Even though India has had an established constitution for over seventy years which should protect all its citizens with inalienable rights, a most recent bill has been pushed and can be seen as an “anti-Muslim” law bringing major controversy to the world. This bill shows that the Indian government is now determining Indian citizenship on the basis of religion which can definitely be seen as a growth of authoritarianism, but also Hindu majoritarianism. It is already bad enough that India is declining in the economic, agricultural and social sectors of their country; which Narendra Modi and the government has assured will be taken care of before it gets any worse. Thousands of Indians marched to protest against this law, but the government does not show any concern or remorse for the millions of former citizens now displaced with no documentation or place to live. After this, what is next for India?
Most recently as of December 2019, the Indian government has decided to pass The Citizenship Amendment Bill that they have been working on in regard to the now considered “illegal” immigrants they want to push out of the state. Many people wonder if this is one of the first steps India’s government has taken to start the process of implementing an authoritarian state since it shows democratic erosion and distinct signs of totalitarianism after many years of democracy. The bill specifies what types of Indians can keep their citizen status relative to their religion, documentation and prior history of living within the country; which amends India’s former 1955 Citizenship Act by making religion a basis for citizenship. Only specified minorities like the Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, Sikhs and Christians, all from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, can seek citizenship in India. As you can see, it clearly makes no references to persecuted Muslims which shows exclusionary factors. This new law also states that undocumented immigrants must have resided already in India in the last one year and for about six years all together to even qualify for citizenship, while twelve years of residence has been the definitive eligibility requirement for the naturalization process. This citizenship bill also violates most of the essential principles of the Indian constitution which displays democratic erosion.
Backsliding is also seen very present in this whole process corresponding with political/civil rights being taken away for no real reason at all. This makes the “CAB” bill controversial because the Indian government facilitates an easier path for non-Muslim minorities from the nations of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan to gain Indian citizenship but does not even protect their own persecuted Muslim religious minorities; examples like the Rohingyas in Myanmar and Ahmadis in Pakistan. Another sign of backsliding is the change in accountability of the Indian government which includes systematically destroying institutions that are meant to ensure checks and balances on unrestrained executive power, as well as punishment to those who deserve to be prosecuted like the Hindutva extremists that have killed/harassed Muslims and eventually are let go.
This situation reminds me of something we learned from a reading in class, Stealth Authoritarianism, which brings up the importance of stealth authoritarianism. In this case, India concealed an anti-democratic practice under the mask of law (Varol 1685) which did not go completely unnoticed but because they are a regime with favorable democratic credentials, it can become challenging to see the “CAB” bill as a form of legitimate use or complete totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is also shown through use of propaganda to isolate a specific group of people; Modi’s propaganda is modus operandi, which is considered fake news. Modi’s propaganda machinery called the “IT CELL” has habitually manufactured anti-Muslim bigotry and purposely spread them through social media/TV. Most of the Muslim Indian community believes this has pushed more hatred towards them and has created a great divide in India along communal lines.
There are a few structural explanations as to why this democratic erosion is taking place in India currently. One of the hypotheses for this change in democracy is how the economy plays a role in the way society functions concerning politics. As I said before, right now in India the economic climate is is tipping over to the negative side of the scale; the unemployment rate is at a much higher eight percent, over thirty million Indians are below the poverty line and the consumer food price inflation has risen. Not only is economic decline bad for democratic stability but, these economic factors can cause conflict between citizens as well. Past beliefs and practices in India also shaped behavior like in the example of Indira Gandhi, who was a Prime Minister from 1975 to 1977. While she ruled, political opponents were not only imprisoned but, there were multiple human rights abuses and the press was censored. This shows that there has already been multiple attempts made from someone in decree or the Indian government to change the dynamic of democracy within the nation.
Looking into the future, I can’t be too hopeful about the continuation of democracy in India due to the multiple tools of propaganda and methods of intimidation being used by the Narendra Modi government. It seems as though there is no action being taken when it comes to actual justice for the Muslims whose citizenship is being taken away, the rapid recession of India’s economy and lastly, the complete change of the nation’s constitution by adding a law that is deemed unconstitutional and quite frankly illegitimate. Nationwide protests have continued on since last year of December which suggests that people are not accepting this change and still envision the possibility of a social democracy where all where individuals would be liberated and deemed equal. If the Indian government decides to still maintain and promote this bill in addition to the other unconstitutional practices being implemented, an authoritarian state government will be achieved very soon if it has not already.
Varol, Ozan. (2015). Stealth Authoritarianism. Iowa Law Review. 100. 1673-1742.