A file photo of scholar and CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria. | Photo: Commons
A file photo of scholar and CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria. | Photo: Commons
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New Delhi: The Indian democracy has begun to look more like Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey than liberal European democracies like France and Britain, scholar, CNN anchor, and Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria said.

In conversation with ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta during Off The Cuff Monday, Zakaria spoke about the rise of illiberal democracy in India and its possible ramifications for a diverse country.

“Sadly, India has moved closer to Erdogan’s Turkey instead of Britain or France,” he said.

Zakaria said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership has been deeply divisive, adding that he wondered if Modi really wanted to bring all of India together.

“What I wonder about Modi is, is he really about bringing all of India along with him?” Zakaria asked.

“Modi had the ability to do something different. He knows how to bring a certain part of India together. If he were to be all-inclusive, he would unify India in a way nobody else has been able to,” he added.

Highlighting that he was one of the first ones to interview Modi, he said, “There are elements of Narendra Modi that I have praised. He’s very intelligent and a very good politician. He has a good feel for communicating with the average Indian.”

He also expressed apprehensions on whether the Modi government will be held accountable for its poor handling of the Covid-19.

“Everyone’s approval ratings have been affected by their handling of the coronavirus. US did poorly, its approval ratings are down. Germany did well, Angela Merkel’s ratings have been rising. Greece handled the crisis superbly and its ratings have been going up. Boris Johnson did badly, his ratings have been falling,” he said.

Yet, even in the middle of a pandemic, the issues of “religion, caste, class continue to dominate the narrative” in India, said Zakaria. “It is to be seen whether the pandemic will strengthen or weaken Indian democracy.”

Zakaria also said that a core feature of liberal democracy — allowing opposing voices — has been deteriorating in India, adding that the erosion of free press has contributed to this decline.

“I don’t think India has a free press anymore,” he said. Media freedoms have been curtailed by the Modi government’s decision to pull out advertisements, and more worryingly “self-censorship”, he said.

Moreover, Indian institutions have not been a strong enough bulwark to resist against such illiberal tendencies, argued Zakaria. “They have been cowed down… and all this suggests more fragility (in India’s institutions) than I would have imagined.”

Also read: Indians will regret their silence over Modi’s ever-growing list of political prisoners

Nehru developed a ‘culture of democracy’

Asked how India has fared since he wrote his book, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, in 2003, Zakaria said, “I have been very sad to see how Indian democracy has developed over the last few years, but there are some tendencies that are longer lived than that.”

He said, “In a system where you have some element of democracy, some broad element of public participation, there is a great danger that that legitimacy allows the elected government to engage in thoroughly illiberal things.”

These might include “violation of constitutional rights and liberal principles of open governments”, which lead to attacks on minorities and individuals. There is also erosion of rule of law and erosion of separation of powers.

A lot of liberal protections are “formal and legal”, but much of it is just norms and the “inner stuffing of democracy”.

Citing an instance of democratic culture and behaviour, Zakaria mentioned India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru, who had a majority in both the Houses and a government in two-thirds of Indian states.

“And yet, he would sit through the Question Hour, patiently listening to questions by opposition parties who would have four seats. Through this, he developed a culture of democracy,” said Zakaria.

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


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12 Comments Share Your Views


  1. Simply great! That closing note of Fareed was extremely important. Most of us Desis(be it American or British or even German-Desi like myself) living abroad, are truly worried to see where the new India is heading, It’s great to see India rising on the economic level, but the communal divide that is deepening under the BJP-Modi government is something most of us are worried of. On my annual visits to India, especially in the last 10 years, I have witnessed, as Fareed has also termed it, a parochial impulse among the vast middle-class and especially in the big metropolitan cities. It is difficult to criticize the government’s doing, policies and their sectarian divide in open. Their control over media, partly over the courts’ ruling, their action in Kashmir, their treatment against the muslims, Dalits and other minorities, their treatment against students and many more are all just taking India 10 steps behind. In spite of knowing Modi’s and Amit Shah’s treacherous past, I never ever understood how the people actually believed in the “subko vikas” campaign” and voted for Modi in 2014 and then again in 2019 after witnessing all that was happening in India between 2014-2019. However, we still believe that India can correct its course and once again head the right direction.

