Why the Indian democracy is under threat

Kamal Mitra Chenoy
Kamal Mitra ChenoyFeb 25, 2017 | 16:30

Why the Indian democracy is under threat

Threat to democracy: Yes, the enemy has entered the gates

It has become increasingly evident that India's democratic institutions are under stress.

We often forget that though the Constitution was drafted in a free India, voting for membership was based on the (British) Government of India Act of 1935.

Under that act, only those Indians who owned property and/or paid taxes had the right to vote. So the electorate for the Constituent Assembly was between 14 per cent -16 per cent of the adult population.


The Indian Penal Code (IPC) was drafted by Lord Macaulay in 1860. Much of the IPC is still heavily influenced by the Macaulay draft. For example, the sedition law — IPC Section 124A was made a law in 1870. Among the crimes it includes causing disaffection towards the King of England. The time of its drafting, 13 years after the 1857 revolt, was not accidental.

Mahatma Gandhi ironically called the sedition law "the prince of all such laws". He would know. He was jailed under it.

The misuse of this law was glaringly evident in the arrest of three JNU student leaders accused of sedition in February 2016.

 It has become increasingly evident that India's democratic institutions are under stress. 

Kanhaiya Kumar, the then JNUSU president, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were later acquitted of the charge by the Delhi High Court. But it is a well-known fact that political and social activists are often accused on false grounds by the right-reactionary, as well as secular governments.

For example, 14 MLAs of the Delhi government have been arrested in two years on sundry charges by the Delhi Police.

In a latest, the RSS student wing, the ABVP, ran riot in Ramjas College on February 22. The ABVP members attacked the college staff and students, with the Delhi Police standing by at best, but brutalising women, men and the media, removing photographic evidence from their mobiles and cameras. It seems the Delhi Police must have got instructions from above.


No contrite apologies from the police or the Union home minister have come so far. No action against the police (how can there be any when all this appears to be a part of the communal polarisation spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Man Friday Amit Shah in Uttar Pradesh).

However, the British Raj has bequeathed even more draconian laws to our democratic republic.

In 1942, just before the Quit India Movement, the colonial government introduced the Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance. This controversial law is known now as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and is used in states as far apart as Jammu & Kashmir and Manipur for long periods of time.

The Supreme Court in its most recent judgment on Manipur has tried to reduce the rigours of the provisions of this law by ruling that the AFSPA cannot be used indefinitely as "it would mock at our democratic process".

Shockingly, under Indian jurisprudence, a decision of a court in one state or city does not automatically become the law elsewhere. This is a very rare legal interpretation which does not serve the cause of justice.


Not surprisingly, democratic institutions are also being weakened, leading to the decline of democratic norms.

Look at the Supreme Court and high courts. Under the collegium system — in which a panel of Supreme Court judges select judges from the high courts — because of the resistance of the executive to give all powers of selection to the judiciary, for the most part there are vacancies in the highest court, putting strain on the judicial process as a whole.

Interestingly, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has questioned the Supreme Court about posts of more than 4,000 subordinate judges (lower courts) lying vacant.

Evidently the law minister would like the overburdened apex court to function like an employment agency.

In another example of weakened democratic institution, the election commission has failed to crack the whip on violators.

In Uttar Pradesh, PM Modi recently promised to waive all farmers loans if the BJP is voted to power. This is brazen bribery. But no action has been taken by the election commission.

Even when the PM's right-hand man, Amit Shah, propagated an acronym "(Ajmal) Kasab" referring to the opposition parties (SP-Congress and BSP) in Uttar Pradesh, there was no action against him.

He said "Ka" stands for Congress, "Sa" for Samajwadi Party and B for BSP, thus trying to polarise the voters on communal lines.

Under Section 153A of the IPC, this is a cognisable offence. If no action is taken against such violations, then what powers do the election commission, police and the judiciary have?

Again, as pointed out by NGOs such as the Association for Democratic Reforms, many candidates seeking elections often submit information that are grossly misrepresented.

A number of times, candidates were found to have understated their assets, exaggerate their educational skills and dilute their criminal records.

Even now the debate over the academic qualifications of Union textile minister Smriti Irani as well as PM Modi have not been settled (after the Delhi High Court stayed the CIC orders to disclose their qualifications).

Overall, India's democratic institutions are weakening and the executive is a party to it. But this is a process that has gained steam over the decades. It is also not something which can be associated with a particular party alone, as the Emergency under the then prime minister Indira Gandhi demonstrated.

Amid all this, it's the people who are paying a heavy price.

Last updated: February 25, 2017 | 16:45
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