ਹਉਮੈ ਏਹਾ ਜਾਤਿ ਹੈ ਹਉਮੈ ਕਰਮ ਕਮਾਹਿ
Sadly India is in the international news for all the wrong reasons these days despite its having one of the best constitutions of the world and its overall consistently positive image of being a modern, liberal democracy among the comity of nations during its little more than seven decades of independence from the British colonial rule in 1947. But with the simultaneous advent of the twenty first century or the new millennium and the RSS oriented BJP Government at the centre, its style of governance both at the centre and the states has seriously dented India’s glorious and positive image of a throbbing / thriving liberal, democratic and secular democracy. No wonder several leading international democracy rating agencies like US Freedom House, Swedish V-Dem (Varieties of Democries), Amnesty International, UN Rapporteur on Human (Human Watch) Rights, Democracy Index by The Economist and Press Freedom Index in their latest 2020 reporting have all downgraded the existing level of India’s democracy due to its present style of governance.
Freedom House is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that supports democratic change, monitors freedom and advocates for democracy and human rights. It has evaluated the state of freedom in 210 countries and fifteen territories during the calendar year 2020 and awarded and assigned zero to four points on the basis of twenty five indicators upto an aggregate score of 100. These indicators are grouped into categories of political rights (0-40) and Civil liberties (10-60). On the basis of these totals awarded to each listed country, it declared its status as free, partly free or not free. Its methodology is derived from universal declaration of Human Rights and applied to all listed countries irrespective of their geographic location, ethnic or religious composition or level of economic development. As per its 2020 report: Freedom in the World 2020, it has declared 83 countries and one territory as Free, 63 countries and 4 territories as Partly Free and 49 countries and ten territories as Not Free. On the basis of this evaluation, Freedom House, has downgraded India in 2020 as Partly Free from being free earlier, while dropping American Freedom score by eleven points over a decade particulary under Donald Trump and calling America a Troubled Democracy “though still remaining in the free category.” Freedom House has also recorded a worldwide deterioration in democracy since 2006 which has continued since then. According to its calculation, 2019 was the 14th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. More than half of the countries that were rated Free or not Free in 2009 have suffered a net decline in the past decade. It states: Considering Democracy and pluralism as two essential ingredients of a democratic society, it states that not only dictators but “many freely elected leaders are dramatically narrowing their concern to a blinkered interpretation of the national interest. In fact, such leaders including the chief executives of the united State and India, the world's two largest democracies are increasingly willing to break down institutional safeguards and disregard the rights of critics and minorities as they pursue their populist agenda…. Ethnic, religious and other minority groups have borne the brunt of government abuses in both democracies and authoritarian states.
Summing up India’s state of democracy in its 2020 report, it states that “The Indian Government has taken its Hindu nationalist agenda to a new level with a succession of policies that abrogate the rights of different segments of its Muslim population, threatening the democratic future of a country long seen as a potential bulwark of freedom in Asia and the world… The Indian Government’s alarming departures from democratic norms under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) could blur the value-based distinction between Beijing and New Delhi. While India continues to earn a free rating and held successful elections last spring, BJP has distanced itself from the Country’s founding commitment to pluralism and individual rights without which democracy cannot survive.” Among the major aberrations/ faultiness which freedom House considers are responsible for downgrading India’s status of democracy from Free to Partly Free are Indian Government’s unilateral annulment of the semi autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim Majority State, restrictions on freedom of movement, shutdown of mobile and internet services, publication of a new citizens' register (NRC) in the northeastern State of Assam on August 31, 2019 which rendered nearly two million residents without citizenship aimed at excluding Muslims without immigration mainly documented descendents of Bengalis who arrived in Assam during colonial era and are expected to be placed in detention camps, Passage of the citizenship Amendment Law in December 2019 was a further attempt to exclude / this biggest minority by granting protection to Hindus and adherents of five other non-Muslim religions (Sikh, Christians, jains, Buddhists and Parsees) from the three neighbouring Muslim majority regions of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan while ignoring similar minority sects from two other neighbouring states like China and Sri Lanka. Indian Home Minister, Mr Amit Shah’s repeated assertions to repeat Assam citizen Register process nationwide has raised many other Indian minorities fears about their impending statelessness and non-citizenship. These three Hindutva majoritarian ideology driven acts of abrogation of article 370, NRC and CAA have, in Freedom House’s estimation, brought – down the largest score decline of India among the twenty five largest democracies of the world in the Freedom in the world 2020 Index. The peaceful protests by these likely to be affected sections of society against these arbitrary laws and state's brutal suppression have further eroded the democratic character of Indian democracy.
