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India: Civil society, democratic culture feats since independence

On eve of India's Independence Day, experts say current phase of politics can puncture country's aspirations and ethos

Cheena Kapoor  | 14.08.2020 - Update : 14.08.2020
India: Civil society, democratic culture feats since independence


While praising India’s desire to become a $5 trillion economy in the next few years, experts believed that moving away from secularism and traditional pluralistic culture could puncture the country’s grand aspirations.

They, however, differ, whether the recent Hindu nationalistic upsurge, targeting of minorities and Islamophobic tendencies is a permeant phenomenon in the Indian polity.

Coinciding country’s 74th Independence Day which is being celebrated on Aug. 15, Anupama Roy, professor at India’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in capital Delhi, described the current phase in Indian political landscape a “mere interruption”.

She said the country can take pride in developing a robust civil society, democratic culture, and institutions over the past 73 years, since it became a free country at the stroke of midnight on Aug. 15, 1947.

But William Dalrymple, acclaimed author, and historian believed that the current phase in the Indian political system was damaging its constitution and spirit.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Roy, said India has successfully installed electoral democracy, institutions of representation, an independent judiciary, and robust civil society.

She, however, added that there have been instances of deferral of democracy due to the desire of specific regimes to establish a strong state and acquire more power.

“The idea that India could chart out an independent course for itself without aligning itself with any ideological block and provide a node from which politics of a different kind can emanate has over the years taken different forms,” she said.

Dalrymple, however, pointed out that even though India has witnessed huge economic growth over the past seven decades, the current political regime has been damaging the values of the constitution.

He recalled that India had developed substantial social relations with its neighbors in the 1970s, but they have worsened in the last decade. In comparison, smaller neighbors Bangladesh and Nepal have done much better.

“There has been a negative development, in terms of secular polity, which is similar to what is happening around the world. The worldwide trend is towards right-wing and given the current problems, India is susceptible to it,” he added.

Stronger opposition required

Dalrymple counted that the “messianic” worship of the current prime minister and the lynching of the Muslims are some of the factors threatening the secularity of the country. He said that the only way out to combat this worrying trend is to have a stronger opposition.

Roy, however, described the phase as an “mere interruption” and not something that would become a permanent aspect of India’s politics.

“The nature of secular polity in India is very special which does not imply a wall of separation between religion and the state but a principled distance between the two. Secularism has been the foundation of constitutional democracy in India,” she said.

Disagreements apart, both experts believed that India has achieved quite a lot since its independence ranging from establishing a good healthcare infrastructure to a better education system.

Roy said that despite predictions that democracy in India would not last long, the country has established one of most resilient democratic systems in the world which “draws sustenance from a constitutional morality which binds citizens and the state alike.”

Dalrymple pointed out while the economic and healthcare achievements are successes, but he also reminded that neighboring China has also attained a lot more in terms of social development, technology, and defense.

“India has not seen a famine since 1947, life expectancy has increased, there is spread of riches, the healthcare and nutrition sector has seen huge growth- thus India has achieved a lot, but it could do better. China is still 30 years ahead of India on these indicators,” he said.

On the relevance of India’s freedom icon Mahatma Gandhi as Hindu nationalists currently in power have been critical of him, Roy said he (Gandhi) will continue to be relevant and even more in the present context.

She said an honest and concerted effort was required not to reduce Gandhi to an empty icon, but bring back the substantive aspects of his ethical politics, that is, sacrifice, non-violence, and harmony between religious communities, in political practice.

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