With the country’s top-notch universities going to polls, JNUSU on 8th September and DUSU on 12th September, we celebrate the International Day for Democracy on 15th September amidst intolerance for dissent and curbed free spaces in universities.
Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Since centuries, the disciplines of politics, philosophy, law, sociology etc. have revolved around the notions of power and rights – be it of the state or of the people. Questions of sovereignty, national interest, natural rights, freedom, legitimacy, coercion, rule of law etc. have been raised to, for, and against state power. Many theorists and intellectuals of the liberal tradition maintain that where the roots of democracy are not ingrained deeply and people’s civil liberties face threats constantly, societies soon fall into the trap of authoritarianism. They are then susceptible to radical change through social movements and rebellion. This happened once in India during the late 60s and early 70s, when people faced a serious crisis of inflation and drought in 1966-67, already draining resources, and a fragile economy due to the three wars fought in 1962, 1965 and 1971. With a corrupt government ready to stifle dissent and reward the supporters of despotism, we saw the ascent of the Naxalbari Movement in Bengal and the JP movement in Gujarat. The government’s immediate response to such uprisings was the brutal suppression of the dissenters, finally giving way to the imposition of an internal Emergency in 1975, which is still commemorated as the darkest phase for democracy in India. Maybe, as the liberals put it, ‘our democracy had still not matured and we fell into trap of absolutism’, and thus Lord Acton’s remark for Indira’s India proved right.
In 2014, we saw the rise of another party which won with a sweeping majority with the help of a charismatic demagogue. Issues of tolerance, or rather intolerance, jobless growth, majoritarianism, what to eat, or better, what not to eat, censorship of artistic freedom or the of teaching Indian values (#SANSKAAR), moral policing in the form Anti-Romeo squads etc. have resurfaced in the political scene. Cows are safer in this country than women. Draconian, archaic sedition laws which were a part of British Raj are being used to infiltrate university spaces, army tanks are placed to instil nationalism when there are already problems regarding hostels, a journalist who spoke her mind has been killed and a girl who raises her opinion is bombarded with rape threats. In this atmosphere, the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) and Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) polls will happen. Whereas in one, debate and ideology play a crucial role for the winning party, in the other, caste and muscle-money power rule the results. Even after 70 years, we believe that holding an election is the crux of any democracy, both in the national scenario as well as at the university level. Though we may not be facing the dark times of Emergency again, with the judiciary being our knight-in-shining-armour (as the Triple Talaq case, right to privacy and other cases demonstrate), Modi’s “New India” is still treading upon the same path as Indira’s India. On this International Day for Democracy, let’s question whether our civil-political liberties and economic, social, and cultural rights are intact or not – whether our 70 year old democracy has matured or not.
Feature Image Credits: The Hindu