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This is no Emergency. Modi and Shah are using democracy to subvert democracy

By looking for an Emergency in our times, we forget to notice that the first Republic inaugurated with the Constitution of India is already over.

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The 45th anniversary of the imposition of Emergency must not be wasted on bashing dead villains or on silly nostalgia. The experience of India’s past brush with authoritarianism must be used to think about how democracies die.

Emergency is at once an energising and misleading prism to think about the state and the fate of our democracy. It is energising as the struggle against Indira Gandhi’s authoritarianism invokes powerful memories.

Memories of resistance

I recall my father’s grim face as he listened to Indira Gandhi’s radio broadcast on the morning of 26 June 1975 in our village Saharanwas in Rewari, Haryana). I was barely 12 then, more agitated about Gavaskar scoring 36 runs in 60 overs in the first World Cup than about Indira Gandhi’s insult to Jayaprakash Narayan. The coming 19 months were going to be a period of political education for me, as my moderate, law-abiding father would find non-heroic ways of protesting against the Emergency, much to the horror of everyone around us.

We would tune in to BBC Hindi every evening to learn the truth about our country. In my small town, Sriganganagar (Rajasthan), I gave a passionate speech against the Emergency under the garb of a debating competition. Finally, when elections were announced in 1977, the entire family contributed to the Janata Party campaign. I wasn’t even 14 when I addressed my first election rally! I can never forget the vote counting day when I found myself in the middle of an electrifying crowd celebrating the defeat of Indira Gandhi. That was the beginning of my interest in elections and involvement in politics.

Millions of such small stories were woven with a handful of heroic tales of resistance against the Emergency to forge a collective memory that people rejected authoritarianism. This may have been a myth, because the real resistance was very feeble, nothing compared to the resistance offered by the pro-democracy movements in Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Yet, it remains a source of inspiration.

Also read: Legal autocrats are on the rise. They use constitution and democracy to destroy both

False equivalence

At the same time, Emergency is a misleading prism for us today. It invites us to ask the wrong questions: are we likely to see a repeat of Emergency? Are we already in an ‘undeclared Emergency’? Will the current government go for an Emergency-like suspension of fundamental rights, media censorship and jailing of opposition leaders?

Thinking of the demise of democracy through the experience of Emergency lulls us into believing that suspension of democracy must take the same form every time. “Undeclared Emergency” weaves an image of softer and invisible replay of the same experience. That is, of course, not true. Under the Narendra Modi government we are not reliving the experience of 1975-77. Our times may look better, but these may actually be worse than the Emergency. The danger is not that we may face another Emergency, but that we are in the midst of a democracy capture.

The Emergency was an exception to a norm; what we now have is a different norm. Emergency needed a formal legal declaration. Capturing democracy does not. The Emergency had a beginning and was, at least on paper, required to have an end. The new system that we now live under has a beginning, but no one is sure if it has an end. The challenge to democracy does not await us in a distant future. We are living in it. By looking for an Emergency in our times, we forget to notice that the first Republic inaugurated with the Constitution of India is already over.

I call it ‘democracy capture’, rather than ‘authoritarian capture of democracy’ or ‘crisis of democracy’. This phrase reminds us that democracy is both the object and the subject of this capture. The apparatus being seized is democracy. And the means being deployed for this capture are also democratic, at least seemingly so. It reminds us that the formal procedures of democracy have been used to subvert the substance of democracy.

Also read: We the people must save the software of Indian democracy beyond BJP-Congress whataboutery

How democracies die

This is the message of the book How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future. Published in 2018 by two Harvard professors of political science, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, this bestseller chronicles democratic breakdowns in our times. It reminds us that democracies mostly die an unspectacular, slow and barely visible death, mostly at the hands of democratically elected leaders, often through legal instruments. “The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy – gradually, subtly, and even legally – to kill it.”

Instead of a military overthrow or a constitutional coup like the Emergency, authoritarian rulers usually kill democracies through everyday subversion of the political game. This takes three forms: capturing of referees, sidelining of players and rewriting of rules. The book draws examples from Peru under Alberto Fujimori, Russia under Vladimir Putin, Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, Hungary under Viktor Orban and, of course, the US under Donald Trump to document how democracies die in our times.

The book does not mention India, but it is hard not to see parallels between these countries and the India of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. If anything, the capture of the referees – investigating agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), oversight institutions like the Central Information Commission (CIC) and Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), and, of course, the apex judiciary – has been more smooth and complete in Modi’s India. The government did not have to exhaust the full armoury of purging, packing, threatening, bribing, hijacking or even dissolving these institutions to ensure their more or less assured compliance.

