Justice Markandey Katju-
Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.
Recently the US-based NGO Freedom House downgraded India from the status of a free democracy to a ‘partially free democracy’.The Sweden based V Dem Institute was more critical and called India an ‘electoral autocracy’. Democracy Index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit described India as a ‘flawed democracy’.
The Indian Government has rebutted these assessments, and called them ‘misleading, incorrect, and misplaced’. What is the truth?
In my opinion, the truth is that India had a flawed and sham ‘democracy’ throughout,, so downgrading it is neither here nor there.
Democracy was defined by Abraham Lincoln as governance ‘ by the people, of the people, and for the people ‘. It presumes a politically conscious citizenry, which cannot be befooled by its leaders, controls them ( instead of the other way around ), and compels them to work for the betterment of the lives of the people.
But what is the situation in India ? Our parliamentary democracy, set up by the Indian Constitution, largely operates on the basis of caste and religious vote banks., Casteism and communalism are feudal forces, which must be destroyed if India is to progress, but parliamentary democracy further entrenches them.. When most people go to vote in India they do not see the merits of the candidate, whether he is a good man or bad, educated or uneducated, criminal or otherwise, but only see his caste or religion ( or the caste or religion which his party represents ). That is why a large section of our legislators have a criminal background.
Parliamentary democracy rests on a majority vote, but the vast majority in India are casteist and/or communal, and this fact is utilized by our crafty politicians who have expertise in manipulating and polarising society, and inciting citing caste or religious hatred and violence. Is such a democracy suitable to India?
In recent years religious polarisation has increased exponentially in India, and even made inroads in states like West Bengal, which had earlier been bastions of secularism. The pro-Hindu Bhartiya Janta Party ( BJP ) which had earlier hardly any presence in the state ( it won only 3 of the 294 seats in the 2016 West Bengal state assembly elections ) won 18 of the 42 seats from West Bengal in the 2019 Parliamentary elections and is predicted to get over 100 seats in the forthcoming state assembly elections scheduled for April ( though its main rival, Mamata Banerji’s TMC is still likely to get a majority ).
The test of every political system and activity is one, and only one : does it raise the standard of living of the people? Does it give them better lives?
Of late the Indian economy is going downhill, there is record and growing unemployment, every second child in India is malnourished ( according to, Global Hunger Index ), every second woman anemic, there is acute farmers distress ( between 350,000-400,000 farmers have committed suicide over the last 25 years due to indebtedness ), prices of fuel, gas cylinders, and foodstuffs have skyrocketed, there is almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, the gulf between the handful of rich and the poor masses has increased, minorities are persecuted, etc.
And yet all these real issues are forgotten by most Indian voters when they go to vote, and instead what matters to them is that a Ram Temple is being built in Ayodhya, that Pakistan has been given a bashing, that the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act has been enacted, that Article 370 ( which gave a special status to Kashmir ) has been revoked, etc –as if all this will raise their standard of living and give them decent lives.
Our ‘democracy’ has brought our country to a sorry plight, as explained in this article:
So what is the alternative? In my opinion, the Indian people have to create a new political system, led by modern minded leaders, under which India rapidly develops and is transformed into a highly industrialized nation. Only this can abolish poverty, unemployment, hunger, etc. Under such a system too much freedom and democracy must not be permitted, because, as I have mentioned above, most people in India are still casteist and communal i.e. with reactionary mindsets, and so to rely on majority vote means surrendering before feudal forces.
Does that mean we need a form of dictatorship? Yes, but it should be a dictatorship led by patriotic selfless modern-minded leaders like Mustafa Kemal who modernized Turkey, not a dictatorship of the reactionary Gen Zia ul Haq who tried to take Pakistan back into the Middle Ages.
How will such a historical transformation take place and such a system be set up ? That will require a mighty historical struggle by the people of India, led by modern-minded patriots, which will be long, arduous, and full of twists and turns, but it is the only way. Our present sham ‘democracy’ will achieve nothing.