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HomeOpinionWhy Narendra Modi's India is 'partly free', and where it is headed

Why Narendra Modi’s India is ‘partly free’, and where it is headed

The social media rules released last week are the latest manifestation of Modi government’s desire for steadily greater control of so far autonomous centres of influence and activity.

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Control-oriented regimes tend to adhere to strikingly similar playbooks. Xi Jinping, for instance, has said that “East, west, south, north and the centre, the party rules over all”. That echoes Mussolini’s sharper formulation: “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” India is not where those regimes are or were, being “partly free”, as a US-based NGO (non-government organisation) describes it. But the Narendra Modi government’s desire for steadily greater control of so far autonomous centres of influence and activity makes clear the direction in which the country is headed.

The rules released last week for what is called social media are only the latest manifestation of this desire. The global tech companies that own, control, and regulate (in a manner of speaking) social media platforms now face pressure to cede ground to the government, with implications for individual privacy. Subsequent revelations about the preparatory work that went into including the digital news media in the ambit of the new rules make clear the intent to “neutralise” dissident voices.

Other areas of mass engagement, like sports and entertainment, are also targets. The control acquired of cricketing bodies, and the virus of communalism that seems to be getting injected into the country’s most popular sport, is one manifestation and of greater consequence than the renaming of a stadium. Meanwhile, politically aligned divisions have been engineered in the personality-driven world of Hindi filmdom (regional-language film worlds have been politicised for decades).

The tentacles spread wider. The capture of a dominant share of political finance has been achieved through the facilitation of corporate funding via anonymous donations. Meanwhile, civil society outfits find their sources of funds being squeezed. And the first move into the watering holes of the Lutyens in-crowd has been facilitated by the takeover of the management of the Gymkhana Club.

Such initiatives are relatively easy because of the poor governance norms practised by most civil society entities. And all too many individuals critical of the establishment seem to have the Achilles heel of tax evasion. The Gymkhana Club, for instance, had fallen foul of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal. Pressure for control or compliance now focuses on one or two other Lutyens institutions and think tanks. Such vulnerabilities serve to blunt criticism that tax raids and other action by the “agencies” are aimed at only critics of the government. But the targeting is obvious and conveys a message.

Also Read: Modi shouldn’t echo Xi’s policies because India isn’t China on so many levels

A predictable battleground is higher education. Two of the highest-ranked educational establishments, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia, have felt under siege in different ways, but they are not the only ones. The preferred method of control seems to be the appointment of carefully chosen vice-chancellors who will impose change from above, but police action too has been used to good (if that is the word) effect. 

Meanwhile, the re-writing of school textbooks continues, with such changes as the erasing of Nehru’s name from contemporary Indian history.

Sometimes the government oversteps, as with its order on the requirement of prior approval for those wanting to take part in online scientific seminars, and withdraws. It may have to do the same with its new rules for the digital news media, given the constitutional guarantee of free speech — though the courts are no longer predictable on individual liberties. How far the government will go in its set direction depends on the effectiveness of domestic institutional resistance and on how much it wants to risk international censure.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi should brush up on his history if he believes that the Emergency was a “mistake” (like jumping a red light, perhaps), and that the Congress did not seek to capture institutions. He should read up on the supersession of independent Supreme Court judges, the talk of needing a “committed” bureaucracy, and the steady packing of academia, research bodies, and cultural organisations with ideological fellow-travellers. Tolstoy is often quoted for his line “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Similarly, autocratic regimes tend to be alike, irrespective of party tag, time, place, and context, though each repressed polity may be unhappy in its own way.

By Special Arrangement with Business Standard.

Also Read: As India returns to positive growth, it must think why it can’t remove poverty like China has


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  1. Well Mr Ninan, your article found its way to my phone. This means that whatever you are worried about is only just a fear. Fret not country is in good hands now. And by the western democratic principles can’t be juxtaposed on india, since we are pretty different culturally.

  2. This hypocrite leftist/communist author should be happy if India is following communist China!! He should even be proud that Mulla congress & Islamic terrorists he & his ilk created & protect broke India to create a terrorist land next door while keeping most of those terrorist voters to kill India & Hindus once more!!

    When India was fighting a war with China, his pappu was busy receiving Chinese checks to orchestrate anti Hindu & anti India activities!!

  3. If a party that is winning elections and securing majority in a democracy is not to the liking of TN Ninan and Freedom House, then middle finger goes up for them. Better participate in democracy than indulge in the leftist confusion tirade. Try solving problems and giving solutions, that is better than always complaining, whining and crying.