Also read: Authoritarian streak among Indians on the rise and it’s helping BJP’s hard Right turn

Similarly, the techniques used by the Modi government for sidelining players — opposition leaders, media, cultural icons and business leaders —  are not very different from those used by authoritarian leaders in countries where democracy was killed. It is especially instructive to see how these leaders have captured media without formal censorship. Fujimori’s henchman Vladimiro Montesinos was caught saying this about the Peruvian media: “All of them, all lined up. Every day, I have a meeting at 12:30 … and we plan the evening news.” Sounds familiar?

The only thing the Modi government has not done – rather, has not had to do so far – is a major change in the constitutional rules of the game. As yet, the rules of elections have not been changed, nor have elections been postponed. Its popularity with the voters and its success with the media, the Election Commission and the judiciary makes this unnecessary. But don’t rule it out. As the authors say: “One of the great ironies of how democracies die is that the very defense of democracy is used as a pretext of its subversion. Would-be autocrats often use economic crises, natural disasters and especially security threats – wars, armed insurgencies, or terrorist attacks – to justify anti-democratic measures.”

Did you think it was written for India of 26 June 2020?

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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  1. Correct analysis & correct conclusions. BUT article falls short in convincing readers. You need to make a much stronger case.

    I agree it is hard to convince about illusion of democracy to people with emotional clouds. This illusion of democracy has been done by very cleverly using norms, rules, patterns etc. of democracy, of course at the same time suppressing democracy. Slowly and steadily India is becoming less democratic and at the same time using majority to suppress any different opinion or dissent. It has also outsourced suppressed suppression of democracy to its supporters and only steps in when it is required to complete the suppression. Very ingenious Machiavellian superimposition on reality. Indian democracy is becoming like a boiling frog.

    By the way RSS is doing same thing to Hinduism, using Hindu beliefs, vocabulary etc to support Hindutva which has nothing common with Hindu spiritual philosophy. We know democracy is not good for Hindutva. Democracy accepts diversity, equality etc. while Hindutva believes in homogenization, authority etc. So it is not hard to guess as to why democracy is slowly but surely declining in India to make way for Hindu Rashtra based on Hindutva.

    Boiling Frog – The boiling frog is a fable describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly.

  2. Modi subverting democracy? Of course. The first duty of every Prime Minster beginning with Nehru:

    India has subverted democracy, since inception. Modi is merely yet another nail in the coffin built for India out of the Government of India Act (1935) and the Constituent Assembly by Nehru and Ambedkar. India ceased to be a democracy, or secular or a republic when it abolished “equality under law” in 1949! Consider the following:
    (a) Fundamental Rights of Articles 14 and 15 that were abrogated by Ambedkar in 1949 to steal from the “haves” for the “have lots” in the name of the mythical “have nots” on the basis of caste, tribe, religion, gender, language, geography, majoritarian voting muscle, and proximity to power which have been steadily growing in collusion with India’s corrupt and incompetent judiciary lacking integrity, have not been done away with but rather remain the leit motif of the Indian Rapeublic.

    (b) Fundamental Rights of Articles 20 and 21 which have been abrogated by exercise of sheer State callousness such as the non availability and non affordability of Legal assistance and the rule of law have been allowed to drift. For example Nehru’s law of 1959 which took away the rights of the tribals to forage and thoroughfare through the forests of the Himalayas, Western Ghats and Dandakaranya,, has seen more than 80, 000 tribal incarcerated in cages like animals by forest officials for decades. (I was told this by Gopal Pillai when he was the Home Secretary). This law has contributed more to the growth of Naxalism and Maoism than any other PANGOLIN* law. or even Nehru’s “social re-engineering” of the North East which has done little ought than further the spread of Christianity and insurgency.

    (c) The abrogation of Articles 25 and 28 of the Constitution in 1959 by Nehru who confiscated the Temples, treasure, lands, water bodies, educational institutions, gymnasiums and other commonwealth of the Brahmana led Savarna Arya and did away with their religious freedoms in gleeful consort with India’s alien inspired and educated Judiciary have been continued ad nauseam by the Indian Rapeublic.

  3. “Indira Gandhi’s insult to Jayaprakash Narayan. ”
    When, where and how did Indira Gandhi insult Jayaprakash Narayan?
    And those were the days when political leaders were not in the habit of insulting each other. It is in these Modi days that not just political leaders, but even the Prime Minister of the country, insults not only there opponents, but even their forefathers. Remember the “nane nani” speech? Or “Rajiv Gandhi died bhrishtachar No. 1”? Not just insults, outright lies too.