Besides Freedom House’s grading of India’s democracy, Sweden based V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) institution at Gothenburg University in Sweden, in its latest report, “Autocratization Turns viral, Democracy Report 2021” has stated that India, the world’s largest democracy has turned into an “Electoral Autocracy” and included India among the ten decliners in autocries with Poland, Brazil, India, and Turkey, with Poland at the top. V-Dem produces the largest global dataset on democracy with 30 million data points for 202 countries from 1789 to 2020 involving over 3500 scholars and other countries’ experts. It measures hundreds of different attributes of democracy and enables new ways to study the nature, causes and consequences of democracy embracing multiple meanings. It reflects an accelerating wave of autocratization engulfing 25 nations that hold 1/3 of world’s population of 62.6 billion people. Several G-20 nations such as Poland, Brazil, India, Turkey and United States are part of this drift. It states that the world is still more democratic than it was in 1970s and 1980s but the global decline in democracy has been steep during the past ten years and continues in 2020-21. Electoral Autocracies “Continue to be most common regime type in these democries.”
Analyzing India’s decline in democracy into “Electoral Autocracy” specifically it states: India recently lost its status as an Electoral Democracy and its LDI (Liberal Democracy Index) declined from 0.57 in 2010 to 0.34 in 2020 following government led by Narendra Modi placing restrictions on multiple facets of democracy such as civil society and free speech. It further states, “The worlds’ largest democracy has turned into an Electoral Autocracy. India’s autocratization process has largely followed the typical pattern for the countries in the third wave over the last ten years, a deterioration where freedom of media, academia and civil society were curtailed first and to the greatest extent…” The ruling party has placed constraints on civil society and have gone against the constitution’s commitment to secularism. Recently, the unlawful Activities Prevention Act UAPA from 1967 and amended in 2019 is being used to harass, intimidate and imprison political opponents as well as people mobilizing to protest against the governance policies. The UAPA has also been used to silence dissent in academia. Universities and authorities have also punished students and activists in universities engaging in protests.” The recent resignations of two eminent professors Prof Partap Bhanu Mehta and Dr Arvind Subramaniam from the prestigious and elite privately funded Ashoka University under duress and imprisonment of several other scholars, social activists under the draconian UAPA are the latest examples of this anti-democracy regime. It goes on to say: BJP (the ruling party government) has used increasingly Foreign Contribution Regulations Act (FCRA) to restrict the entry, exit and functioning of civil society organizations (CSOs) and NGOs. The amendment in this act in September 2019 has further constrained the foreign contributions to NGOs within India.
The well-known international body “Amnesty International” has severely criticized the present Indian government for “crushing farmers’ protest and demonizing dissenters.” It says, “We have seen an alarming escalation in the Indian authorities targeting of anyone who dares to criticize or protest the governments’ repressive laws and policies. The crackdown on those protesting against the citizenship amendment Acts still has not ended, while new efforts to quell the anti-farm legislation protests have taken shape. The crushing of dissent leaves little space for people to peacefully exercise their human rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the country….. at least eight leading journalists and politicians hve been charged with sedition after reporting on the farmers’ protests.”
The Editor’s Guild of India, the Press Club of India, the Indian women’s Press Corps, the Delhi union of Journalists Union and Indian Journalists Union, Reporters without Borders, have all released statements condemning the crackdown on journalists covering these protests. The authorities must stop threatening demonizing, and arresting peaceful protestors and stop treating them as anti nationals and terrorists. (http//www.amnesty.org)
Another Human Rights organization, “Human Rights Watch” an independent non-government organization in its 31st World Report 2020 has also indicted the present BJP Government for its gross human rights violations of Indian religious minorities, Dalits, Tribal groups, and their rights to Freedom to Association, Freedom of Expression and Privacy and Women’s Rights and immunity granted to its security forces. It writes, “ The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government increasingly harassed, arrested, and prosecuted rights defenders, activists, journalists, students, academics, and others critical of the government or its policies. The government continued to impose harsh and discriminatory restrictions on Muslim-majority areas in Jammu and Kashmir since revoking the state’s constitutional status in August 2019 and splitting it into two federally governed territories. Attacks continued against minorities, especially the bigger minority, even as authorities failed to take action against BJP leaders who vilified Muslims and BJP supporters who engaged in violence. The Covid-19 lockdown disproportionately hurt marginalized communities due to loss of livelihoods and lack of food, shelter, health care, and other basic needs.” This minserable plight of millions of labourers walking on foot to their native places for hundreds and thousands of miles without any government help police brutality on them is too fresh in public memory.
