India’s Constitution, which came into effect in 1950, outlines the rights guaranteed to citizens in India. Similar to other democracies, this includes the right to equality, the right to freedom, the right against exploitation, freedom of religion, cultural and education rights, as well as constitutional remedies (Constitution of India 1950). However, recently there have been trends straying away from these guaranteed rights due to the current leadership. This includes a lack of toleration for the opposition, racist and targeted laws towards minorities, and an overall intolerance towards differing groups- whether that be based on race or political affiliation.
Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister of India, was originally elected to office in 2014. He is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, one of the two main political parties in India. A healthy democracy requires a mutual toleration of political parties as well as healthy competition in their elections. Contrary to this, many political scientists have condemned Modi’s behavior towards the opposition party- the Indian National Congress. Some claim he is using government resources to carry out goals to weaken the Indian National Congress party. The case of Pilaniappan Chidambaram is a good example of this lack of toleration of the opposition. P. Chidambaram was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation on allegations of money laundering, nepotism and abuse of power. A complete summary and timeline of the INX Media case can be found here. In short, Chidambaram was the former Minister of Finance and a member of the INC party. The CBI claims there was corruption in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board that approved the funding of the INX group- which also happens to be linked to Chidambaram’s son. Some claim there is very little evidence supporting the allegations made by Prime Minister Modi in terms of the corruption of Chidambaram.
Chidambaram’s arrest was incredibly public- it occurred shortly after Chidambaram’s press conference claiming he had not committed any crimes. The CBI was seen scaling the walls to his house in this video. When talking about this arrest, Chidambaram’s lawyers claimed it was a complete and blatant misuse of power by the BJP. According to a BBC article about the subject, his lawyer stated that the BJP was carrying out a “‘politically- motivated vendetta’” against Chidambaram (BBC 2019). Furthermore, both Modi and Chidambaram are seen to have little toleration for the other. In a tweet posted by Modi in 2013, he writes, “Economy is in trouble, youth want jobs. Devote more time to economics, not petty politics. Chidambaram ji, please focus on the job at hand” (Narendra Modi 2013). Chidambaram responded to this tweet recently. He wrote, “I have to say the same thing to the Honorable Prime Minister!” (Chidambaram 2020). Both claim the other party is not focused on the right goals. Overall, both men seem very concerned with damaging the image of the other party.
Moving forward, there are certain laws in place in India that are not contingent with the Constitution of India. Citizens of India are guaranteed the right to not be discriminated against based on religion nor race. However, currently the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967 is being amended in ways oppressing people based on religion. According to the Hindustan Times, author Kapil Sibal writes, “Parliament, in the latest amendment to UAPA in July 2019, chose to proscribe individuals and their activities by paving the way to name individuals as terrorists even though they may have no affiliation with any of the 36 terrorist organizations referred to in the First Schedule of the Act” (Sibal 2020). Sibal continues on to share that current leadership is claiming that this amendment is a way of effectively dealing with terrorists. However, he continues on to write, “unfortunately, the provisions of UAPA have been used against those known to speak up for the oppressed, those who foster the cause of civil rights, and others who oppose the government and its policies” (Sabil 2020). Most of the people detained under the UAPA are Muslims; meaning, there is much more room for discrimination and oppression based on race alone.
During protests held in India in response to the Citizenship Amendment Act, many protesters were arrested under the UAPA. In an article published by The Diplomat, author Priyam Marik writes of how Modi’s government is oppressing people, specifically students, through allegations under the UAPA. She shares that most of the charges made during these protests were under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Some reasons behind these charges include “provocative speeches” and suspicious behavior (Marik 2020). Because the legislation behind the UAPA is not very clear and the definition for terrorists is vague, many allegations and charges under this law are rather subjective and inconsistent. This leads to certain groups of people to be targeted and exploited based on religion and race.
Overall, the democratic erosion in India can be credited to a lack of tolerance towards opposition political parties, racial profiling and unfair laws targeting certain groups of people. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has validated this oppressive behavior through not only legislation, but through his rhetoric. Modi is communicating with his supporters that both words and actions targeting the rights of certain opposition groups is justified. He has not only failed to condemn this behavior, he has participated in furthering the divides between minority groups and with political parties.
This was a really thought out post that goes pretty in depth about the situation in India. I learned a lot about Modi and his recent actions in India and they are indeed a concern to the erosion of democracy in India. But I have heard about a rumor his actions have been done in response to China and their recent aggressive actions. Although I am unsure how much truth there is to that, the thought is a lingering one and how Modi may actually be undermining India as a whole, not strengthening it as a result.
I think your analysis of the current Indian political situation is highly informative and draws many parallels with what we have experienced in the United States over the last two decades in particular. In particular, I found Narendra Modi’s use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967 for discriminatory practices to be an interesting and compelling comparison. Another civil liberties law passed in the mid-1960s was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has been steadily chipped away at for years, including 2013’s Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down several key provisions of the law meant to stop racially discriminatory voting practices in districts with histories of voter suppression.
Using the guise of terrorism as a vessel for other purposes, as seen with Prime Minister Modi’s use of these amendments to the UAPA, is another facet of this issue that has been experienced in the United States. The surveillance carried out by the United States government on citizens in the post-9/11 era and the Patriot Act provides a key example, and a vague definition as to what constitutes terrorism leaves the door open to potential misuse of the statute in the context of India.
Moreover, the increase in vitriol toward the opposition and increase in affective polarization is very similar to what we have experienced in the United States in recent years. Lack of tolerance for the opposition, racial profiling, and targeted legislation are real concerns in any democratic country, and Modi’s subversion of the Indian Constitution and discriminatory practices are deeply concerning to democratic norms that have been in place for years. Overall, I believe you do an excellent job of pointing out specific and tangible issues affecting the state of the country’s democracy under its current leadership and the potential consequences of these practices moving forward.