When democracy is in peril the world over, how can the new year be happy? Since the Second World War, there have been many ups and downs in the history of the growth of democracy. As the process of decolonisation began, when it was expected that democracy would flourish across the globe, it was then that democracy faced the biggest challenge in the form of communism. Communism which theoretically talked about equality for all and empowerment of the have nots, proved to be the biggest anti-thesis of democracy and created dictatorships of the worst kind, with no regard for human rights and human freedom; instead of creating citizens, it created a system that was expected to manufacture human slaves who did not have any will of their own; they were to behave like a robot and do what they were told to. This system was meant to dehumanise the entire population and those who dared to challenge were either killed by the state or ended up in a lunatic asylum and committed suicide.
It was no surprise that the moment this system weakened, people revolted and desired to be free again. The collapse of the communist states in bulk since the demise of the Berlin Wall was so sudden and spectacular that communism as an ideology lost all its moorings and is now consigned to the history pages.
Since 1990 it has been debated in Western academia that liberal democracy as an idea has finally won and it is here to stay. Writers like Francis Fukuyama even coined a new phrase - the end of history. But in the last few years, democracy is feeling threatened from within. The democratic structures have themselves smoothened the process for the forces who have little respect for democracy to reach the top and circumvent the basic ethos of democracy. The right ideology which has risen across the globe is surprisingly the product of democracy but today it poses the biggest threat to democracy.
Unlike communism, the right wing politics overtly pay tribute to democracy but at the same time it makes every effort to move towards authoritarianism. Invariably, all such leaders tend to discover their glorious past, hide behind the facade of victimhood, claim to be nationalists and, like Donald Trump, claim that they will bring back the past glory of the country. Slogans like “Make America great again” instantly establish a connection with a large section of society. Trump, who by any stretch of the imagination is the most unworthy candidate to lead a nation not only won the election and became the president of America and despite losing in 2020, but there is also a possibility that he might come back to live in White House in 2025 January, once again.
Like Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban also promises to make Hungary great again, and he has no qualms in saying he believes in an “illiberal state”. The election of the clone of Trump in Argentina, Javier Milei, has been described as a “political earthquake” and two of his greatest admirers are Trump who said that Milei would “make Argentina great again” and Brazil’s frmer president Jair Bolsonaro, who described his victory as ‘hope would shine again in South America’. All of them present themselves as strong leaders, but have little faith in debate and dialogues, have great contempt for the voices of dissent and do not tolerate disagreement or opposition. India is no different from these countries. There has been major erosion of democratic institutions since 2014 but the year 2023 has proved to be the watershed. This year that has just gone by has given enough hints that parliamentary democracy for all practical purposes is now confined to the extent of conducting elections every five years and a smooth transition of power.
The two words which define Parliamentary democracy, that is “consultation” and “accountability”, have slowly but definitely disappeared from the grammar of our polity. The year 2023 will be remembered for three things — total disregard for Parliamentary consultation, utter contempt for the Opposition and zero accountability of the government towards Parliament as an institution. It is no longer a secret that the Opposition is a non-existential entity for the BJP government. Opposition only has a notional value for the government to showcase to the world that India is still a democracy; other than that it adds no value in their scheme of things.
The expulsion of 146 MPs from both the Houses of Parliament on flimsy grounds is a sad commentary. The presiding officers of both the Houses have allegedly openly sided with the government and the accusation that the expulsion was carried out at the prompting of the government has solid foundation. BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri was seen on TV unabashedly abusing fellow MP Danish Ali, who belongs to the minority community. Bidhuri attacked Ali’s religious identity in the most derogatory manner, but no action has been taken against him till this date by the House; yet Mahua Moitra has been robbed of her membership of the house for sharing her log-in and password with a stranger, with breathtaking speed. In the most stunning manner, Danish Ali, who was abused by Bidhuri, has been subjected to an inquiry by the house panel and thus the victim has become the accused.
Parliament witnessed one of the most bizarre scenes in its history when three important Bills to replace IPC, CrPC and Evidence Act, which have far-reaching consequences for the nation, were passed without the proper intervention of the Opposition as most of them had already been suspended from the House for the whole session. It is a known fact that in a parliamentary system the majority finally carries the day, but the voice of the Opposition is always listened to, their interventions are respected, and their valid arguments are accommodated to make laws more meaningful and far-reaching. Parliament is not only to make laws. Parliament is to make laws with proper debate and discussion; it’s a forum for the government to listen to different and divergent views which enriches its understanding of society for better governance. But it seems that the government does not need an Opposition.
And finally, the government does not seem to believe in the concept of Parliamentary accountability. Two incidents which have shaken the whole nation — a civil-war-like situation in Manipur and security breach in Parliament when two youngsters jumped into the House. On Manipur, the prime minister did not feel the need to reply in detail. To force the prime minister to reply on Manipur, the Opposition had to bring a no-confidence motion against the government. The prime minister did speak in Parliament, but he broadly glossed over the subject. Similarly, in the security breach issue, the government did not acquiesce to the demand of the Opposition that Home Minister Amit Shah should brief the House. He preferred to speak to the media on the subject, which was against the parliamentary convention. In fact, in the Manipur issue, the government refused to take any action against Manipur’s BJP government although the chief minister should have been removed for the mishandling of the situation. Manipur is still not peaceful, violence is still occurring but the CM, N Birendra Singh, is comfortable in his chair.
In 2024, I don’t have high hopes for things to improve dramatically. If the BJP government comes back after the general election, then, in all probability, the process of de-democratisation of our Parliamentary system will further hasten and if the Opposition was to get a chance, then I don’t see things improving for the better either, for they will prefer to continue with the system. Governments, unless led by a visionary, a statesman and a true democrat, like to accumulate more power and don’t want to be questioned. It's a gloomy picture for Indian democracy. With every passing day, India is heading towards an authoritarian system in which only one person will matter and the rest, including Parliament, will have no meaning, being there only to facilitate the “Big Boss” to acquire more power and depressingly I am reminded of the words of Plato’s Republic, “Democracy is a self-undermining system whose very ideals leads to its own demise.”
The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B