  4. Kshama karo Bapu tum humko, vachan bhang ke hum apradhi/ Rajghat ko kiya apawan, manzil bhule yatra aadhi (Forgive us, Bapu, we are guilty of breaking our oath/ We desecrated Rajghat, forgot the goal and left the journey halfway). These are not my words, but late Atalj as Janata Party broke due to dual membership issue. The Jan Sangh members thought RSS more important than India’s democracy. Thanks to Ms Gandhi she gave golden opportunity for two party’system or at with left three party system. People like me were fools gave full support to Janata party, even contribution money to party’. My first vote also went JP mullions of others. All our hopes dashed with break up of Janata party. After 45 years we are back to square one instead of Congress, it is BJP who are fooling the people. We now have more party which is good for BJP which is ruling with undeclared emergency. Those who disagree with Yogaderji are blind followers of th the party in power in the same league of blind followers Congress then led by Ms Gandhi and now by descendents SPR Gandhis

  5. Democracy is being throttled by the Modi – Shah duo. There is no doubt in this. In fact, all international rating agencies also rated India as a democracy where protests are muzzled and people are arrested without reason

  6. Democracy does not die when a corrupt and non-performing Govt. Is voted out .Democracy does not die when a ruling party in the shackles of dynasty is ejected. Democracy dies when Jhola wala leftists like JNU products do not accept people verdict and always defame the man elected by the voters irrespective of his honest work in service of nation and it’s people at large.

  7. Amusing to see the very people who exulted in the belief that democracy is the ‘dictatorship’ of the voice of the people bemoan it’s verdict.

    The problem with the erstwhile czars of the commentariat is that the proletariat in whose name they professed to dedicate their lives has started rejecting them. Not as much for the whatever-remains-of-their-philosophy but for the fast revealing insincerety of their commitment.

    The concern that Yogendra Yadav espouses for democracy in this article ill conceals his outright contempt for the republic that is pushing the charade of his brand of socialism out of the window.

    Actually it’s sad – the demise of the brand of socialism his ilk promoted for years. By trying to piggyback on AAPs shoulders further exposed the populist and shallow focus of that idea of socialism.

    But this is not about an individual.

    It is about the disdain that so-called intelligence nurses for common sense.

    What the flag bearers (if any) of this philosophy should fear now is the attempt by those they branded ‘communalists’ to slip into a cocoon and emerge as the new butterfly of socialistic ideas.

    Once that happens their commentary can be rid of sophistry and be more upfront. Something like -‘The public itself is corrupt and communal ‘.

    I am afraid it’s already happening, sir.

  8. Let me paraphrase what you said. ‘We are living in an emergency like situation just because I say so and to prove my point, I am going to vaguely refer to slightly more trustable sources which themselves don’t mention India but it applies to India as I say so’. Yeah that sounds like it

  9. Misleading article. Any body can bash PM, Hm, shared pawar, Sonia, Raveesh, sudhir and anybody, criticize govt states or central. Where is emergency? Yes some of the suspected wrong doers are brought to task. So they are unhappy.

  10. This systemic degradation of democratic institutions in India started during Indira Gandhi’s times and has continued till date because the system of selection of the office bearers of these institutions are not democratic with checks and balances…..a colonial heirachy…..

  11. I am not a thinker like Mr.Yogendra Yadav.Just an ordinary common man.I worked in Mumbai and Delhi during 1975 1978.As a common man I have not experienced any difficulty for my travel,shopping,eating out,going to movies etc.
    My first posting in Delhi was in 1968-70.Office in Defence colony.Even animals {Haryanwi Cows}s were enjoying their “fundamental right”by sleeping on the middle of the road.Vehicles had to divert.
    Next posting was from 1976-78.Same Unruly Delhi I could not see even a stray dog on the road.
    There was no restriction for going to restaurants at late night even on Saturdays.None was making nuisance on the road by drinking.No public gambling,slogan shouting,Ladies were very safe.No “Nirbhaya “incidents.
    Unfortunately Mrs.Gandhi did not have good advisers like M/SHuksar,Dhar and Dr.Karan Singh .Mr.Sanjay Gandhi;s advisors were bad.
    India would have been on the top of the world if Mrs.Gandhi had good advisers and Good LOCAL Leaders like Dr.B.C.Roy in Important States.
    Singapore is a democracy.Do you have any right to write any thing and every thing against the Govt.Can you have a public meeting without permission from Govt?Will you say it is Emergency .In 1980s{I dont remember the exact year} about 9 youngsters openly criticised the Govt of Singapore.They arrested ALL of them same day.Most of them were Christians.Next day Archbishop of Singapore issued a statement supporting the accused and opposing Govt’s action.Prime Minister Mr.LEE immediately told the ArchBishop that he will welcome him in politics but should not wear TWO hats one of politician and other of Religious leader.Archbishop got the message.Immediately withdrew his statement.Will you call it Emergency?Can you ever think of happening such things in India? Enforcing discipline is not Emergency.

