New deal: Editorial on Modi’s glorification of democracy in India
Rhetorical sweeps are a favourite with politicians. The prime minister is not an exception. Speaking at a function on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the Bihar assembly, Narendra Modi remarked that India is not only the world’s largest democracy but it also is the ‘mother of democracies’, adding that those who believe that the democracy project in India came to fruition as a result of Western influence sully the indigenous legacy. The ancient republic of Vaishali — Mr Modi was speaking in Bihar — the prime minister said, bore evidence of the originality of India’s claim on democracy. It cannot be denied that the roots of democracy — philosophical and political — run deep in India. Many of its kingdoms espoused rudimentary forms of freedom. But the historical time line reveals a fundamental flaw in Mr Modi’s argument. The evolution of modern democracy has had important sign-posts in the West. Emancipatory treatise — England’s Magna Carta — people’s uprisings against repressive regimes — France and Russia — strife — the American War of Independence — contributed to postcolonial nation states’ embracing of democracy. In fact, India’s Constitution accommodates some of the salient features of Western Constitutions, including those of Britain and the United States of America. This fusion is a perfect example of the inception of democracy being a truly global, collaborative enterprise.
The indigenisation of democracy is consistent with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological ambitions of conjuring a historically-spurious entity. The question to ask, however, is whether Mr Modi’s remark can be interpreted as a signal of India’s retreat from the liberal democratic project synonymous with the West. After all, the signs of stress on the nation’s democratic edifice are undeniable. Mr Modi lords over the Mother of all Democracies without having to face the scrutiny of an objective media — an institution that recently rid Britain of a wayward prime minister. Under Mr Modi’s watch, the vanguard of democracy — institutions that are democracy’s protectors — stand markedly weakened. Mr Modi’s regime also has the dubious distinction of trampling on the liberties of opponents and critics. These and other assaults go to show that democracy may not have been devoured entirely in India but it is certainly being redesigned.