  4. We don’t want any outside agencies like so called freedom house to evaluate how free India is !! Such biased and nonsense agencies must be kept away. India is great and will remain great, future is of India.
    Frankly speaking we don’t any teaching from rest of world

  5. Do not worry! No one lives for ever. This is how nature takes care of tyrants who think they can carry loads of gold and silver to the next world, not realising that “Sceptre and crown must tumble down and in the dust be equal made”. It is posterity that decides who was who, not the present generation. And posterity means those coming after another 300 yrs. or so. They will decide who needs to be crowned, and who to be erased.

  6. Since independence every walk of life has been systematically allowed to get corrupted by the self seeking vested interests that were in power at all levels.
    They created an ecosystem in which nobody , even if one he wanted, could lead a normal life without being or surrendering to the corrupt. The laws and the rules were made to facilitate the corruption and provided escape routes for the corrupt.
    Narendra Modi’s India is only ‘partly free’, because only some corrupt are getting caught or are in the fear of getting caught and they are amongst almost all of us ,so that there is no need to search for them.
    Politicians, businessmen, government servants, media, farmers and every other sectors of the society has people who have raked in big corrupt money, and needs no special skill to identify them, they all cannot be caught, but some some of them have to be made examples of to stem the rot.
    How many of us can put our hand on the hart and claim not to have paid bribe no matter how small or even as speed money.
    So the resistance is bound to be there because the beneficiaries are there in every segment of the society.
    LET US BE HONEST AT LEAST Despite one’s dislike or otherwise of MODI

    • Desire of those in power to control media is a manipulation, a kind of deception. It may not be as explicit as corruption in public services which is all about making money but implicitly it is a way to control people and steer them towards certain ideas. One does not know the impact of it now, we will only know 20-30 years later. History will be the judge.

      Even people in mature democracies can be controlled as the politics in USA has shown. Remember in Europe long ago in the period between the world wars a couple of rulers said to their people “I can fix all your problems, nationalism is our strength” . People in those countries trusted those rulers and you know from history what happened later to those people and their countries.

      • @Vikash: There is no nation without the majority population respecting their nation & civilization!! The leftist congress along with their communist allies attacked Indian civilization & nation by divided it by siding with Islamic terrorists & separatists!!

        Democracy was a farce for the congress & many English speaking elite!! People in villages were threatened with death & got killed if they din’t vote for congress!! The Indian civilization-al history was falsified & distorted during Congress rule as during the Christian & Islamic invasions!!

        MK Gandhi (father of nation?), supported the first democracy hack done by Nehru himself!! Helped by Nehru & Islamist’s, MK Gandhi himself made a fool of the majority population and led to their genocide & killings, not once but through out the time they had power!! This was done in the name of secularism by the supposedly democracy loving Nehru/Gandhi clan!!

        • Dear reader, suggest you to invest some time in developing critical thinking skills to distinguish what is propaganda and what is the truth esp. when it comes to matters of history and religion.

  7. Masquerading the Freedom House report is extremely unfortunate. Did anyone notice the map of India as shown in the report? It’s a dog-whistle to all “breaking India” forces. ThePrint should not be paying any attention to the report. It should rather investigate where did this “NGO” suddenly come from and who funds it!

    • This brain dead leftist author takes example of that vague US government funded organization to spew venom against BJP/Hindus!!

      The Congress much as the British & other invaders used the divide strategy to break & rule Hindus! The leftist/communists are the slaves of those invaders!! They, led by congress successfully broke India with Muslims & Islamic fundamentalists in 1947!! They even kept those Islamic extremists in India so that they can repeat their evil strategy to hurt left over Indians, especially Hindus!! They also divided Hindus into Brahmins, Dalits, Kshatrias.. & now they are dividing India with Sikhs!! These leftists need to be eliminated like the Americans did with communists during the cold war!!

      What justice or democracy can we expect from America??!! We have seen their justice when innumerable native Americans were killed like cattle!! We have seen their justice with Millions of Muslims being slaughtered by them in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, while hypocritically talking of some vague Muslim/Christian rights in India!!

      We have seen the birth of fascist American tech/social media companies who kill free speech & block accounts just because they speak the truth, leftist nazis don’t like!! We have seen their justice when half of America is living hand to mouth for the last 4 decades while corporate plutocrats/democrats brought in a Biden who is himself a white
      supremacist/racist & dementia patient!!!

      We have seen American plutocracy & justice so they better not give us any lectures on human rights or how to run the nation!! India & Hindus will do what is best for them!

      The justice in India has to be for the poor & the honest people, not those eternally protesting leftists/Jihadis & other break India forces!!

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