Decline of Parliamentary Democracy: ‘President’ Modi in 2022? 

Will India too succumb to the global trend of Democracies dying as feared by Levitsky and Ziblatt?

   In the monsoon session, Question Hour was dropped, Zero Hour halved and the government held it had no data on farmers’ suicide, job losses and migrant workers who died 
In the monsoon session, Question Hour was dropped, Zero Hour halved and the government held it had no data on farmers’ suicide, job losses and migrant workers who died

Kumar Ketkar

Currently political pundits and intellectuals in the US and Europe are in heated debate triggered by the recent book, “How Democracies Die”, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both well known scholars. The book published in 2018 raised an alarm after the election of Donald Trump to presidency in 2016. Even the “great” democracy in America is in danger of eclipse, just as many in the world, argued the authors. Interestingly, the prevailing institutions created by democracies, have given rise to the current wave of authoritarianism, dictatorships or majoritarianism, say the authors. They are not military takeovers, coups or monarchical autocracies, but created by the People’s’ mandate.

Ironically, the very same democracies in the West were expressing serious doubts about Indian experiment in the 1950s. When India became free and announced that she would be a Parliamentary Democracy, many leading intellectuals in the Western Countries, mainly in the United Kingdom and The United States, either ridiculed the notion or described it as the “romantic vision” of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. What they did not understand was that the idea of Democratic India was not some sudden revealation of Nehru or other leaders of 5he Freedom Movement.

The leaders of the nationalist movement had declared their commitment to “Universal Adult Franchise” since the Nehru Report of 1928. But the critics said for a huge country like India, with population of nearly 36 crore, and so many languages and dialects, regions and religions, castes and creeds, rural, urban and tribal people, it would be impossible to actually implement the “Democratic Idea of India”. The whole world looked at India in 1952 with sarcastic scepticism, when its first Parliamentary Election was held. Over 17 crore voters were identified in a mammoth exercise of preparing electoral rolls.

Apart from those western pundits, there were some Left-leaning intellectual, even Marxists, who expressed the doubts about this exercise. Citing partition, some of them said, there would be many more “partitions”, which could lead to balkanisation of the whole subcontinent. A few of them thought that once Pandit Nehru disappears from the national stage, the whole edifice would collapse.

Well, all those fears and apprehensions, well meaning or otherwise, proved wrong. Yet, when Prime Minister India Gandhi declared the Emergency in 1975, some of them gleefully said, “we told you so” and indeed “celebrated” the “demise of democracy” in India. They did not even feel it necessary to rethink their negative hypothesis. The counter-thesis was that Mrs Gandhi had actually saved democracy from anarchy that was let loose in the name of “Nav Nirman” and “Tital Revolution”. Again the critics of Nehruvism were proved wrong when Nehru’s daughter sprung a surprise by calling for Parliamentary election in 1977. She and the Congress Party lost the election in landslide, but the system survived.

Indeed, there have been serious crises, ups and downs, assassinations of Prime ministers or national leaders, separatists challenging federal unity, from Nagas and Mizos to Khalistan Movement, but they could be overcome. The “Idea of India”, rather vague in definition but quite concrete in experience, could survive because there was the legacy of the Freedom Movement, in the form of the Indian National Congress. The Parliamentary Democracy was a part and parcel of that Idea.

In 2022, India will celebrate 75th year of Independence. But again, serious apprehensions have begun to be expressed, whether the country will remain sovereign, united and integrated politically and geographically in its centenary year 2047. In the past the ideological center had held. The content of that ideological formation was formed by the idea of secularism, federalism, pluralism, sovereignty, liberalism, institutional autonomy and freedom of mobilisation as well as independence of media.

But the “regime change” that was brought about in 2014, by undermining the dignity and necessity of secularism, by dismantling federalism in the name “one nation”, by questioning the validity of Non-Alignment and brazenly joining one superpower alliance in a multi-power world, and throwing away the policies of Planning and Mixed Economy and embracing the notion of Free Market, and by adopting the idea of majoritarianism, the ruling parties themselves have created or expanded the threats to the Parliamentary Democracy and integrated India.

The Parliamentary sessions held in the month of September, under the dark shadows of the pandemic of Coronavirus, have clearly manifested the fault lines  of our democracy. The so called Central Vista project announced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be a metaphor for the “Idea of New India”! A new building for Parliament, along with new structures for many ministries and PM residence are actually aimed at recreating a New Republic.

The main aim is to dismantle the system and its values as they evolved over a century of Freedom Movement. The slogan of making “Cingress-Mukt” Bharat is misleading. It’s actual objective is to completely erase from history and memory the whole ethos of the struggle for independence under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the Indian National Congress. There is also a not-so-hidden agenda of establishing the Hindutva ideology with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as the vanguard of the project.

The year 2022 will be crucial in that plan. It will be the 75th year if Independence, and a new “Muhurta” for setting up a New Republic, by undermining the one that we adopted in 1950. The New parliamentary building will be operational that year. The current President’s term expires the same year. There can be either introduction or even regular establishment of the “ Presidential Form of Democracy, in place of the Parliamentary Democracy. What is required is the Constitutional change.

The Bharatiya Janata Party had been arguing against the Parliamentary form, ever since its Jan Sangh days. Though the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh propagated that it was a cultural organisation, it’s stalwarts often condemned the Nehruvian endorsement of the idea of Parliamentary Democracy. Nor the BJP has tasted blood. They are not afraid, nor worried about the Constitutional Constraints. Already, there are grapevine reports that in 2022, Narendra Modi would become President either by replacing Shri Kovind or by changing the very system.

It would be Presidential Dictatorship and nor Democracy legitimising One Party-One Leader in One Nation-One Election! The September sessions of Parliament have opened the Pandora’s Box.  Will India too succumb to the global  trend of Democracies dying as feared by Levitsky and Ziblatt?

(The author is a Member of the Rajya Sabha. Views expressed are personal)

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