Erosion of Democratic Values in Contemporary India: A Critical Analysis

India, widely recognized as the world’s largest democracy, has long prided itself on its secular outlook and democratic principles. However, recent years have witnessed a significant departure from these founding ideals. The current ruling dispensation led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has embraced an exclusionary ideology rooted in Hindutva. This ideological shift has drawn the attention of prominent Western media outlets, who argue that India’s democratic progress is in decline.

Stifling Opposition and Undermining Democracy

An analytical piece published in Foreign Affairs in April 2023 highlights the expulsion of Rahul Gandhi, one of India’s prominent opposition leaders, from parliament by the BJP. This act undermines a fundamental symbol of democracy by stifling opposition voices. Similarly, an editorial in The Guardian titled “The Observer view on the growing threat to democracy in India” criticizes the BJP government for reducing the influence of the opposition and creating an uneven playing field for democratic forces. The editorial emphasizes the biased role of the courts in sentencing Rahul Gandhi, suggesting political motivations at play.

Suppression of Truth and Media FreedomĀ 

The Modi-led BJP government has faced accusations of suppressing the truth and curtailing media freedom. The government’s actions to ban and discredit a BBC documentary investigating Narendra Modi’s alleged involvement in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat attracted international attention. The Financial Times sheds light on the harassment faced by journalists critical of the government, leading to a climate of fear and undermining freedom of speech. The World Press Freedom Index 2023, published by Reporters Without Borders, highlights the crisis of press freedom in India since the BJP came to power in 2014, with a focus on the state’s Hindutva-driven policies.

Manipulation of Education and Historical Narrative

The Washington Post explores the BJP government’s overhauling of school textbooks, removing chapters that contradict its agenda. Notably, chapters on democracy, secular history, and the Gujarat pogroms were scrapped, depriving students of crucial knowledge. Le Monde editorializes how the BJP’s authoritarian drift is redefining India as a purely Hindu nation, evident in the removal of textbook chapters on Muslim Mughal emperors and the secular legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. The erosion of historical truth and the rewriting of India’s narrative raise concerns about the preservation of a diverse and inclusive society.

The Emergence of Hindu Majoritarianism and Weakened Secularism

An article in the Financial Times characterizes India as an “electoral autocracy” where Hindu majoritarianism dominates the political landscape, weakening secularism. The article cautions against viewing India solely as a democratic nation, as the BJP government’s policies reflect a departure from democratic principles. Similarly, an opinion piece in the Washington Post cites a Swedish Institute’s Democracy Index 2023, which identifies India as one of the worst “autocratizers” in the past decade. It highlights heightened political polarization and the suppression of religious freedom, exemplified by the absence of Muslim representation in parliament.

Worsening Religious Freedom and Socio-Religious Agony

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) designates India as a “country of particular concern” in its 2023 Annual Report, citing the promotion and enforcement of religiously discriminatory policies. The report highlights the negative impact on minorities, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Adivasis, and Dalits. Recent incidents in Manipur, such as the burning of churches and religiously motivated violence, further exacerbate socio-religious tensions and underscore the role of the BJP government in fostering divisions.

The convergence of articles, reports, editorials, and analyses from Western media paints a concerning picture of contemporary India, deviating from the vision of its founding fathers. The BJP’s Hindutva project has shifted India from a policy of inclusion to exclusion, fracturing its social and religious fabric. By capitalizing on the majority electorate’s sentiments, the BJP directs disaffection towards minorities, leading to the shrinking of their political, social, economic, and legal space. The erasure of Indian Muslims from history, religious extremism, and undermining of democratic principles further illustrate the BJP’s detrimental impact. While these Western reports and commentaries may have limited influence, they represent a necessary pushback and may contribute to halting and reversing the negative trends witnessed in India.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Ali Khan Bangash
The author is an MPhil student in International Relations at Quaid Azam University, Islamabad.
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