In 1947, India became independent from British imperialist rule. It became a democracy with a parliamentary system and a liberal, far-reaching constitution. Hundreds of millions of people are allowed to express their opinions on the ballots at regular intervals. Scholars agreed that if democracy wins in India, it can do so anywhere. But the optimism dried up. For the moment, democracy will not win in India. Although the right to vote is still intact, the leaders of the country pursue concerning goals, which are not compatible with the features of a democracy. In the V-Dem report, India is no longer classified as a democracy. Narendra Modi and his nationalist-conservative party, the BJP, have not had enough yet. The rule of law and other institutions are crumbling, and there is no improvement in sight.
Every government since India’s independency has provenly been constitutionally deviant from time to time. Since Modis accession to power though, a systematic proceeding concerning assaults on all accountability mechanisms is observable. Subtly and increasingly, Modi undermines India’s democracy in a variety of different ways. India serves as an illustrative example of executive aggrandizement.
The BJP attacks the electoral accountability by trying to give itself a partisan advantage in future electoral contests by seeking to change rule of the game. Based on an ideological but also a technical motivation, the BJP started in 2014 to undertake major efforts to increase the proportion of Hindus in the Indian population in relation to Muslims. Even the minimalist definition of democracy, free and fair elections, was challenged when India tabled an amendment to India’s citizenship laws which permitted the deportation of millions of Muslims who failed to prove their residence in India before 1971. The reason is that Hindus are way more likely to vote for BJP. And if they represent a bigger share of the population, BJP will gain more seats in the parliament. But that is not the only method which is applied in order to weaken democracy.
In 2018, Narendra Modi announced an election financing reform which ought to reduce opacity in election financing. The opposite was the case. The BJP garnered 97.7% of funds that were legitimized through this shady new law. This resulted in the country’s costliest parliamentary election campaign ever. BJP alone was responsible for 45% of the expenditures. Due to this opacity, it is impossible to figure the exact effect of this reform. Nevertheless, the spectacular victory of the BJP in this election is quite suspectable. It is obvious that this is a “mechanism of constitutional retrogression.” Indeed, it is a deep cut in the transparency of governance that allows the BJP to use funds without the knowledge of the public.
The BJP also undertook serious efforts to assault institutions which guarantee horizontal accountability from the political executive.
In 2014, the BJP-appointed Lok Sabha Speaker did not accept a Leader of Opposition. The reason was that the opposition did not garner enough seats in the parliament. Juridically, this was highly controversial. India’s courts failed to review this case during the whole tenure. In 2019, the 17th Lok Sabha was elected. It lacks of an opposition leader too. This example shows that it is clearly antidemocratic how the BJP treats the opposition. Preventing the opposition from exercising its political responsibility, is a feature of authoritarian behavior. The mutual toleration, which Levitsky and Ziblatt list as a criterion for a healthy democracy, does not exist anymore in India.
In addition to the examples listed here, Modi and his party perpetrated several other subtle attacks on democracy. It is a worrying development that has not yet come to an end. The arsenal of Modi and his minions to undermine democratic institutions is broad-ranging and not depleting. Finally, there is one more important example to mention. Hardly any event represents the erosion of a democracy as blatantly as the curtailment of media and press freedom.
Indian media are used to being harassed and operating on an imperfect guarantee of free speech. What has changed since Modi leads the country is the severity of how the government reacts to critical reporting. The BJP registers Indian journalists and classifies them in two categories: pro-BJP or anti-BJP. The ruling party deployed colonial-era laws to convict journalists. It is true that journalists often have a good chance of being acquitted. However, the government’s trick here is that the court process extends over several years. The trial itself is the punishment for unpleasant reporting. Rhetorical violence on the part of the ruling party toward the media is also on the rise. Journalists and newspapers are denigrated and insulted. This symbolizes the disintegration of India’s civic culture. The cultural connection to democracy is strained throughout. Besides that, of course, it is absolutely clear that a free press is an unconditional prerequisite for being called a democracy.
No major obstacles have been placed in the way of Modi and his party so far. In the near future, too, all doors seem to be open to Modi and his followers when it comes to establishing authoritarian structures.
It must be emphasized, however, that Modi and the BJP’s members of parliament are legitimately elected. The population, especially the Hindus, are kept in line by restricting the rights of Muslims. In this way, a two-class society, that is convenient for the Hindus, is gradually being created. Elections are just a relict of the country’s democratic era. India has become an electoral autocracy.