  12. The pandemic has been an oppertune moment to wipe out the idea of people in democracy. People comes to be narrowly defined now, as not citizens, but only bhakta. The pattern is simillar. Either there is an imminent crisis or create a new one. Then the chest beating in pride follows- ‘We are the saviours- true Bharat basi’. Be it demonitisation, GST, Jammu & Kashmir or Covid-19, the narrative remains the same, high handedness, shock and awe. Suddenly police becomes an important presence, albeit a more human presence this time arround, in our life.

    Democracy takes pride in its fluidity and yet people centred ness. Therefore, it always run the risk of decimation in the hands of authoritarianism. However, there is no reason to panic. Authoritarianism boils down to one man show, Hitherto history testifies that people, including the very agencies of State repression, come arround to defeat dictators. Dictators crumble under the weight of their own dialectics. Bharat Mata ki Jay, but only as a concerned citizen.

  13. Excellent. This is just what is happening here and it is surprising how few people recognise this slow stripping of our democratic rights. Maybe being a paternalistic society at heart, we don’t find authoritarianism all that alienating.

  14. A brainless person like you writing this article freely is a proof enough that the democracy is prevelant. And that this govt is much better than the Congress govt who harnessed Arnab by police for calling a leader of one party by her real name. We let’s thank God its BJP govt in the center.

  15. As usual from Yogendra Yadav, sharp and insightful. Really want his party to be successful in electoral politics.

  16. What Yognedra seems to say is : as Modi is being elected term after term, democracy in India is turned into emergency! Honestly, for Yogendra, it is time to retire and lead a peaceful life in Srigangnagar!!

  17. Xtrmly Well written logical pragmatic opinion about current Indian state of affairs.

    It’s abuse of the process of law. It’s like Fake Encounters . .. Police gives a detail of the alleged wrongs being done by the accused and how it has suffered to protect the citizens. Gagged, Paid , Greedy, Clever Media with it’s desire to show itself more Loyal to the King.. Ruling regime is unable to chaff the weeds from the seeds.
    India is in for some f…ing bad times. The immediate task for the common man is to run his family, Law and order democratic values are taken for granted.. albeit .. FOOLISHLY

  18. Nonsense article by mindless author. Do you really know what is democracy? I strongly condemning your thoughts. Your thoughts are dangerous for democracy.

  19. This govt has started given slow poison for entire Indian ((business and businessmen, farmers, fundamental rights), Media (fully poisoned)) , through demonetisation, GST, Blank budget,.

  20. What is the deal that Shri Yadav, a failed politician and perpetual publicity seeker, has with The Print? Why do we have to read such drivel with boring frequency?

  21. Take a break Yogendra ji. “The apparatus being seized is democracy. And the means being deployed for this capture are also democratic..”. Is this somewhat similar to what you said the other day about government’s new agriculture reforms, namely, these policies are good for agriculture but not good for farmers ! If you do not have ‘something to say’, no need to ‘say something’ all the times !

  22. Completely biased article which undermines the basis of democracy at the same time seemingly upholding democracy! If Narendra Modi is elected by the majority it is put down, but a family party getting a majority is the right way for democracy!
    We should have continued to be aristocratic and run by kings, which will be Democracy, as advocated by the author.

    Just a lot of clichéd phrases denouncing Modi & Shah.

  23. Modi and Shah both vengeance and power hungry seekers will bring the country to its knees with a dictator rule as they hate opposition to whatever they say be it right or wrong,,,, we are yet to see Acche din,, as our days have been converted to nightmares by both these agressors

  24. Democracy in a different form and shape now in India as like as Marxism now in the world !! I personally feel Modi & co. has successfully read the mind of the people of India that religion ….only religion( here I mean fanaticism of religion ) will be the best weapon to remain in power…make the people stupid…fool and opium addicted through religious dozes of medicines, so far BJP is concerned.For that purpose…all the pillars of democracy like media, judiciary, cultural thinking, student power etc. have to be demolished and crushed completely….and guided by one person only .So,it is a new form of NAZISM in today’s world !! Interestingly, we have now a days 4 or 5 leaders arround us in this universe who are in tandem to practice this NAZISM….example..Trump, Bolsanero…Gotabiya …Putin…and others !!Clearly the are no signs of democracy in India now !!!It is finished !!!

