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Whither India?

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Message Arshad M Khan

The US federal cabinet currently has 24 members, the UK cabinet has 22, Germany has 14, France has 16 ministries but one person can be in charge of more than one. Therefore Mr. Modi's latest announcement regarding his new cabinet -- he has had a reshuffle -- might come as a surprise.

Mr. Modi, who has now fashioned his beard and hair to resemble less a politician than a mystic, is worried. His answer to the cataclysmic and mishandled covid epidemic and the slowing economy has been cabinet enlargement. His new government -- try to guess the size (hint: imagine a number, then double it) -- consists of 77 cabinet members. Exactly how and where this cabinet meets remains an open question.

Given the enormous variety of India, one can wonder how many native languages the ministers speak and what will be the cabinet's language of discourse. Most people from the southern part of India are not fluent in Hindi. It leaves English or rather Indian English as a last resort.

Is India still a democracy? It is a question the Wall Street Journal asked in a piece on April 15, 2021, answering itself in the headline as 'the answer isn't so clear'. Swedish V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) describes it as an 'electoral autocracy' and Freedom House, which assesses freedom across the world, has changed its status from 'free' to 'partly free' (Indian-held Kashmir is designated 'not free'). Particularly galling to Indians must be that they have now joined archrival Pakistan, to which they always felt superior in the democracy leagues, for it also is labeled 'partly free'.

The essence of Indian democracy has to be respect for minorities and their rights... for India is a land of minorities wedded together by the concept of Indian nationhood. It is a country where 22 major languages are recognized in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. Thus labeled scheduled languages, these are spoken by 96.71 percent of the people according to the last census. Also 121 languages are spoken by 10,000 or more persons.

Not just language, but religion also separates people. There are Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs in addition to the majority Hindus. Their numbers are not insignificant: Over 204 million Muslims, 20 million Sikhs, 8.5 million Buddhists and 28 million Christians constitute sizable minorities.

In Goerge Orwell's Animal Farm, all animals were equal except for pigs who were more equal than others. In Mr. Modi's conception of his India, Hindus are more equal than others. Destroying the equality of minorities has the effect of rending the fabric of freedom and democracy. For example, his Citizenship Amendment Act legislates an easier route to Indian citizenship for persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan; it excludes Muslims.

And Modi's renewed vigorous use of the National Security Act (NSA) -- passed in 1980 after the end of Indira Gandhi's period of emergency -- allows him to detain dissidents if considered a danger to India's security for up to twelve months -- essentially a jail sentence without a trial.

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Arshad M Khan is a former Professor. Educated at King's College London, Oklahoma State University and the University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. He was elected a Fellow of the (more...)
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