In Assam, due to the NRC exercise, 19 lakh people, the majority of them Hindus, have been excluded. Today, there are 40 lakh people whose lives and liberty are under threat from CAA-NRC.  

4)  In 9 years from 2015-2024, the BJP attacked the party system by encouraging defections and toppling governments. 9 democratically elected governments were toppled in 9 years: namely: Arunachal Pradesh (2016), Manipur (2017), Meghalaya (2018), Goa (2017), Karnataka (2019), Madhya Pradesh (2020), Maharashtra, (2022) Uttarakhand (2016), Puducherry (2021). Today, many NDA partners have been forced to join forces with the BJP by threats and allurements.

5) There is a democracy deficit when attempts are made to delegitimize the Opposition. Earlier the BJP called the opposition names like “tukde tukde gang.” Today the BJP has bulldozed its choice for the post of Lok Sabha Speaker. Modi refuses to debate with the Opposition and only engages in monologues. Modi keeps declaring he has “won” a third term when his party failed to cross the majority mark. These show that the BJP is still trying to intimidate and undermine the Opposition.

6) The stranglehold over the media continues. Accredited senior journalists are not allowed into Parliament. The mainstream media continues to invisibilise the Opposition and project the government view.

7)  There is still no evidence that the government will act against hate speech or stop giving state protection to perpetrators of hate speech. 75% hate speech events come from states ruled by the BJP according to India Hate Lab.

8)  Lynch mobs are still not being given exemplary punishment. 3 died in a mob lynching in Chhattisgarh on June 7, showing vigilantes are still on the loose. There have been over 60 such incidents from 2017 onwards.

9) The President did not mention the word ‘Manipur’ even once in her address and shockingly, until today Modi has not visited Manipur even once.

10) The Modi-led government is still breezily evading accountability. There have been 244 major train accidents between 2017-2022. On June 17 the very day that the Kanchenjunga Express met with a terrible accident, rail minister Ashwini Vaishnaw was made in charge of the upcoming Maharashtra elections. Dharmendra Pradhan too instead of being allowed to be a full-time education minister has been made in -charge of the Haryana elections.

11) Modi still believes he is bigger than institutions. After the polls, Modi did not wait to get elected as party leader, simply called a meeting of the NDA and announced himself leader. This flies in the face of parliamentary norms. Days after a less-than-favourable election result Modi strutted at the G-7 in southern Italy taking selfies with Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni. Modi is still projecting power as an on-screen performance.

12) Citizens are still not being told the truth. The RTI law has been diluted, accurate mortality figures for COVID are still not available and there has been no information about why India’s decennial census due in 2021 has been delayed. The Census is a goldmine of evidence-based information and for the first time since 1881 the Modi-led dispensation has refused to undertake a decennial census.

13) There is a democracy deficit when the federal principle is buried. Bengal has not only been denied NREGA dues but after the elections the Modi government stopped diplomats of the Australian High Commission from meeting Bengal ministers. Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee was not included in recent talks between Modi and Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina amid reports that the 1996 Indo-Bangladesh Farakka Treaty water sharing is to be renewed. This treaty holds enormous implications for the water supply to Bengal’s inhabitants. It’s not just Bengal. Delhi’s water minister Atishi recently went on a hunger strike when the Centre refused to intervene to ensure equitable water sharing between Delhi and Haryana.  

14) There is a democracy deficit when we don’t celebrate religious pluralism as India’s greatest strength. BJP MPs continue to raise slogans like `Jai Shri Ram’ in Parliament and the use of the Sengol to commence the beginning of Parliament detracted from the fact that India is a democratic republic in which public  ymbols must remain strictly constitutional.

15) There is a democracy deficit when protest, dissent and free speech is criminalised. In 2020-2021 during farmers protests, farmers were dubbed “anti-national.” Days after the General Elections concluded the government began a UAPA case against writer Arundhati Roy and French journalist Sebastien Farcis’s work permit was cancelled.

Narendra Modi has learnt no lessons from Verdict 2024. He is in no mood to respect democratic norms even though his party failed to get a majority. In a democracy, a mandate is transient. Those in power today could lose it tomorrow. Democracy protects all, particularly those who are in the minority. By weakening democracy, Modi and his cohorts are only taking away their own democratic protections in the future.