The Economist Group (Legally the Economist Newspapers Limited Intelligence Unit (EIU) has placed India under the category “Flawed Democracy”. This research and analysis division of the Economist in its 2020 Democracy Index Report, has included 165 independent states and two territories for its study based on five parameters namely Electoral Process, population, Civil liberaties, functioning of Government, Political participation and political culture. Its scores are based on 60 indicators and each country is then classified as one of the four types of regime namely Full Democracy, Flawed Democracy, Hybrid regime, and Authoritarian regime. It has declared 23 countries as full Democracies, 52 as flawed Democracies, 35 as Hybrid Democracies and 57 as authoritarian regimes. India has slipped two points to 53 position from its earlier position in the 2020 Democracy Index.
Similarly, India stands at 142 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index out of 180 countries because of its constant Press Freedom violations, police violence against journalists” and the Coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks against journalists who dare to speak or write about subjects that annoy Hindutva followers. World Press Freedom Index, is published every year since 2002 by Reporters without Borders (RWF)
Despite the spirited defence put up by India’s Minister of External Affairs Jai Shankar on the State of democracy in India at the recently held “India Today Conclave” (Saturday on March 12, 13, 2021) and accusing all these internationally acclaimed democracy relating agencies wreaking of hypocrisy, his rebuttal is rhetorical at least and polemical at best. The well-known political analysist Prof Suhas Palshikar has called Foreign Minister’s charge of “hypocrisy” against these agencies as “Churlish” and smacking of developing an “avoidance Syndrome”. He wonders sarcastically when has our national bird changed from Peacock to Ostrich”? Ostrich burries its head in the sand when the storm comes. (The Indian Express, March 17, 2021) These organizations have been publishing their annual democracy ratings for most of the countries of the world for a fairly longtime. It is a fact that India has been consistently falling in every rating of democracy for which it has received severe indictment not only from these foreign entitites but also from the some of the leading Indian intellectuals and political analysists in their articles in the press during the last month. As Prof. Palshikar has rightly pointed out all these criticisms are not based on the democracy ratings of freedom House V-Dem and are based on every day happenings such as arrests and gagging of media persons, indiscriminate filing of sedition cases, unleashing of investigative agencies against critics of the government, numerous suspensions of internet in “disturbed areas”, facilitating of space for vigilantes to engage in trolling and name calling on social media, juridicary’s avoidance of hearing important cases and postponing hearing of cases involving challenges against major laws passed and habeas corpus cases, large scale arrest of activists, political workers, comedians and putting them on trial and denying them bail. Expressing his fears about the future of democracy in India, he writes, “A time will come when it will be argued that democracy is a western notion unnecessary for true and spiritual emancipation — moksha. (Note Niti Aayog Amitabh Kant’s remark, “We are too much of a democracy – The Indian Express, December 2, 2020) It will be claimed that there is an indigenous meaning to democracy. Liberalism and individual rights are a western fashion, institutional autonomy is a fetish, freedom of expression is a superfluous luxury (and of course, no freedom is absolute). The emphasis on Deendayal Upadhyaya and the unapologetic revival of MS Golwalkar are symptomatic of this first step to arguing that there is an Indian-Hindu version of democracy. A careful reading of more recent speeches by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat testify to that claim. The claim is often simplistic — that democracy was invented, practised and theorized in Hindu tradition and scriptures much before and independently of western intellectual developments. But beyond that, there is a denial of two key resources on which India’s democratic politics is based — namely, the national movement and the Constitution.” (Democracy, theirs and Ours, The Indian Express, March 17, 2021). Expressing similar sentiments and fears, Yogendra Yadav has also written, “It does not disprove widespread anxiety about the worsening state of civil liberties, capture of democratic institutions, erosion in the freedom of media, judiciary and other watchdogs, attack on political opponents and criminalisation of dissent in today’s India. In fact, the whole point of calling India an “Electoral Autocracy” is this: elections happen more or less fairly, but the country is non-democratic in between two elections.” (The Tribune, March 18, 2021). Vivek Katju, Ex-Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, while commenting on the adverse comments of the various democracy rating agencies, has also cautioned the Govt of India against outright rejection of international liberal opinion. He says, “This should lead to introspection to ascertain the causes of such perceptions. It would be counterproductive to straightaway dismiss them as motivated and mischievous and not examine why they are arising in these times. Such an examination is also important in the context of India’s soft power.”