Alarming developments in Indian politics
By Barnes Mawrie
As Indians we are proud of being the largest democracy in the world. We take pride in the secular nature of our Constitution and the age-old values of tolerance, non-violence and love for peace and harmony. We refer to our country as one with “unity in diversity.” When we witness our immediate neighbours like Pakistan being torn apart by elements of terrorism or China being in the grip of a communist regime where personal freedom as well as basic human rights are being trampled upon, we breathe an air of relief that our country is spared from such problems. However, the situation today is not as ideal as it used to be. India is gradually sliding towards a negative development. Our democracy is being threatened like never before. There are a few things that I would like to share with my countrymen which could help us realize where we are at present and perhaps awaken us to act collectively so as to protect our beloved nation.
First of all, our country as we witness today, is fast tending towards a sort of theocratic government. With the coming of the BJP-led government to power since 2014, we are witnessing the rise of Hindu religious fundamentalism all over the country, especially in BJP ruled states. When religion mixes with politics it forms a very lethal cocktail. History has a lot of lessons to teach us on this aspect. In Islamic countries like Iran where the Sharia Laws dominate, we see how fundamental rights of citizens are being violated. Take for example, the return of the Taliban regime to Afghanistan in recent years, is causing tremendous suffering to women in particular since religious norms are being strictly imposed on them. Girls are being prevented from going to school and colleges and women are barred from public life or even government offices.
With the intention of pursuing the Hindutva agenda today, our country too is coming to grips with the reality of religious fundamentalism. The implementation of Anti-conversion Laws in some states of India, the recent attacks on the Muslim communities, the harassment of Christian minorities, the process of saffronization even of the educational curricula are all signs of an attempt to convert India into a pure Hindu country. This is however absurd as it goes against the very nature of our country. We should not forget that the freedom of our country was won not only by freedom fighters of all faiths and beliefs. This is the reason why “secularism” is enshrined in our Constitution. Gandhiji the Father of our nation, believed in unity amidst religious diversity. With regard to Hindu-Muslim relationship he had this to say “I am striving to become the best cement between the two communities. My longing is to be able to cement the two with my blood, if necessary. There is nothing in either religion to keep the two communities apart. In nature there is a fundamental unity running through all the diversity. Religions are no exception to the natural law. They are given to mankind so as to accelerate the process of realization of fundamental unity. The need of the moment is not an establishment of a Universal religion but there is a greater need to develop mutual respect towards the different religions.” I believe these words of Gandhiji are enough to convince us of the importance of religious tolerance. India in fact should not merely tolerate religious diversity, but it should celebrate such wonderful diversity. Is our country not the cradle of many world religions?
Secondly, what we witness as alarming in our country today, is the systematic demolition of the opposition parties by the ruling BJP government. The Congress which is the Grand Old Party is particularly targeted by the ruling party. The Nehru-Gandhi family is being harassed from time to time. These days, the news is on Rahul Gandhi being grilled by the ED and next it would be Sonia Gandhi and the list may go on. Targeting leaders of opposition parties has become the policy of the government. I shall not comment on the innocence or culpability of these individuals, but what I wish to emphasize is the growing trend towards demolition of any opposition to the government. It is clear that the BJP intends on clipping off the wings of the opposition or at most transforming it into a paper tiger. Such an attempt is definitely against democratic principles. This was what Adolf Hitler did when he became the chancellor of Germany in 1933. He systematically got rid of all oppositions and paved his way to dictatorship. We cannot imagine a thriving democracy without a strong opposition.
Some of the vital functions of the opposition in a democracy are: (1) To check the government from becoming authoritarian and to restrict its powers, the opposition parties keep a watch over them, (2) To criticize the policies of the government, (3) Outside the legislature the opposition parties attract the attention of the press and report their criticism of the government policy in the news papers, (4) To check the expenditure of the government, (5) During the question hour, the opposition parties generally criticize the government. The opposition therefore acts as an effective check and balance on the government and its policies.
Thirdly, the increasing number of hate speeches either in public gatherings or on social media are not healthy developments in our country. These things have attracted international condemnation. In fact, the UN Secretary General Guterres, has called upon the Indian government to put an end to religious intolerance. Hate speeches either by religious fundamentalists or even by members of the ruling party, have become too common and they threaten the internal security of our nation. The fact that many prominent BJP members or sympathizers who indulge in such hate speeches go scot free, is a matter of concern for the country. How can we allow such individuals or groups who sow the seed of division in the country escape the law?
India has always been an exemplary democracy in the past, looked up to by other nations in the world. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a much respected leader in the world who is leading the country on the path of development and progress. However, the present internal situation in the country raises a lot of questions and doubts in the minds of well-meaning citizens. What will be the benefit of development when there is unrest in the country, when citizens cannot live with each other because they belong to different religions? How can we say our country is progressing when the freedom of citizens is gradually being curtailed?
Let us save our great Indian democracy and let us value our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. Let me conclude with the quotes of two great men, Gandhiji who said “our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization,” and Martin Luther King Jr. who said “we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools.” The choice is at the tip of our index finger, what do we choose?