  2. Well said. Modiji can bring in changes in judicial system of India which can transform the country to a greater level. At present justice is a commodity for the highest bidder. Corruption eroded all pillars of the system. No party barring AAP even talk about this. That shows no political will to bring swift justice system.But instead he plays religious card and trying woo the majority for votes, which is not possible as you can not rewind 6000 years of pluralism. This can not develop India ,though can only oppress the minority for no benefit.Also remaining silent on atrocities against minorities, though in pockets, is not mark of great leader.

  3. Deeply disappointed by Fareed’s copy the loudest type assertion without a single shred of evidence. He used to be an honest intellectual guy but still had to join the chorus of Hinduphobic anti-India so called liberal crowd. Although their ideas and suggestions largely protect China and Pakistan’s interest (it was Nehru who gave away ⅓ of Kashmir and lost the 1962 war). India is a Hindu majority country and has been prodded, pricked, beaten and harassed for centuries by the barbaric invaders. It is coming back out of its slavish period. Hindus by nature are secular.

  4. Lot of inflated hot air worse than a fart. The print is blatantly anti modi. So such articles from modi baiters are given prominence.

    The very concept of liberal democracy becomes flawed, when the some constituents have religious and ideological affinities stronger than the national affinity. Naming the constituents will be politically incorrect.
    Erdogan’s Turkey is reversed from Kamal Pash’s Turkey. It is a success story which can be repeated in the liberal democracies UK and France not in Putins’s Russia and Xi’s China which are very left but not liberal.
    Democracy is a rule of the majority opinion, and the best exiting system of governance. The failure of the successive governments was non-deployment of the resources to the good of the people. It is amazing that in an intellectual discourse there is no mention that an ex-PM had confessed that 85% of the resources went in leakages, so much for the good governance and PMs sitting through the Question Hour, patiently listening to questions by opposition parties who would have four seats.
    Poor handling of the Covid-19 ( when no preventive or curative solutions exist), the doubt if Modi really wanted to bring all of India together despite knowing how to bring a certain part of India together clearly shows a lack of fair assessment.

    • Sir, I hope one day you will understand that with all your arguments you are clinging onto a hope that modi will justify the opportunities he has rec’d and that your vote won’t go to waste…

      When I realised that they are just making a fool out of us, it was way too frustrating. I felt so Naive.

  6. So banning of Hijab in Europe and banning full body swim suits on French beach is progressive and acceptable? Why do we listen to such people who have double standards?

  7. The fact that Mr.Zakaria could articulate the limitations of liberal democracy in india unhindered from a public forum is itself testimony to the freedom of speech in India.The PRINT itself has published several Articles severely critical of Modi individually as well as of his Government policies.The Print Editor in Chief has never complaine4d about interference from Govt.Agencies.The Right of Minorities to practice their Personal Laws remain unhindered.It is the Majority which is under Govt. resrrictions when it comes to administering their places of Worship.the so called majority is so diverse in terms of caste,creed and in linguistic terms,the Hindu majority is a myth and far from homogeneous.In such a context,the talk of illiberal Democracy is laughable.And in Zakarias adopte4d country, , racial discrimination against the Blacks and the other non-whites is blatantly rampant.Yet the USA is a liberall Democracy?

  8. We don’t want to be Britain…. We want to be India….. I find it ludicrous Mr Zakaria’s , comparison to Turkey…. India is not a Muslim majority country…but a Hindu majority country…. This country is a liberal, open and a democracy because it is a Hindu Majority…. There is a democratic and a liberal constitution, because it is a hindu majority country…. Openness, liberal thought, acceptance of a counter is in our DNA….. Narendra Modi is a product of that Hindu Civilisation…… So this a prejudicial, abrahamic influenced thought at work…. He believes Hindus are like the abrahamic influenced ideologies…

  9. Why does he compare India to Turkey or Britain or France? Why always look at ourselves through the Western glasses? India should remain India with all its plurality in religion, castes, languages and geography. How can India be a Britain or France, which are Anglican / Catholic in religion, English/French in language, and don’t have neighbours like Pakistan and China? Why should India conform to the Western moulds? Do Chinese do that? Aren’t they modern without giving up their ethos? India is not converting churches and mosques into Temples, barring Ram temple which is under a court judgment, not by executive fiat as was done by Erdogan. These western journalists are too arrogant to attempt to understand a continent sized country like India. By the way, what is his nationality – Indian, or Pakistani?


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