Modi exposes weaknesses of India’s democratic institutions

Western Indian state Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is BJP’s (i.e., the Hindu right wing party) Prime Ministerial candidate in the 2014 General Elections. Sad, the man accused of Gujarat pogrom in 2002, the man in the controversy for a number of fake encounter cases of innocent civilians, the man known for his dirty and unbridled tongue, the man whose wife is languishing in a remote village still awaiting a call from her husband to join him, and the man now at the centre of a controversy of using anti-terrorism squad in the state to stalk a girl for his passions, is the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate! As if India did not have less corrupt, less controversial, less communal, less respectable men or women to head their prime ministerial race! Or the BJP in not capable of finding such? Read further:
by TK Arun
The report that Amit Shah made the Gujarat police carry out extensive, intrusive and wholly illegal surveillance of a young woman at Narendra Modi’s behest in 2009 casts a dark shadow on Indian democracy. The decision of all major news channels to keep mum on the revelation constitutes its penumbra.

The point is not that there was anything scurrilous about Modi’s relations with the girl — her own father says that he asked his friend Modi to keep an eye on her — but the blatant disregard for individual liberties the surveillance entailed, its illegality and the largescale misuse of policing resources it involved. The episode offers a glimpse into the illiberal, authoritarian nature of the government run by BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in his home state. Do Indians want to replicate this at the national level?

Modi supporters have been trying to defend their leader by denying the authenticity of the report. Some ask, why has this come out only after four years? The official BJP response has been to say that there is nothing to clarify after the father’s clarification.

The father’s statement, in fact, provides confirmation that the alleged surveillance of a young woman by Gujarat police forces, brought out by two web sites, Gulail and Cobra Post, did take place and that the man responsible for carrying it out was Narendra Modi. A case filed by an IAS officer charging the Gujarat government of foisting false corruption cases on him — he is the same person that Shah wanted the police to keep tabs on to check if he had any contact with the girl — provides indirect support.

The point is not whether Modi had the girl followed by anti-terrorism snoops out of regard for her father or for some other reason. The point is the illegality of the operation and contempt for civil liberties it entailed. It also showed the fragility of democratic institutions in the country.

The police force in Gujarat was easily complicit in this operation and in several other operations that resulted in dead bodies now being investigated for fake encounters. The saving grace is that one police officer felt it prudent to record his instructions from the minister. Those recordings have now brought the matter out in the open.

The matter calls for thorough investigation, besides an explanation from Amit Shah and Narendra Modi. And the investigation should conclude with despatch. Whether Modi indeed had such illegal surveillance carried out has considerable bearing on his eligibility to become the head of India’s democracy.

A related point is the stability and strength of the institutions of Indian democracy. Some people cite such strength to argue that Narendra Modi poses no serious threat to democracy. Even if he has anti-democratic instincts, our institutions would not only protect themselves but also work on him to reform him, they argue. This is nonsense.

India’s democracy is still young and evolving. It is weak and malleable in many places, vulnerable to opportunistic pressure from those in power. The hold of dynasties on public imagination itself is a sign of institutional weakness of our democracy. Endemic corruption and collusion of the civil service in that corruption are further testimony to institutional deficiency. The long delays in the judicial process and often arbitrary nature of judicial interventions show that the judiciary, too, is no unshakable pillar of democracy.

Parliament has become a platform for partisan conflict. Bills languish while members stage protests inside the House and behave as if walking out in a huff is an integral part of their work. The Goods and Services Tax, a key reform that the economy sorely needs, has been held hostage to opportunistic and obstructionist politicking. The Opposition behaves as if its only job is to oppose anything the government does.

The media has hardly been faultless. In response to the growing complexity of an interconnected globalising world of business and politics, the media has responded not with reportage, analysis and commentary that helps digest that complexity but with sensationalism or glib simplification. But the silence with which our normally vociferous television channels greeted the current expose by two websites shows something darker than mere incompetence.

LK Advani’s most memorable comment is that on the behaviour of the media during the Emergency. Asked to bend, he said, the media chose to crawl. The creeping past might not altogether be past, the silence of the TV channels suggests.


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