'Disappearing Democracy': The unmaking of a nation

An excerpt from a collection of essays by Avay Shukla, a retired IAS officer, offers a time-lapse sequence of the evisceration of Indian democracy

A candlelight vigil in Ahmedabad, 30 December 2012, in protest against sexual violence and 93,000 rape cases pending in court; a placard held up calls for their transfer to a fast track queue (photo: Getty Images)
A candlelight vigil in Ahmedabad, 30 December 2012, in protest against sexual violence and 93,000 rape cases pending in court; a placard held up calls for their transfer to a fast track queue (photo: Getty Images)

Avay Shukla

Title Disappearing Democracy: Dismantling of a Nation

Author Avay Shukla

Publisher Paranjoy/ AuthorsUpFront

Pages 242 pp

Price Rs 595


Our nation, India or Bharat, has been going through a period of almost cataclysmic change since 2014 when the BJP assumed power. I am not talking here about infrastructural changes (which the present government keeps harping about), because such improvements have always been happening since Independence and predates the present government: the highway became the expressway, the mail train was replaced by the Rajdhani and then the Shatabdi, more and more villages have been electrified, new IIMs and IITs have been established over time, the dumb phone became the smart phone, 2G became 3G and then 4G and so on. Progress is a constant, and all previous governments have been doing their bit at various speeds, though the BJP would like us to believe that nothing happened before 2014.

The change I am referring to is to the soul and psyche of India, a country that was founded on the principles of equality, secularism, fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law. It is these imperishable values and aspirations that have been changing over the past ten years, first insidiously, then by non-State actors on the streets, and now by overt legislative and executive actions by a government confident of its power to win elections and the belief of its vision of an authoritarian Hindu Rashtra.

In the process, immense damage has been caused to all the pillars that shore up a democracy: the legislature has become a thumb impression of the political executive, the executive (civil and military services) have been co-opted into the ruling party’s messianic vision, the judiciary has been defenestrated and the media prostituted into becoming clapper boys. I cannot think of even one statutory or constitutional institution which remains true to its mandate or the oath its members took when assuming office.

But what is perhaps the deepest cut of all is the manner in which our society has been brutalised in the past ten years; it has become insensitive, intolerant, prejudiced against minorities and the disadvantaged; it has lost its voice and conscience; it no longer protests against excesses and injustice but applauds them. To illustrate: its finest hour was in December 2012, when tens of thousands carpeted the Boat Club/ India Gate grounds in Delhi, protesting against the rape and murder of a young nursing student. Contrast this with the open public support of the public (and lawyers and politicians) of Jammu in 2018 when a young girl, not even a teen, was brutally raped and murdered, or the resounding silence when another young girl met the same fate in Hathras in 2020.

Similar instances can be multiplied a thousand times, but they all have one feature in common—society’s sense of fair play has been replaced by the prism of religion. These are the changes I am talking about.

And this metamorphosis of our very being is playing out in an environment of untruth, disinformation, fake news, manufactured statistics, virulent denials, unsubstantiated allegations and charge sheets.

History is being rewritten, heritage is being demolished, laws are being revised, the past is being selectively exhumed—all to serve the interests of power, politics and pelf.

This book is an attempt to record these changes, in real time and not in hindsight. It is a follow-up of my earlier book, The Wasted Years, published in 2021, and updates events, as it were, till June 2023. The 47 pieces in this book were originally penned as blogs, and the date of each piece has been indicated so that the reader is aware of the context/ time in which it
was written.

I am no journalist or subject matter specialist, just a concerned citizen with thirty-five years of public service and administrative experience behind me. I seek to speak and communicate with similar laymen, because the future of a nation is something each and every citizen should be concerned about, and is far too important to be left to only politicians, bureaucrats, so-called experts and the media.

But far too many people these days, in the false security of their cocoons, choose to ignore what is happening around them or simply keep quiet. This book attempts to convince the reader that this indifference is no longer an option. Each one of us has to have a voice and to exercise our right to speak, for when public opinion and conscience die, so does democracy.

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