  25. Sure, it is wrong to call what we are going through as an Emergency. It is in fact a Super Emergency – a 1000 times worse. The police state is being implemented by extra-state actors wearing the same khaki colours.

  26. On a lighter note, at least the trains should have been running on time, reaching the right destinations.

  27. Desperation of not able to get a competitive alternative to a leader or party is making Mr. Yadav speak about sour grapes. For decades a mediocre regime was controlling and people had no alternative. When they got they latched to it. If now some one wants to dimantle the monopoly please bring a promising alternative and I am sure that can be tough competition which would be good to Democracy and India. However if old competitor is not willing to alter the product and keep cribbing about competitor – what can you expect.

  28. Very well conveyed , yes the process of democracy dieing in India has already started. If public dies not wake up it will be too late. I am reading the book How Democracy Die, though it die not mention India but hints have been taken from it.

  29. Why blame Modi alone? Indian people have no value for democracy. By all reports the emergency was unpopular only among certain pockets in North India – rest of the country was indifferent and some sections of the middle-class were quite supportive because they felt that for once govt officials actually worked. Emergency was lifted simply because Mrs Gandhi was naive and never imagined that people of India would vote her out.

    Most Indians do not care for the niceties of democracy and safeguarding the independence of institutions. What they care is for is that their perception of what the govt should do must be met – so blaming minorities and leaders of the main opposition party for all problems suffices for most Indians because it panders to their own delusions of good governance. All this govt has to do is “cry wolf” – if Rahul Gandhi becomes PM, India is doomed and most people (including some worthies like the writer of this article) accept this premise and thus provide legitimacy for every act of commission and omission. What India is suffering from is collective delusion – both on part of the government and the governed. Modi is only pandering to these delusions which he himself suffers from and you cannot blame him alone for that.

    You have perhaps realised – many others will also realise as time goes by that India is already doomed. The demographic dividend has been frittered away, economy has been eviscerated, social cohesion shred to bits and friends have turned distant. The course is only downhill from here. All we can do is pray that Modi’s India doesn’t suffer the fate of Zia’s Pakistan.

    • Agree totally. And look at the political parties themselves. All of them are just family businesses. Even the BJP has become a Congress clone. No wonder there is no real opposition in India. All we have are leftist parrots like Yogendra Yadav who can’t even write a clear and cogent argument or hold a single original thought in his head.

  30. Rich coming from someone who pretty much advocated full blown soviet style communism in his 7 point agenda for india’s economy. Here in lies why people today world over have given up on “intellectuals”. They have become too hypocritical. The author’s Red book (the 7 point agenda) has also had harsh mander’s contribution. The same man who went to CAA protests and said “this will be decided on the streets and not in supreme court”. It’s pretty baffling how the author and people who he collaborated with are subverting individual rights and institutions then blaming the govt of the day for the same. Must take a very thick skin to be an open hypocrite.
    Coming to the substance of the author’s opinion, India’s leaders were/are never really okay with rights that give us Liberty. FoE etc. You only need to look at Bengal, now also in AP, Congress banning so many books (Eg. Satanic verses) and the list goes on. Of course India could use much better leaders who respect what our constitution gives to its people. But until better leaders are seen, this leader stays. And by the way, Indians esp those born after 1991 dont want full blown communists who talk of taking over individual’s money to be talking of democracy and rights or the lack thereof.

  31. Yogendra Yadav is a sore looser and was thrown out by AAM ADMI party and created one man party.Because he sticks up for Cngress, you have given him a leg to stand on.BJP is following Democratic principles and does not have a Dynasty like Congress and the people of India will keep on electingBJP.

  32. Mr Yadav get a life and stop peddling authoritarian regimes with elections manipulated with India . The article is poorly written and tries to connect what author has read with India situation which is completely un-relatable . He says the referees are fixed but how and whats the proof . If judiciary doesn’t pass an order against the government that does not mean they wrong . Mr Yadav have the ability to understand you might be wrong

  33. Sad to see a brilliant brain reduced to a cry baby.
    His attitude is – the Indian voter is an idiot, needs to listen to me and vote for people I feel are good for me/my friends/sympathetic people.
    Otherwise, democracy is being subverted.

    Democracy is a battle of ideas – where are your counter ideas to give the BJP a run for their seats?

  34. U always write false things far from truth the BJP CAME TO power after winning elections which u also fought and lost and then wanted to hold people from collers for voting BJP just start getting frightened on the very thought of u people ruling this country

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