India’s democracy in crisis: Towards an electoral ethnocracy

News | Posted on Thursday 4 August 2022

Indrajit Roy, IGDC Co-Director and Senior Lecturer in Politics, updates us on his recent article on the subject in this blog

Image Source: Political Insight ‘India: The Hollowing Out of the World’s Largest Democracy
Image source: Political Insight ‘India: The Hollowing Out of the World’s Largest Democracy'

Moves such as a 2019 amendment to India’s citizenship laws, which explicitly links membership of the political community to religious identity, departs from the 1950 Constitution’s affirmation of equal rights for all, and further the rise of an ‘ethnic state’. Such moves signal India’s transition to an ethnocracy in which, in Oren Yiftachel’s framing, ‘a dominant ethnos gains political control and uses the state apparatus to ethnicise the territory and society in question’.

For example, under the provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Act, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Sikhs and Zoroastrians from its Muslim-majority neighbours Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, would now have their applications for citizenship fast-tracked. By explicitly omitting Muslims, Jews, Bahais and atheists from its purview, the Act introduced a religious filter that struck at the heart of the secular principles enshrined in the Constitution. Recognising the threat posed by the Act to the basic structure of the Indian constitution, millions of people across class, caste, religious and gender divides took to the streets in protest.

This domestic erosion of democracy contrasts with India’s ability to remain at the forefront of global efforts at upholding democratic principles. For example, India is a founding member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue alongside Australia, Japan and the United States. Members are explicit in their commitment to a free, open, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. 

India’s membership in light of the degradation of its democracy at home raised many eyebrows but has been accurately understood as part of western and Asian efforts to balance China’s rapid economic and military rise. 

Efforts to renew India’s democracy will need to come from internal sources. A national coalition of State-specific parties, such as the Trinamul Congress (West Bengal), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Tamil Nadu) and Aam Admi Party (Delhi), could mount an electoral challenge to the BJP ahead of the 2024 parliamentary elections. A second source is offered by social movements that could generate a groundswell of support for democratic values threatened by the present regime. Recent protests by farmers, civil society activists demanding the repeal of the Citizenship Amendment Act and students demanding the extension of affirmative actions in favour of India’s historically oppressed communities, offer some rays of hope in this direction.

Read the full Article: Roy, I. (2022) ‘India: The Hollowing Out of the World’s Largest Democracy’, Political Insight, 13(2), pp. 26–31. doi: 10.1177/20419058221108782.

 

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Interdisciplinary Global Development Centre

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Contact us

Interdisciplinary Global Development Centre

igdc@york.ac.uk
01904 323716
Department of Politics and International Relations, University of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD, UK
X