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70 years of Indian Democracy

-Madhupreeta Nayak
INTRODUCTION
DEMOCRACY derived from the Greek words ‘demos’ meaning people and ‘kratia’
meaning rule. The message is clear- in a democratic government, the people are supreme. Every
action taken, every law passed should be in the interest of the masses.
Democracy does not merely mean the rule of the majority, it should entail accommodation of
the conflicting interests of all stakeholders in the furtherance of a healthy and happy society.
Democracy makes the people citizens, from subjects, it endows them with the power and the
means to self-determination.
To a lay-citizen, democracy is the freedom and liberty to think, critique and question the actions
of the government. The security that comes from freedom from fear of oppression, and the
reassurance that comes from equal share in resources, equal access to opportunities and self-
development. Freedom of self-expression and to live a fulfilled-life are also essential.
India is a democratic country, in theory, and to a large extent has been so in practice too.
However, in the 70-odd years of achieving independence and becoming a republic, India has
witnessed a number of threats to its claims of being a democratic country. Rather it has seen
situations that would make the people ponder, “Is the government in our democracy REALLY
of the people, for the people and by the people? or it is more often than not, a platform for a
powerful few to form dangerous nexus and sabotage power, and more detrimentally, do so
through means which tear apart the fundamentals of freedom, justice, harmony, liberty,
equality, integrity and fraternity – the very threads that sew together the social fabric of this
country?”
Following are certain major incidents that have in some way or another endangered Indian
democracy and the inferences that can be drawn from them-

National Emergency of 1975 – 77


The then President Fakhruddin Ali declared a national emergency on the advise of Prime
Minister Indira Gandhi. This was fuelled by a lot of factors mainly, the growing and widespread
dissent against the Congress government. Repercussions of participating in the 1971
Bangladesh war, an influx of Bangladeshi refuges, a late harvest that year, rising prices of
consumer goods, unemployment (aggravated by the government’s decision to freeze employee
salaries that year) were just a few causes for the dissatisfied masses. Elections held in Gujarat
and Bihar earlier the same year, had put the Congress out of power in both states. Driven by
the nullification of her election victory from Rae Bareli and charges of election malpractice,
Indira Gandhi pushed for the Emergency to be proclaimed with a few minutes to midnight on
the 25 of June 1975.
Electricity supply to all printing presses was cut off and not restored until after 2-3 days, once
adequate censorship mechanisms had been put in place. Given the majority the Congress
enjoyed in the Parliament, a number of Amendments were made to the Constitution include
Art 358 and 359, pertaining to the suspension of civil liberties during and Emergency situation.
Organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) and Jamait-e-Islami were banned.
Other mass human rights violations such as the mass sterilization spearheaded by Sanjay
Gandhi were carried out.
Finally in February 1977, the government decided to conduct election inf March the same year.
The Congress government was voted out of power and for the very first time replaced by a
coalition of opposition parties- the Janata Party.

Operation Blue Star 1984


It refers to the military operation to combat Khalistani forces who has set up fort in the Akal
Takht block of the Golden Temple. Ordered by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, it was in
retaliation to the rising separatist sentiments among the Sikhs led by Sant Jarnail Singh
Bhindranwale. The demand was for ‘Khalistan’ – a separate nation state in the Punjab region
which would be the homeland of the Sikhs. The Khalistan movement which was started I the
1940s-50s gained momentum in the 1970s, urging the Sikh to seek liberation from Hindu
domination. Bhindranwale and his well-trained followers had turned the Akal Takht block near
the Golden Temple into a fortress, replete with heavy arms. On the night before the operation,
Indira Gandhi had called out the militant group. Over the course of the next few hours, five
infantry battalions, the equivalent of two companies of commandos, six tanks and two
companies of paramilitary police were assembled to oust Bhindranwale. A 7 hour long struggle
that ensued, ended with the killing of the Sikh leader along with his followers.
During this time, censorship was imposed on media houses in Punjab. No journalists from
outside the state, working for Indian or international press, were allowed to enter. Curfew was
imposed across the state and transportation was stopped. The operation spread a lot of
resentment among the Sikhs across the country and worldwide as it was seen as a sacrilege to
turn their holy ground into a battlefield. The result- months later Indira Gandhi was assassinated
just months later, on 31st October by two of her Sikh bodyguards. This in turn fired a whole
other sequence of rioting in the form of the Anti-Sikh riots.

Anti-Sikh riots
Soon after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on the 31st of October, Congress party leaders
met with the local supporters. Mob of people were given money, arms and liquor and instructed
to target the Sikhs. Electoral lists and ration lists were shared with the mobs so that the Sikh
households could be located and specifically targeted. This set off the Anti-Sikh riots of 01st
November 1984. The angry mobs were incited to attack Sikhs. Buses and trains in and around
Delhi were stopped, shops and houses were looted and burned, Sikh neighbourhoods were
stormed into and any Sikh men and women found were brutally killed using iron sticks and
knives, many were burnt alive. The riots continued for a few days and resulted in the killing of
up to 3,000 Sikhs. The Delhi police too was taken into confidence and discouraged from taking
sufficient action.

