Can ‘national security’ cover be the shroud of rights in a democracy?

The assault on our democratic institutions has been so severe that some of us do applaud small victories such as a quick hearing in apex court or a bail in a trumped up case

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi manhandled by Delhi police during the march towards PM's residence against price rise and unemployment, August 5, 2022
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi manhandled by Delhi police during the march towards PM's residence against price rise and unemployment, August 5, 2022

Ranjona Banerji

You know how low democracy has sunk when educated, intelligent people make excuses for tyranny.

And come up with fabulous excuses like: since you have criticised the government and not been arrested yet, then clearly democracy is alive in India.

Or if you were in Saudi Arabia, you would not be able to say what you just did. And then as last resort, their best defence, X or Y political party did the same thing when they were in power.

Or, and this is from people who have lost the argument, and want somewhere to hide: everyone is corrupt, evil and so on.

For one thing, not being arrested for exercising your fundamental rights is not the best example of a strong democracy.

For another, India is not Saudi Arabia and if you do not live in Saudi Arabia, its rules do not apply.

The other two excuses are transparent in their idiocy.

But such is the level of indoctrination and the extent of the fear of reprisal, that we have our intelligentsia and our great middle classes who know it all by the way, clutching at straws, trying desperately to hide their love for fascism and fascist leaders.

The levels of assault on our democratic institutions have been so severe and so consistent that it is true that some of us do applaud the smallest of things. A bail hearing for an amorphous remark that takes place in three weeks instead of three years?

Wow, we say, the judiciary really works. And forget those who have been incarcerated for years, with no case coming up for hearing except bail applications, for strange “crimes” like fighting for human rights or forest rights or democratic rights.

Every assault on nature and the environment is justified if the claim says it is required for “national security”. The courts do not require explanations as to why a road for tourists has to run through a protected forest or destroy mountain sides as long as you say the words “national security”.

Our various investigative agencies have full powers to bypass all rules in order harass and harangue anyone who criticises or annoys or democratically challenges the ruling party and its government. They are also free to physically assault all protesters when they stop them from protesting.

This is the point where our intelligentsia jumps into the fray. The assault is all right because one person managed to hold a press conference and did not get arrested, assaulted, locked up and so on.

At least in a Stasi State you knew where you stood. You knew the Gestapo were watching. You know the Thought Police are keeping track. You know that War is Peace and Lies are Facts.

But when you pretend that you are still a democracy, that is when you are sunk.

This is where we make a sidestep.

Marginally less damaging than the “someone else did this before” justifiers are the eternal optimists. The “this too will pass” brigade. This anodyne homily provides you with the perfect pretext to do absolutely nothing. Close your eyes children, the bogeyman will go away.

This may work, except when the bogeyman is real. These characters are bit like climate change deniers. They watch the weather around them, refuse to read the data and decide on that basis alone that they have the expertise to forecast the future. Even the rock band Guns ‘n’ Roses had more sense with “nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain”.

The question is, how cold is cold when it is cold? And that’s the question none of our protagonists want to answer.

Why did Stan Swamy die in jail? (Nothing lasts forever).

Why is Teesta Setalvad still in jail? (Someone else did the same thing to other activists once).

Why is Siddique Kappan still in jail? (You spoke on Twitter, therefore our democracy thrives).

Why is the Enforcement Directorate being unleashed on opposition leaders? (Have you heard of the Emergency?)

The more the conversation is dominated by false logic and convenient untruths, the real picture remains obscured. After eight years, we take all the pinpricks and the bulldozers in our stride. We start to believe that the well-crafted lies woven to prop up a “leader” are true and that society around is full of fifth columnists working hard to bring this leader down.

We are conditioned to forget that leaders can be like cold November rain, that protest and dissent are essential to democracy.

We are so scared of repercussions, no matter how much we deny them and argue that they don’t exist, that we want to run with the schoolyard bullies as they shout “majority rules, majority rules”.

And in this fear, we forget that a majoritarian democracy is not a democracy at all.

And this is where we have brought ourselves because we closed our eyes to our own reality.

(Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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