India celebrates ‘Republic Day’ on the 26th of January every year to commemorate the enactment of its constitution on the same day in 1950. As per World Bank’s 2020 data, India is home to 1.38 billion people making it the world’s second-largest population after China. As per some other estimates, India’s population is now 1.4 billion in 2022. This means that 1/6th of the world’s total population lives in India. Whereas, its total area is 3.287 million km² which is the seventh-largest in the world. India claims itself as the world’s largest democracy and a secular country with the size of its electorate is 900 million voters as per the latest estimates. However, such a huge size of the country and a mere population aren’t the only fundamentals of claiming oneself as the world’s largest and pure democracy. This doesn’t even guarantee that the pure democratic norms and practices are followed in the electoral processes and the whole polity. Even though the above numbers can make India the world’s largest democracy only on paper, there are myths about Indian democracy and secularism that are needed to be busted.
There are many fundamental attributes of democracy only by following which a country could claim itself as a pure and secular democracy or for that matter the ‘largest democracy. These primarily include; but are not only limited to, strong democratic values and norms within the society, inclusiveness, willingness of the general public at large in the democratic process, and most importantly the principle of equality for all the masses regardless of their religion, caste and gender. Unfortunately, any of these attributes hardly exist in the Indian democracy. In addition to these, alienation of minorities in general and Muslims in particular, the freedom struggles in various parts of the country; Kashmir, Punjab, Red corridor states and Southern parts, and the deprived lower Hindi classes from basic rights are candid examples that question the inclusiveness, secularism, and practice of democratic norms within the Indian democracy.
The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, himself a born child of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a fundamentalist organization working for the promotion of Hindutva fascist ideology, was responsible for the massacre of the Muslims in the Indian state of Gujrat back in 2002. Further, the religious freedom of the Muslims has been deliberately suppressed by the RSS mindset which is currently ruling the country in the form of BJP. In recent years, since the BJP’s Modi-led extremist government is in power in India, there has been a considerable increase in attacks on religious places of minorities specifically the Muslims. There have been various reported incidents every day about the suppression of Muslims in India. Even in some of the incidents, Muslims have been brutally killed by Hindu extremists. All these incidents indicate that Muslims have no religious freedom in India, which is one of the fundamentals of democracy.
If one goes back in history, the famous incident of Babri Mosque of 1992, when a large gathering of extremists of the BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) completely demolished the historical Babri Mosque and the then BJP government was unable to do anything. Even know the culprits are not being fairly held accountable. Since the Indian Supreme Court, back in November 2019 gave a discriminatory decision regarding the demolition of the Barbi Mosque. The court ironically protected the Hindu extremists in the pretext of preserving the balance between the Hindus and Muslims. As of now, as directed by the Supreme Court in its decision, the BJP government has established a Trust for the construction of ‘Ram Temple’ at the Babri Mosque site. This clearly shows that even the Indian Judiciary was under the pressure of Hindu extremists and it deliberately protected them.
In the same vein, the Indian claim of the world’s largest democracy and secularism significantly becomes void given the Indian track record of forceful annexations. For instance, India has annexed the territories of Goa, Hyderabad, Junagarh, and Arunachal Pradesh. Most recently it has politically annexed the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir with the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A of its constitution. The hypocrisy inherent in the Indian democracy is further evident from the very fact that to date, it has deliberately not fulfilled the promise of plebiscite made to the people of Kashmir in 1948 under the UN resolution 47. Moreover, the promises it has made to the people of Assam, Nagaland, and the deception with the Sikh Community raise serious concerns on the credibility of the Indian claim of being the largest democracy in the world. Similarly, the ‘Citizen Amendment Bill’ (CAB) of 2019 is also an Indian attempt to justify its anti-Muslim agenda.
So in all, despite the Indian much-hyped and self-proclaimed notions of secularism and the world’s largest democracy; just because of its huge size and population, the fact remains that the practice of democratic norms within the Indian democracy is nothing more than hypocrisy. There is no religious freedom for the minorities in particular and Muslims in general. The freedom movements all across the country and the illegal annexations of various territories further add to the value of the hypocrisy inherent in the Indian democracy. Hence, the notions of democracy and secularism are just myths while the realities associated with these are way different and bitter.
*The writer is an Islamabad-based researcher and analyst. He frequently writes on issues related to regional security with a special focus on contemporary South Asia.