Climate Change vis a vis ‘environmental metamorphosis’ is the frontrunner (currently pandemic too) crisis threatening the world at large. In India, intra and inter-governmental confabulations and suggestions are sporadic to tackle this crisis. On the other side of the spectrum, ‘political climate change’ in India manifesting massive ‘democratic backsliding’ lack systemic-driven roadmap to bounce back the status quo. Incessant melt ‘preamble principles’ intrinsic to human beings as a political animal to flourish in political society is a source of concern. The second wave of cult-induced ‘czarism’ hits hard the shores of Indian democracy. Two big brothers and their regime feel supercilious to trample constitutionalism and create a ‘Hindutva Dystopia’. Power-hungry politicians’ creeps into the democratic system unleashing a spate of flattering poll promises while harsh reality cites ‘day-light loot’ in the form of fuel tax terrorism, vainglory extravaganza, vaccine capitalism amidst pandemic precarity. Institutional connivance in promoting ruling ideology to intensify the political climate change. The aggressive interplay of a slew of ultra-vires, toxic propaganda, and anti-nationalization of dissent and freedom has thrown the democracy on the verge of rambunctious political hullaballoo.
Hate, Hubris, and Hindutva: Decoding a mutating democracy
Modi regime harbours the perfect recipe for the deterioration of a healthy democratic society. Since its inception in 2014, a new brand of politics featuring ‘hate, hubris, and Hindutva’ has embarked to facilitate ‘social debacle’ by engineering religious strife by blatantly appropriating majoritarian principles. The resilience of these ‘triumvirate norms’ got amplified when a landslide victory in the 2019 general elections reenergized the Modi phenomenon. The corollary is that the fundamentals of democracy are in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) desperately wailing for social, political, and constitutional surgery.
The signs of ‘democratic decline’ are adumbrated in various index reports released in recent times. India dipped two places to 53rd position in the 2020 Democracy Index’s global ranks estimated by the Economist Intelligent Unit (EIU), where it stood 27th position in 2014. India has been described as ‘flawless democracy’ in its report titled ‘Democracy in sickness and in health’. US-based non-profit Freedom House and Sweden’s V-Dem institute has also minced no words in reviling and categorizing the world’s largest democracy as ‘partially free country’ and ‘electoral autocracy’. Constant dip in democracy ranking and ‘unpleasant sobriquet’ exposes the profundity of crisis.
The ripple effects of this political climate change are not limited to polity alone. Hate spewed out of Hindutva orchestrated anti-Muslim-anti-liberal rhetoric bluntly rupture the social cohesion. In the denouement, democracy may find disarmed to heal the wounds of ‘hate from Hindutva’. It’s appalling that communal spin is given by coining ‘dance jihad’ when two Kerala Medical students’ dazzling dance performance went viral on social media. Terms like love jihad, corona jihad, and now dance jihad mirror Hindutva fanatics’ obsession with ‘bogus conspiracy theories’ that substantiate their demonization of Muslims and liberals. This is not a mere ‘quotidian lunatics’, but a part of the larger dystopian project. Hindutva or RSS-affiliated mob groups are indulging in hate campaigns creating an atmosphere of intolerance and toxicity. Large-scale outrage against the Tanishq advertisement and Netflix web series ‘A Suitable Boy’ portraying interfaith love tells how hate-soaked mob groups de-sanctify social relations beyond one’s faith. Prime Minister’s recent call for ‘Bal-Mitra’ to monitor Covid situation raises caveats of ‘Corona Vigilantism’ similar to anti-Romeo squads and Gau Rakshaks.
Hate and Hindutva are building BJP/RSS’s ‘Orwellian base’ by manufacturing opinions, perceptions and infallibility of a strong leader who stands for majority will. Hubris out of organizational heft, brutal parliamentary majority, and inveterate dogma spur the strong man regime to delegitimize any kind of oppositional voice and dissent. ‘Andolan jeevis’ a terminology coined by Prime Minister vilifying farmers shows how rotten their ‘hubristic streak’ and how they trivialize democratic freedom to protest. Impromptu ‘vaccine diplomacy’ debunk their motto ‘image of the strong leader first and then comes rest’. Untimely vaccine exports can be seen as a measure to douse the fire of flaks on democratic backsliding and cook up a ‘Viswa guru’ image for one of the Big Brothers. Negligence of experts warning, premature triumphalism, too much cling on pseudo-science under a megalomaniac leader precipitated the second surge of Covid-19. Cretinism is at its nadir as important leaders of the ruling party prescribed pseudo-scientific (e.g., cow science) solutions to contain Covid-19. RSS recently warned those who are criticizing the government over covid-mismanagement and branded them anti-nationals. Is Covid a global conspiracy to destabilize the Indian government? Is RSS a ‘shadow government’ under the carpet of BJP?
The third and fourth estate (judiciary and media) has become ‘institutional toolkits’ of BJP/RSS providing incremental oxygen for the noxious discourse to outmanoeuver counter-narratives. Hate, hubris, and Hindutva choreographed by BJP/RSS would mutate Indian democracy into a mixture of ‘cretinism, sectarianism, and fascism’.
Academic and Artistic Freedom caught in fascist crosshairs
Art and Academia are two quintessential domains in a democratic system that incentivize critical and creative thinking. Turning back to history, fascist regimes red-flagged ‘critical and creative thinking as a potential obstacle to spawn impotent and subservient subjects. Attack on artistic and academic freedom is an early sign of authoritarian fascist slant where it finds it essential to exterminate ‘critical narrative’ to preserve the sanctity of official narrative.
Intellectuals who have the bravado to question the constitutionality of ruling ideology are facing the heat. Anti-intellectuals breed when hyper-nationalism rules the dominant narrative. The resignation of Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta from Ashoka University, one of the vehement critics of the Modi regime from Academia was nothing less than a ‘shock wave’ for the autonomy of the Academic community. Prof. Mehta in his letter claimed ‘It has become abundantly clear to me that my association with the university may be considered a political liability and addressed his students with a premonition that ‘dark shadows of authoritarianism are also hovering over us’. Raghuram Rajan described it as a ‘grievous blow to free speech’. Gilbert Sebastian, Assistant Prof. in the Central University of Kerala is the latest victim of shrinking Academic freedom where an interrogation is in the process against him for calling RSS a proto-fascist network. BJP/RSS anathema to critical thinking and intellectualism is reflected in the deliberate endeavour to stranglehold the academic sphere.
Modi government has embraced a ‘zero-tolerance policy towards criticism or even a gesture of it from artists and celebrities and concomitant ‘witch-hunt’ validate this zero-tolerance. Artistic expression is also under the radar of the iron hands of state power. I&B ministry has unveiled Information Technology (guidelines for intermediaries and digital media ethics code) rules, 2021 to monitor OTT platforms following a flurry of outrage targeting web series ‘Tandav’. A three-tier surveillance mechanism is in place restricting artistic freedom of speech and expression. Judicial complicity lurks in SC’s observation that this mechanism ‘lacked teeth’. Abolition of Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (AFCT) through Tribunal Reforms Ordinance, 2021 is another instance of state hysteria to block critical content and make censuring an easy business. Mob attacks and verbal diarrhoea against stand-up comedians, journalists, writers, artists, etc. illuminates the kind of ‘ism’ invading Indian democracy.
‘Swords of Damocles’ of Hindutva fascism stare at us. Until and unless, democratic consciousness of citizenry awakes to its full might to combat this ‘political climate change’, Indian democracy is ultra-vulnerable to fall into the category of Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy.