I have seen Karan Thapar’s interview of Tarunabh Khaitan, Professor of Public Law in London School of Economics, and regret to say I found Prof Khaitan’s understanding of the situation in India totally superficial and inane.
So I am presenting my own opinion.
Prof Khaitan has expressed his concern over the decline of democracy during Modi’s tenure as Prime Minister. But regretfully he has not gone deeper into the matter, and examined why and how modern democracies came into existence, and what purpose do they serve. So let me explain
1. In feudal times there was no democracy, no modern Parliament, no elections, and no freedom of speech. The king was supreme, though he had his advisers, who were mainly aristocrats. Speaking against the king or his advisers was a criminal offence.
This situation changed with the rise of the industrialist class, and its concomitant, the working class, and this necessitated creation of Parliament. The purpose of creating Parliament was twofold :
(a) Since the working class had higher political awareness than the peasantry, an organ was necessary to befool the workers that the people were supreme and were the rulers, though the real rulers were the industrialist class. Parliament, as its agent, was an organ for keeping the workers duped and under subjugation.
(b) Parliament was also a forum in which disputes/contradictions among the business class interse could be resolved. Of course the judiciary also resolved some of such disputes, but these were only legal disputes. Political disputes, which were much more important, could not be resolved there, and so a forum viz Parliament was needed to resolve these.
So Parliament was an organ of an industrial society, not of feudal or semi feudal society.
When India became independent in 1947 it was still largely feudal and backward. Our Constitution makers framed a modern Constitution ( borrowing largely from Western models ), with modern institutions like Parliament, an independent judiciary, a non political bureaucracy, etc and modern rights of freedom of speech, liberty, equality, religious freedom etc
This was done under the belief that these modern institutions and modern rights would pull up our feudal backward society and bring it into the modern age.
But this was a misconception, Such a radical transformation can only be done by a mighty historical people’s struggle, not by making Constitutions. That is why our society still remains semi-feudal ( as is evident from the rampant casteism and communalism still prevalent ). In fact what we have witnessed is that instead of our people becoming modernised ( except a few ), our modern institutions have become feudalised.
2. The Partition of India on the basis of the bogus two nation theory ( that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations ), and creation of an Islamic state, Pakistan, made it inevitable that sooner or later India would become a Hindu state. As Newton’s Third Law states, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
No doubt for some time after Independence we maintained a figleaf of secularism under Nehru’s government, by mentioning in our Constitution that India was a secular country, and by granting freedom of religion to all, vide Article 25. But the Constitution is just a piece of paper, and writing anything therein does not change ground realities. If we write into our Constitution that India is a prosperous country, with rivers of milk and honey flowing in it, that will not make it so.
The truth is that secularism is a feature of industrial society, while India is still semi feudal,and its ‘secularism’ was always skin deep, even before 2014, when the BJP came to power. Most Hindus in India are communal, and so are most Muslims. For instance, when a Muslim is lynched, most Hindus are indifferent, and some even happy. One terrorist less !
3. Now coming to Prof Khaitan’s specific points.
He says that under Modi the party and state have been fused. But such fusion is a typical feature of a feudal or semi-feudal society, and India is semi feudal. It is only in an industrial society that they are really separated. He says that there are several checks and balances in democracy. But that is so in an industrial, not feudal or semi feudal, society.
Prof Khaitan says that autocratic leaders have learnt from the mistakes of dictators of the 20th century and have become smarter. They are now subtle, indirect, incremental and systemic, and do not launch frontal attacks on democracy, like Indira Gandhi did during the Emergency. They do not need to do that.
The paraphernalia of democracy is maintained. There is no declared Emergency, the fundamental rights of the people guaranteed by the Constitution apparently continue, and the media is ostensibly free.
There is no single big assault, and instead the government chips away through micro assaults by a thousand cuts on democracy, which are harder to see and mobilise against, and there is gradual, insidious and creeping reduction of accountability e.g. by political appointments in the judiciary which has become scared and compromised, saffronisation of institutions like the CBI, Election Commission, the bureaucracy, and many of our Universities, which have been undermined or captured, curtailment of civil liberties, and generating a climate of fear, thus undermining democracy, steadily but surely.
But Prof Khaitan admits that in the second term of the BJP rule, i.e. from 2019, even this mask of democracy has slipped away, swagger has grown, and the party has become brazen and aggressive in promoting its Hindutva agenda, throwing caution to the winds, and abandoning the earlier policy of incrementalism.
This only proves that in its first term i.e. from 2014 to 2019 the party was feeling its way, but having done that, and having increased its majority in Parliament in the elections of 2019, it has acquired confidence that the majority Hindu population will keep supporting its Hindutva agenda come what may.
Prof Khaitan blames the Congress party for allowing this situation to arise, stating that it could have acted differently by promoting the idea of ‘Hindustaniyat’ and tolerance instead of Hindutva, but he forgets that it was this party, which ruled in India for several decades after Independence, which contributed to the rise of the present situation.
To keep a tight grip on its Muslim vote bank, which the Congress regarded as crucial in elections, it was willing to go to any extent in Muslim appeasement, something which created severe heart burning in the Hindu majority, which contributed significantly to the rise of the BJP. To give some examples, after the Supreme Court gave the humanitarian and progressive Shahbano verdict stating that a divorced Muslim woman was entitled to maintenance ( which is the norm in all modern countries ), the Rajiv Gandhi government annulled it by Parliamentary legislation, fearing that the verdict will have an adverse effect on its Muslim vote bank. Similarly, the Congress government facilitated creation in 1973 of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which is manned mainly by reactionary maulanas who have a hold on the Muslim masses, and has strongly opposed any change in the outdated sharia law, thus keeping Muslims backward. Pampering these Muslim clerics, who could help Congress get votes, was an unwritten Congess policy.
Prof Khaitan says that we are very close to a Hindu Rashtra, of which he is very critical. But he forgets, as mentioned earlier, that once there was a Partition of India on the basis of the two nation theory ( which the Congress ultimately agreed to ) and creation of an Islamic state, i.e. Pakistan, the rest of India was bound to become one day a Hindu Rashtra, as a necessary consequence, particularly since about 80% of its population is Hindu.
We adopted the system of parliamentary democracy in our Constitution. But everyone knows this runs largely on the basis of caste and communal vote banks. Since about 80% of our people are Hindus, a situation was bound to arise one day in which a party claiming to represent Hindus would come to power, and the BJP skilfully manipulated this by the Ramjanmabhumi agitation which brought a large number of Hindus into its fold. Since Muslims constitute only 15% of the Indian population, and they do not vote for the BJP, the BJP could not care less about them, and has kept them delegitimised and disenfranchised, and as second class citizens, often committing atrocities against them.
All this Prof Khaitan does not understand, and instead he has delved only on the surface, without probing into the underlying realities. He is typical of our so called ‘intellectuals’ who lack any deep insight or penetration, and instead resort to shallow truism, shibboleths, platitudes, sermonettes, homilies, and banalities.