Democratic erosion has become a very prevalent issue in India over the past several decades. They went from number 35 on the Economists Democracy Index in 2006 to number 53 in 2021. There are plenty of issues in India that are leading to said democratic erosion. However, I will be focusing on what I deemed to be the 3 most prevalent issues. Issue number 1 is that India’s governing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (which I will now refer to as the BJP for the rest of this post) prioritizes Hindus more than other minority religions. They are specifically discriminatory to their Muslim population, which makes up about 14% of India’s total population. The second issue is the BJP’s attacks (both physical and non-physical) on the media, namely media outlets who disagree with their party. The final issue being discussed is India’s corrupt judicial system, which bends its laws and decisions to the will of their elected officials. In this post, I will be analyzing the above-mentioned issues and explain how they are causing India’s democracy to erode.
The first issue I will be analyzing is the BJP’s promotion of Hindu supremacy. Hindus in support of this governing party would attack lower-caste Hindu’s in addition to Muslims because of this promotion. While both of these groups are targeted, Muslims bore the brunt of these attacks. The Indian government has done little in the way of preventing these attacks, even going as far to dismiss them entirely (meaning they do not even bother to investigate a confirmed case of Hindu violence perpetrated against Muslims and lower-caste Hindus). The BJP is considered to be a right-leaning party and is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to the group Human Rights Watch, India has failed to promptly investigate these attacks, with BJP members publicly promoting this ultra-nationalism. A good example of this can be seen in 2017, when 38 Muslims were attacked over problems within the Indian cow trade. This ended up leaving 10 people dead in total. Rather than investigating these incidents, the Indian government actually ended up filing complaints against the victims, as they apparently had violated India’s anti-cow slaughtering law.
Why is this a threat to democracy? A major principle on which democracy was founded is that all men are created equal. This is a blatant disregard for that premise, as the BJP are obviously under the belief that Hindus are the superior people, which then leads to them believing Muslims are inferior. While this violence really only started to drastically increase in 2014 (when the BJP came to power), if it continues on this path, it may become an even greater threat to their already struggling democracy.
The second major issue is India’s attack on the press and free speech as a whole. For example, the Indian government responds to protests in the following ways: they attempt to silence the attendees, and specifically, the people reporting on it. They even go as far as prosecuting the reporters for things such as promoting misinformation. Additionally, reporters tend to get physically attacked at these protests, as the government believes their reporting will not be in the best interest of the BJP. However, even though all these blatant instances of free speech repression are occurring, the BJP adamantly denies any involvement in these events. They claim that all journalists, even those opposing the BJP, have the right to report on whatever they want. In reality this is not the case. On the flip side, however, journalists who support the BJP are allowed to get away with saying almost whatever they want, specifically when it is defamatory to opposing parties. In total, 67 reporters were arrested and over 200 physically attacked in the entirety of 2020.
This is an obvious threat to democracy. Another key principle in any democracy is both the right to free speech and the freedom of the press. These instances in India contradict both of these core principles. Additionally, the case could be made that India is also spreading propaganda, as they are allowing BJP supporting journalists to spread misinformation and defame opposing parties.
The third and final issue being discussed is India’s corrupt judiciary system. A recent study shows that over 45%of the Indian population believes that India’s judiciary is corrupt. India’s judicial corruption initially started in its lower courts. At these lower courts, judges take bribes, lawyers collude with other lawyers, manipulation of the law occurs, and the influence of politicians is very prevalent. Over time, this corruption made its way to India’s higher, more federal courts. This is because the judges of the higher court were initially judges in the lower courts, and they bring this corruption with them as they move up in “rank”. But with this move comes increased power. As a result of this increased power, judges of the higher courts are able to hold people in “contempt of court” when accused of corruption. This shuts down the allegation completely, and even serves as a method to deter future allegations. Even if there is overwhelming evidence that a judge is corrupt, the Indian impeachment process is so cumbersome that they rarely, if ever, get removed from office. Along with all these issues, India has the most backlogged caseload on earth, at nearly 30 million pending cases. As a result of this, cases can take decades to settle, causing citizens to bribe judges and lawyers to hasten this process.
This manipulation of the law and corruption of the judiciary system as a whole is a huge threat to their democracy. The ability to bend laws to one’s will takes away from the point of said law. Laws are meant to hold everyone to an equal standard, which is not what is happening here. Additionally, this unequal application of the law also violates the “all men are created equal” premise of democracy, as politicians and the wealthy are able to bribe judges while lower class citizens cannot.
Democratic erosion has become a major issue in India over the past 20+ years. They went from number 35 on the Economists Democracy Index in 2006 to number 53 in 2021. In this blog post, I discussed what I deemed to be the 3 most pressing threats to India’s democracy. These include the Bhartiya Janata Party prioritizing Hindus more than other minority religions, the BJP’s attacks (both physical and non-physical) on free speech and the press, and India’s corrupt judicial system, which bends its laws and decisions to the will of their elected officials. While there are more than 3 issues causing the erosion of India’s democracy, I believe that these three are the ones that are in urgent need of change.