Babri Masjid demolition


On the 6th of December 1992, a violent mob armed with pick axes and such instruments
attacked the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. What started as a supposedly peaceful rally turned
violent within minutes and soon, the three tombs of the sacred Muslim structure were razed to
rubble. It was alleged that 1.5 lakh kar sevaks were involved in the act of vandalization, led by
the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The Ram Yatra rally demanding a temple dedicated to lord Ram
in Ayodhya was led by senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), L.K. Advani. The
rioting that accompanied the destructioin is supposed to have claimed the lives of almost 2,000
muslims.

Godhra riots
Violent and brutal riots that broke out across the length and breadth of the country in 2002 after
the Sabarmati Express carrying passengers, mostly Hindu pilgrims from Ayodhya to
Ahmedabad caught fire, claiming the lives of several Hindus. These riots are known to have
been the most brutal in the history of India and are surrounded by conspiracy theories mainly
involving the role of Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat accusing him of pogrom,
genocide and sate compliancy. The aftermath of the riots were traced up to the Bombay riots
and bombings and several other incidents, endangering the integrity of the nation.

Mob Lynching
Arising out of a variety of reasons ranging from communal differences, cow vigilante to now
fake news and the forced utterance of Hindu religious slogans. This can be called as the newest
form of communal violence plaguing India. It has seemingly replaced communal riots. It
continues to be not just a threat to the unit and integrity of the Indian population, the
preservation of civil liberties and fundamental rights but also a major tool of appeasement in
the hands of the political parties today.
Since 2012, India has witnessed 133 cases of mob lynching, according to a database of lynching
events prepared by the data-journalism portal India Spend. Of the total 340 victims, 50 people
lost their lives. The data further revealed that 57 percent of the victims were Muslims, and nine
percent were from the Dalit community. Yet, as per the home ministry, the National Crime
Records Bureau does not record this data.

Triple Talaq and Sabarimala


Triple talaq law (Muslim Women (Protection of rights on Marriage) Act] passed on 01st August
2019 following the 22nd August 2017 Supreme Court (SC) judgement declaring the practice of
talaq-e-biddat as unconstitutional, upholds and protects the rights of Muslim women.
The SC also declared the restrictions on entry to Sabarimala temple for women as
unconstitutional on 28th September 2018. Terming the age-old practice in contradiction of
women’s rights and making an attempt to change the stigma around menstruation and
pollution-and-purity.

Article 377
The movement for gay rights started in 2001 by a petition by the Naaz Foundation resulted in
the Delhi High Court (HC) order to scrap out Article 377 which bans consensual intercourse
between two people of the same sex. This however, was overturned by the SC judgement in
2013. Finally, on 06th September 2018 the SC, once again upheld the scrapping of the Article
thereby, recognizing same sex relations as in accordance with the rights and liberties promised
to the people of India by the Constitution.
Article 370
Very recently, this article giving special status, different flag, national anthem and constitution
to the state of Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated by an ordinance of the Modi Government.
This was done with the view of integrating the state and its people into the main stream of
Indian society so that it may also benefit from the economic avenues that it would open for it.
Furthermore, this hopes to provide livelihood to the youth therein and prevent any militant
activities and maintain peace. However this has been done at the cost of the democratic
machinery promised in the Indian constitution, breaches constitutional procedures and also the
human rights and civil liberties of the residents of Kashmir given the curfew situation that has
been imposed upon it.

CONCLUSION
A striking inference is that sadly, most of the situations that have put Indian democracy in a
crisis have not been the result of mere mobocracy or viciousness prevalent in the Indian society
or among the various population but more often, because of the manipulation of diversity and
conflicting interests in the most negative manner by political parties or religious entities. This
is a very sad picture for the country. This volatility subject to the whims of leaders is highly
detrimental to the quality of life- social, economic, political and democratic, of our country.
However it is not all that dismal after all. The examples of new laws and judgements being
proclaimed by the courts and governments, mostly pressured by the demands of the public are
welcome reminders of the strength and prevalence of democracy in our country. Each of the
aforementioned incidents are testimony to the resistance and persistence to recover of the
Indian democracy and populace. In more recent cases, awareness among the people through
social media platforms, discussions and dialogue have resulted in a population that although
seemingly helpless on occasions, is in fact, very hard to fool. The existence and expression of
dissent or at least acknowledgement of unjust practices, is a beginning. It can be inferred from
each of these case studies that the democratic system of India has withstood several threats
and still retained its integrity. Moreover, there have been cases of active, politically-aware
citizens taking the action, or courts acting suo motu to secure the basic rights to citizens, and
at other times to enhance the quality if democracy in practice.
To conclude, the inference that one can draw is that eternal vigilantism is the key to a healthy
functioning democracy. Especially, in a country like India which is so prone to divisive forces,
and more so, to predators who would leap at them to serve their own interests.

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