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Declining democracy

Declining democracy

When Time magazine named Modi as India's 'Divider-in-chief' in a recently published article, criticism surfaced. Even that very article found two sets of followers – those having blind faith in Modi and those being utterly critical of him. And, had the division in two been restricted to the ambit of just a 'controversial' publication, both the animosity and ramifications would not have resonated further. However, that has not been the case in India. What instead has prevailed is an open division between members from the same institutions, abjectly dissenting and adamantly upholding their stance. Unprecedented controversies have seen the light of the day in recent times under the single-party government that had stormed to power in 2014. India gave its vote to Modi because India was furious over abject corruption in high offices and Modi ascended to Raisina hills as the justest successor. His term, though plagued with his own inadequacies amounting to agrarian distress, sketchy demonetisation, rise in hate crimes, subterfuge instances, et al, was further marred by contentious issues which surfaced in premier institutions. The autonomy of these institutions was trampled and open dissent reached the public eye. Social network amplified the controversy while India, gradually, witnessed its prime institutions in turmoil. The CBI impasse where the top two cops accused each other of graft charges and took the matter to court, culminating their term in CBI thereafter. Similarly, the press conference of SC judges as well as open dissent at NSSO over the controversial hold on the release of unemployment statistics, all defined just one thing – open dissent in topmost institutions. Some coincidence that all of those happened under the strongly claimed 'single-party' government which argued that a coalition government – which had been the convention since the 1980s – would be a 'mahamilawat' and not right for this country. Modi-Shah rhetorics only took a step back when the controversial statement regarding Godse being a patriot surfaced as uttered by their equally controversial candidate from Bhopal, Pragya Singh Thakur. A first-ever press conference was held in a span of five years of incumbency probably because the water had gone over the head. In this regard, an honest voter wanted to enquire where the dynamic duo was when top institutions were suffering in chaos. And, that is just one example. There were several other instances when the administration led by Modi could have called a press conference but chose not to while the country experienced heightened mob-lynchings and farmer suicides. But being an incumbent definitely came to Modi's rescue since we ought to give the benefit of the doubt to our PM, gulping the fact that he chose to pose in a boat in Dal Lake over a press conference. Nevertheless, top institutions were divided and all of them under one term. And, Lavasa's case adds the Election Commission to the list. A Constitutional body having dissenting figures in a democracy is not something unnatural but the timing and the situation make it an interesting case.

Modi-Shah were handed clean chits for their controversial speeches even as one of the Election Commissioners dissented. Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa's letter to CEC Sunil Arora stating that he was forced to stay away from full commission meetings because "minority decisions" were not being recorded. Earlier, dissent views, even if minority, were included in reports but now it seems that convention has been done away with. Say Kharge dissented over the appointment of CBI chief and it was noted. Justice Indu Malhotra's dissent in the highly claimed Sabarimala verdict was noted. Dissents, an essential part of democracy, define the very theme of democracy which pertains to people and different views. If dissents are ignored, it is a microcosm for democracy being ignored. And, then single-party narrative, no press conference in five years until now, addressing the country occasionally, audacious poll promises like nation-wide NRC, strengthening of Sedition law, et al, loosely hint towards an autocratic stance. While the buzz is about dissent in EC with Congress quick to mock EC as 'Election Omission' and a puppet in PM's hands, one must look at the bigger picture comprising all events and pointing towards democracy's defeat in all those events. Small wonder over Sakshi Maharaj's statement then that "there won't be an election in 2024" and "therefore, we have to vote in overwhelming numbers this time."

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