Is India still a Republic or a Monarchy?

narendra modi

On the 74th anniversary of its formation a specter haunts the Indian Republic – the specter of Monarchy.

For those who want to see or hear or feel it, the message has been proclaimed loudly from every RSS shakha in the country for decades. The coronation is all but done and only formalities remain. To be completed, perhaps in a couple of years, when the country’s parallel power center marks its centenary.

Yes, there will be elections, a parliament, a judiciary, a bureaucracy, a media – all the trappings of a modern democracy. In essence though, the country will become the fiefdom of a chosen few.

The signs of regal rule are all around us today, hanging over the ruins of the Republic that India tried to become at the time of Independence. And failed.

The Prime Minister has transformed into a King –  the first ‘Hindu Raja’ in over 1000 years – just as conceived by the Hindu Rashtra blueprint of the RSS. Decked in royal costume, guarded from subjects by numerous gunmen, far cozier with foreign counterparts than with his own people – the new monarch is above scrutiny or blame and accountable to none.

In Modi, the descendants of the old Peshwa Empire who run the RSS, have found the perfect candidate for monarch. Someone with grandiose visions of himself and seeks absolute power and loyalty – like an avatar of Lord Vishnu Himself. He also navigates the country’s electoral system like a pro – to ensure permanent hold over power – a great quality to have while handing over a Republic to Royalty.

The King’s cabinet is full of – not ministers, but warlords turned slavish courtiers. Every one of them there– not for their ability to serve the nation – but only due to His Majesty’s Grace. They are all ‘fierce defenders of the boss’ – amplifying their Master’s Voice, each competing with the other in their display of canine loyalty.

The elected Parliament – filled with political entrepreneurs – is a rubber stamp for the Raja’s whims. The powerful words of Oliver Cromwell, addressed to the Rump Parliament in Britain many centuries ago, rings true in the Indian context today, “Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money” and “Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation. You were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance”.

The Indian judiciary is being threatened into complete silence, as the wolves of the regime huff and puff away to extinguish the last few flames of its already flickering independence. The country’s legions of invertebrate officials who run the state machinery –  have obviated any such respiratory effort on part of the regime. They are always willing to crawl when only asked to bend.

Not surprisingly, all this means the Constitution – that encapsulates the idea of the Indian Republic – has turned into a worthless piece of paper. Its principles undefended, its purpose defeated by the very people who ascended to power using the freedoms it granted. As Dr B.R.Ambedkar himself pointed out long ago, “However good a constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad.” And those in power are as bad as it gets, with a capital ‘B’ – willing to do anything to rule forever.

Let me say here, the subversion of constitutional principles or republicanism is not unique to India and indeed part of an ongoing global phenomenon. Democratic institutions and concepts are being eroded steadily even in those parts of the world where they were forged originally, in the fire of social revolts and struggles against feudalism, colonialism or any system of dividing populations into masters and slaves.

Western democracies for example have been captured by powerful lobbies, representing both the traditionally wealthy and those who have accumulated immense wealth through the manipulation of ‘free market’ economic policies. In all these countries, the forces of capital have been allowed to become monopolies, under the guise of protecting property and individual rights, and have worked against democracy itself.

Even worse, while pioneers of industry and business in the past fought against the inherited privileges of aristocracies – today they have themselves become the new ‘corporate monarchs’. And to ensure political support, these moneybags have made their pacts with the Devil – allying with religious extremists or race supremacist groups – who were anathema to them just a few decades ago.

This too is not an entirely new phenomenon in the Western context though and only a case of history repeating itself. The early twentieth century saw their elites openly support fascism to blunt the challenge of socialism or calls for freedom from colonies in Asia and Africa. The great bloodshed of the two World Wars on their own soil had a sobering effect for some decades but as we can see now – whether it is the UK, mainland Europe or the USA – the forces of anti-egalitarianism and even fascism is once again on the rise.

In India too, fascism is the flavor of the season as homegrown corporate empires, seeking influence over national policies, have formed a powerful alliance with both traditional caste and social elites and wannabe political monarchs – like Narendra Modi or Amit Shah. The idea is clearly to defeat the values of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ that permeated the Indian freedom movement against British colonialism and also formed the core values of the Indian Constitution.

Isn’t the idea of a return to monarchy a fantasy and quite far-fetched? After all, we still have regular elections, separation of powers between key institutions of democracy, opposition ruled state governments and freedom for political parties to campaign and function?

Of course, nobody is saying it is going to be as simple as abruptly dumping the Constitution, abolishing electoral democracy and declaring India an absolute monarchy. The plan seems to be to continue working within the ambit of formal democracy for as long as it takes, but in a way that hollows out all its key institutions and subordinates them to the unelected Peshwas in Nagpur.

Will the anointed monarch and his backers give up power if they lose the next election? Of course, they will, if you ask them the question now. This retort however, is only for public consumption. In practice, having come this far towards their vaunted goal of the ‘Hindu Rashtra’, they have no intention of ‘losing’ any election for the foreseeable future, perhaps never.

If the seductive power of corporate money or the bulldozer of religious hatred or the coercion of the state machinery fails to work there is always the cynical card of ‘national security’. A Pulwama 2.0, to manipulate public emotions with the help of a pliant media.

Or maybe, next time it will be an actual war – easy to arrange – when you have spent all your time converting every neighbor into a potential or real enemy. The blood of the country’s martyrs will lubricate their return to power – again and again and again – for in a monarchy the people are always dispensable.

Ok. To be honest, I know I am in highly speculative territory now. And nothing I have said about what will come ahead can be proven. There are two ways to respond to this. Either we just wait and see, hope for the best. Or we keep hitting the streets or wherever needed, with all the energy we have, to make such dire predictions impossible to come true.

On this 74th Day of the Fading Republic, I choose the latter.

Satya Sagar is a journalist and public health worker who can be reached at [email protected]

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