Varshney’s hypothesis is that political ideology played a central role in first creating the democracy and now weakening it.
The founders of independent India believed in democracy
Over time, as its politics became more fragmented, politicians thought democracy was in their interest, too, since it allowed them hope to fight another day.
But today’s Hindu nationalists have a different point of view: for them, a true Indian must be a Hindu. Their critics are “anti-national” and so inherently treasonous.
This perspective justifies administrative and legal action against independent voices in universities, think-tanks and the media. The government can now designate any individual a terrorist based on personal writings, speeches, social media posts, or literature found in their possession
According to Rahul Mukherji, close to 17,000 civil society organisations have been denied registration or renewal since 2015.
Moreover, minority rights, especially of Muslims, are under attack, not just through the law or administrative decrees, but also through vigilante violence.
Majoritarians argue that they are entitled to do what they wish because they won
But a dictatorship of the majority is still a dictatorship.
Moreover, without freedom of association and opinion, an opposition cannot function
Rahul Gandhi, a leading opposition politician, has been sentenced to two years in prison for remarks he has made on Modi
Such intimidation makes a competitive democracy infeasible
Moreover, as is too often the case in first-past-the post multi-party elections, the BJP won a huge majority of seats in 2019, despite winning fewer than 40 per cent of votes. This is hardly a true majority.
Encouragingly, a recent report from the UN Development Programme argues that between 2005 and 2021, 415mn people were lifted out of “multidimensional poverty”, and the incidence of poverty declined from 55 per cent to 16 per cent.
The most rapid declines occurred in the poorest states and union territories. The Modi government must take a good part of the credit for this.
At the same time, as Ashoka Mody notes, the employment record of India is persistently poor
A crucial failure is India’s low (and falling) female participation rate
Moreover, the growth rate has not accelerated under the BJP. Even today’s “India stack” of universal digital access and the successful direct distribution of welfare payments derives from the unique identity system created by Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys, when Manmohan Singh was prime minister.
Moreover, strong and centralised government can make big mistakes. Demonetisation in 2016 was such a mistake
Another was the Covid lockdown in March 2020, which forced some 40mn migrant workers to return home, many of them on foot. Moreover, such governments frequently have over-close relations with business cronies. This one seems to be no exception.