(The Tribune, 13, March 2021). Shyam Saran, Former Foreign Secretary and Senior fellow, centre for Policy Research, in his very informative and perceptive article, “Echo Chamber Of Governance: The Tribune, March 10, 2021” has mentioned serious apprehensions about more restrictions on media and freedom of expression. He writes: “Recent reports that the government may consider branding journalists as white, green and black, signifying pro, neutral or anti-government, and more ominously, seek to ‘neutralise’ the black category, are disturbing; as are some of the elements in the proposed regulation of OTT platforms and digital media.” He concludes, “The great strength of India is in its capacity to manage immense diversity. The very plurality of its society brings opportunities for intense debate, argumentation and the airing of an incredible spectrum of views and perspectives. This is the source of creativity, innovative spirit and adaptability of our people. Putting a monochromatic frame over this plurality has not succeeded in the past, and is unlikely to in the future.” As Julio Reborio has also rightly pointed that even the Supreme Court Bench consisting of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta while dismissing the frivolous petition filed against the former Chief Minister of J&K and asking for his disqualification as an elected member of parliament and fining the petitioner has held that dissent is not sedition and citizens cannot be tried for anti-government views” (The Tribune, March 12, 2021). P Chidambaram has rightly said, "Democracy in India is diminished every day. The world has taken note of the fact that India is only ‘partly free’. The goal of the BJP is to establish one-party rule, an over-sized and rubber-stamping Parliament, a compliant judiciary, an officially sponsored media, obedient corporates, and a subservient people who will be happy with material progress. That India will be no different from China." (The Indian Express, March 28, 2021)
All these above mentioned and quoted voices and opinions have beenexpressed by leading and eminent Indian scholars, political analysts, seasoned administrators who are aware of India’s constitution and its fundamental tenets of equality, liberty, fraternity and the pervading spirit of India’s freedom movement and India’s centries’ old societal diversity and pluralism. They are purely indigenous enlightened Indian citizens whose belief and experience in Indian democracy is legitimate, patriotic and national. Their concerns for the erosion of democratic values and constitutionally established judicial, social, cultural and academic institutions is emblematic of the collective fears of a vast majority of enlightened members of the Indian society consisting of majority community, minorities, backward and Dalits classes who are waiting with a bated breath. They are helplessly watching the terrific march of the rabidly communal, fascist Hindutva Juggernant threatening to dismantle all the constitutional institutions, statuettes and safeguards, guaranteed fundamental human rights and liberties enshrined in India’s Constitution.
This fast erosion and dilution of India’s democratic structure is all the more threatening and crippling for the minorities. While the biggest Indian minority is fully conscious about the loss of their life, limb and property and has started exercising their bargaining power in certain pockets of India, the Sikhs do not seem to be as conscious about the impending cultural and economic invasion on their interests. While the mainstream Sikh leadership is in complete disarray following their helpless snapping ties with the ruling dispensation, there is a complete vacuum at the leadership front. The only silver lining in this otherwise dark scenario is the steadfast and united resistance being offered by the Sikh farmers to defend their economic and even religious and cultural interests. If they succeed in their more than four months old struggle, their leadership holds the potential to clean the augean stables of the traditional Sikh politics as well. At this critical juncture, it is incumbent upon the Sikh intellectuals and prominent Sikh institutional think-tanks to join these voices of protest against the menacing advance of Hindutva juggernaut. As per the Sikh tradition, the Sikhs have always been in the vanguard of all the national struggles against some of the invasions – be they military, colonial, economic or cultural - against India’s national interests. Guru Nanak was the first to raise his voice in the harshest language and vocabulary against Babur’s invasion of India. Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Tegh Bahadur scarified their lives in defence of religious freedom and human rights. The Sikhs share of participation and sacrifices in the struggle for India’s independence against the economically exploitative and brutal British Colonial rule has been much greater than other Indians’ share in terms of their miniscule population. The present ruling dispensation’s calculated attempts at the dilution of India’s federal, democratic structure and repeated attempts at its damaging and homogenization of India’s diversity, pluralism, right to dissent, upholding secular and democratic values of India’s constitution and overriding all parliamentary procedures are nothing short of a cultural invasion. Now when in this age of globalization, voices are being raised by both by the well-established, credible democracy rating institutions of repute abroad as well as the eminent scholars and political analysts in India, it is incumbent upon the Sikh intelligentsia to join this battle of nerves and battle for survival of India’s democracy against this latest intellectual and cultural invasion.
We are starting a series of comprehensive articles on the legendary pioneers in Sikh studies with an article on the life and contribution of Max Arthur Macauliffe by the author. We invite similar articles on other prominent pioneers from our learned readers and scholars of Sikhism to carry on this series.