“Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders — presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power” were the strong words of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their book How Democracies Die. In the case of India, the recent annexation of the Jammu and Kashmir is something we can delve into if we are looking for precursors of democratic erosion and the rising authoritarianism of Prime Minister Nerendra Modi. It shows us how Modi was able to change an article in their constitution without even consulting with the people to be affected by changes.
On August 5, 2019, India’s Central Government announced the withdrawal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status granted under the Article 370 of the Constitution. Jammu and Kashmir had been bifurcated into two union territories — 1) Jammu and Kashmir and 2) Ladakh. This move took away the constitutionally guaranteed special rights, like the right to its own constitution, to the state whose majority population are muslims.
Jitendra Singh of the ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), appointed Minister of state of the Jammu and Kashmir, claims that changes in the Article 370 will be more beneficial for the state of democracy in the union territories. But his words and the recent reports about the state of the people living in these territories are different.
Aljazeera reported that Jammu and Kashmir has been in lock down ever since the announcement of the revocation of the Article 370. India sent thousands of its troops in the territories, there is curfew, communication channels has been shut down, and political leaders has been arrested.
The government had also taken in custody of hundreds people suspected to be militants by invoking the Public Safety Act which allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial usually on the basis of terrorism. Senior politician Farooq Abdulla who was a former minister of the Jammu and Kashmir is now under house arrest by virtue of the PSA.
Modi insists that he is doing what is best for the region. “I assure you that it won’t take more than four months to normalise the abnormal situation that has persisted there for 40 years,Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh aren’t just a piece of land for us,” Modi once said in a rally.
The Jammu and Kashmir has been on decades of violence and conflict, and there has always been the military presence of India in the territory, however this time Prime Minister Modi took a bold move to annex the area and have the Central Government rule it.
There are many cards at play, there is the presence of the liberation movements who have been fighting for years to liberate the Kashmir from Pakistan and India. Pakistan itself is asserting its right in the region. But what makes Modi’s action questionable is his blatant use of his power to change the constitution without the approval of other concerned parties – such as the people of the Jammu and Kashmir themselves. Even other political leaders in India were shocked to know about the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir.
Modi has taken control of the Jammu and Kashmir like an authoritarian. Opposition members were not allowed to visit the territory for inspection while he invited international observers but fed them with false information. Some are alarmed of the possible human rights abuses happening in the union territories. This suspicion is heightened by the fact that Modi is a Hindu-nationalist who have allowed discrimination against muslims happen in other areas of India. The safety of the muslim people are questionable under Modi and his people.
Since Modi took office in 2014, Freedom House records shows a decline on India’s freedom rating. It happened at a slow pace and with only a minimal shift, but there is a decline within his first term. Now on his second term, with how he changed the Article 370 in favor of his own agenda, Modi projects himself as strongman who is getting even more daring with his moves to achieve his political goals.
Modi has been forwarding a constitutional change that will revive a simultaneous national election. The signs are clear, democratic backsliding in happening in India. It’s institutions and institutional norms are being put to a test — will democracy survive in the hand of this strongman populist?
Photo courtesy of thehansindia.com.