This is how a Republic dies

This is how a Republic dies

IN PERSPECTIVE

Representative image. (Credit: PTI)

Blatant lies, mass arrests and internet shutdowns displayed in large bold letters on the covers of every newspaper. Students attacked, libraries invaded, gas shells fired, you would think the country is in the throes of a civil war or a coup.

The end of 2019 has seen one of the most bizarre occurrences in independent India’s history. Scores of people, the old, young, the disabled and the enabled are protesting against an unconstitutional blight that has been passed in the name of the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Instead of rectifying refugee laws, the government has taken a blatant discriminatory stance on religious grounds.

Many have pointed out the problems with the bill and its unconstitutional nature. Debates abound on the idealistic nature of democracies and practical challenges and ground realities. Some of those are based on reason and others, pure rhetoric.

First principles of a liberal democracy includes the consent of losers. And yet, despite the aggressive backlash, lies are being peddled, protests silenced and media is being clamped down. It is strange that such regressive political movements are being peddled as progressive manoeuvres, and with support. People’s prejudices have been stoked and while freedom of expression permits articulation of prejudices, it is startlingly one-sided.

What is happening in India is largely reflective of a major part of the developed world. The ripple effects of regressive political stances mercilessly are spreading across nation-states. Most liberal democracies have gone through numerous churns of marginalised groups adjusting to a country’s laws. 

Sometimes they have been coerced, subjugated and compelled to obey through violent means while in others, the transition has been much more peaceful.

Religious, cultural and ethnic identities have become malleable, through science, economic progress, and bridging of cultural gaps via social media. And yet, these same mechanisms have been used by ideological demagogues to stoke the fires of anxiety, insecurity, and cultural superiority. 

History is a silent spectator. Ideological movements have slowly gathered momentum across the world placing individuals with dogmatic strains in positions of power. The realignment of communities across the world is breaking down, with fears of liberal democracies subsuming ideologies and making them irrelevant.

It would be foolish to assume that the horror and the hate of the hour are a result of only the ruling government’s actions. Our prejudices run deeper, our hatred much stronger, and our eyes blinded by the fanned flames of our divisive biases.

The demise of modern republics are subtle. It is no longer about storming ministries and residences of the political elite like a classic coup d’etat, but moulding the fabric of society towards hate. 

It is the powerful stoking the anxiety of communal disharmony, maintaining a semblance of peace, allowing constitutional bodies to remain as it is, all the while subverting the methods, mechanisms, and the laws to the benefit of those in power.

When heinous crimes happen, the law is powerless to stop it. When mob justice becomes accepted as a norm. Where unconstitutional bills get passed without much debate. This is how a republic dies.

When newspapers tow the government line, when shortcuts and incompetence come disguised as efforts to clean up the economy or the judiciary, when small actions incrementally devalue the very laws and principles it was meant to uphold, that is when a republic dies.

Manipulating institutions

When elected representatives weaponise the media, manipulate institutions, openly endorse hatred, and when people, academics, the experienced, and the anyone with an opposing view get silenced or bullied into subservience, that is when a republic dies.

A similar churn in India. 

A storm is raging in the minds of people, tensions palpable in the air we breathe. For too long have we made enemies and villains out of normal men and women, and blamed them for our misdeeds, to hide our own fallacies. Today religions fulfill these roles, tomorrow it will be castes and sub-castes.

The people will do well to remember the preamble of our Constitution. These are pivotal points in a country’s making that will define the road a country takes. It takes naught to sully the protesting fervour. But its perseverance is a testament to a republic’s undying spirit.

The world has been witness to countless events where perceived superiority of a race, deliberate denigration of religions and collective hatred have resulted in disasters to life on a global scale. Our two world wars, the many genocides in history and the inhuman brutality of the Third Reich are enough proof. 

India doesn’t need this hatred. The collective power of people has temporarily turned the tide for they would even prefer the fear of the unknown to laws based on religious segregation.

Make no mistake. This is how it starts. We have seen how it ends. The future stands in witness and is asking us the questions. Is this how a republic died? Or is this how a republic is saved?

(The writer is Editor and Programme Manager at the Takshashila Institution)

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