India World’s Largest Democracy: Myth or Reality?

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The Myth of Indian Democracy

By Ahyousha Khan   25 January 2022

The end of the 20th century witnessed several democratic victories as Cold War ended with the victory of democratic norms and values over communism. These victories were so much hyped at that time that it was called the “Age of Democratic revolutions”. However, 21st century in its second decade witnessed the rise of “ultranationalist” or “populist” governments is many of the famous democracies all over the world, which give rise to conflicting relations, human rights violations, and extreme policies. However, this rise of “ultra-nationalism” give birth to many questions such as is the rise of such governments the price states are paying for adopting democratic norms, people choose these governments in democratic structures because of the inherent flaws in their societal structures or because societies themselves are more influenced by the extreme ideologies. Last but not the least, maybe this rise could be because the international system was too infatuated with the idea of the “age of democratic revolutions” that it actually did not give importance to how states adopted the norms and values of democratic systems, whether they actually are eligible to be even declared as democratic states. One such example is the so-called title of “World’s largest Democracy” given to the South Asian state, India.

Beyond any reasonable doubt, India is a big state with a population of 1.3 billion and an area of 3,287,263 sq. km. India is also a nuclear power that has ambitions to become hegemony in the region and aspire to become a global power. Because of its size and population, India is a lucrative market, which gives it an edge in today’s capitalist, realist national interest-based international system. Moreover, this edge of economic opportunities also gives it room to violate many international norms and human rights and yet could claim the title of the “World’s Largest Democracy”. India always claimed that its forefathers laid its foundations on the basis of “secularism” and India is a “multi-plural state” but in the last decade India under influence of the RSS ideology adopted and led by the current Modi lead BJP regime has embraced “ultra-nationalism”. The Indian state and government are involved in continuous violations of human rights, especially the rights of minorities in the country. Furthermore, it has the audacity to take unilateral actions on UNO-recognized bilateral international disputes like Kashmir. It is continuously involved in igniting confrontational relationships with its neighbors and pursuing belligerent and destabilizing policies in and around its neighborhood. The question arises here that should a country follow the democratic norms can be this brazen? That it cannot recognize the basic human right of “self-determination” of Kashmiri people or cannot protect the minorities living in its territory. Or do its state ministers declare at national levels that the county only belongs to the “Hindus”? Or it could violate the international agreements and begin its nuclear program by diverting nuclear material for peaceful uses to build its nuclear program and yet many years down the road could secure a waiver from the international export control cartel and become the major strategic partner of global power.

Thus, it is necessary that democracy should be measured through strong democratic norms. Thus democracy is measured through strong democratic norms inclusiveness willing participation of the public at large in the democratic process and principle of equality exist in the Indian democracy which is today committing atrocities against minorities depriving lower class Hindus of basic civil rights, attacking religious places of minorities, suppressing religious freedom and has previously forcefully annexed many territories such as Goa, Hyderabad, and Arunachal Pradesh. Moreover, it has also backed foot from the promises that it made to the people of Kashmir at the united nation in the United Nations Security Council resolution 47.

These all incidents reflect one major shortfall, which is that the international system which is based on national interest is not considerate enough to actually realize what actually is democracy? What are the democratic norms? People part of the quasi-democratic system committing gross atrocities against fellow humans cannot be called followers of the democratic system. Democracy is more than just numbers. It is an idea that the choice of every individual matters. That choice is not just the choice of selecting an individual to represent them but that choice is valid in other spheres of life as well, where a person has the right of “self-determination”, right to practice “religion”, right to pursue “business” and most importantly “right to live”. Thus, it can be said that this rise in populism is not just a new phenomenon, it is just these societies were practicing these extreme rightist policies, it was actually the international system that was disguising the ground realities in some rosy picture.