Under threat in the world’s largest democracy is democracy itself

MPs Suspension

What has happened in India’s parliament in the last few days is a clear indicator of how this country will be run if BJP comes back to power in 2024. Our parliament has seen many highs and many lows since independence, but never in the history of independent India have we plunged into such depths. Under threat in the world’s largest democracy is democracy itself.

On December 13, 2023, two individuals, Manoranjan and Sagar Sharma, jumped into the Lok Sabha chamber of the parliament from the visiting gallery and released yellow gas from smoke canisters. They had smuggled the canisters into the parliament in cavities cut into the soles of their shoes. Apart from releasing the yellow gas, these intruders were heard shouting anti-government slogans. This happened in the zero hour when MPs were present in the chamber.

Two others, Anmol and Neelam, were seen protesting outside the Parliament with similar smoke canisters. The main grievance of the protesters against the government was the high rate of unemployment prevalent in the country. All four, along with the alleged mastermind, Lalit Jha, are now under the custody of the Delhi Police. Passes to these protesters were provided on the recommendation of BJP MP Pratap Simha.

This breach of security happened exactly 22 years after the Parliament attack of 2001, which resulted in 14 deaths, including the deaths of five perpetrators. The entire security system set up at the parliament was overhauled after the 2001 parliament attack by the Ministry of Home Affairs. But the enhanced security mechanism couldn’t stop this breach of security. Imagine what would have happened if these protesters had used explosives far more sinister than smoke canisters. This was a very serious security lapse on the part of those responsible for the security of the parliament.

The home minister had a responsibility to make a statement in parliament on the seriousness of the situation, admitting the security lapses that led to this breach, pointing out the immediate steps taken in the aftermath of the incident, and the long-term measures that will be taken to make sure that such incidents are not repeated ever again. This was not done, and the opposition demanded the same. The government refused to budge, and the exchanges became acrimonious. Agitated opposition members brought placards to the house and resorted to sloganeering.

The government’s response was brutal, unprecedented, and against all democratic norms. In a matter of three days, 143 MPs in India’s parliament were suspended. 97 out of a total of 522 Lok Sabha MPs and 46 out of 238 Rajya Sabha MPs. Some were suspended for the remaining period of the winter session of the parliament, while others were referred to the privileges committee. Those referred to the privileges committee will have to wait at least 3 months to come back to parliament, if at all they are allowed back. We all know what happened to Mahua Moitree. After being referred to the ethics committee, she was expelled from parliament.

What the government did after the suspension of MPs was even more atrocious. Three amended bills that repeal and replace criminal laws that date back to the colonial era were passed with a voice vote in the Lok Sabha in the absence of 97 MPs who were suspended. The bills passed were the Bharatiya Nyaya (second) Sanhita Bill (BNSS), the Bharatiya Sakshya (second) Bill (BSS), and the Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha (second) Sanhita Bill (BNSSS). The Union Home Minister, who refused to make a statement on the security breach, moved an amendment to BNSS.

The actions of this government point to what’s in store for us if the BJP comes back to power in 2024. It’s obvious that the recent electoral victories are what emboldened the government to take such harsh steps. Imagine what they will attempt if Modi gets a third term. On top of that, the delimitation exercise due in 2026 will increase the number of MPs from the Hindi heartland, a region where the BJP reigns supreme. If the BJP comes back to power in 2024, they are going to stay in power with a brute majority for a long, long time.

So the question is, what are we to expect if BJP wins the election in 2024? This is a very difficult question to answer now, as no one can predict what these people are capable of. Going by what they have done so far, we can expect them to steamroll legislative processes to get their way; expulsions and suspensions of elected representatives will no longer be a rare step but a routine process. The Constitution will be thoroughly amended or even totally replaced. States will lose their rights as the federal structure of our nation will be tampered with. We shouldn’t be surprised if the presidential form of governance is adopted. India will start to look more like those countries in the Middle East and Africa where presidents rule by decree rather than by constitutional guidelines.

Minorities and other peripheral sections of society will get further marginalised, and their rights will get further eroded. Post-truth politics will become the norm. Language and cultural imposition, suppression of dissent, etc. will be the order of the day. The result will be the deep and widespread alienation of different sections of society. In other words, if Modi comes back to power in 2024, this nation will witness the erosion of democracy and the rise of new conflicts. Under threat in the world’s largest democracy is democracy itself.

Shakeel Mohammed P.A. is a social worker based in Kochi.

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