New Delhi: Indian democracy began to resemble Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey more than liberal European democracies like France and Britain, scholar, CNN anchor, and Washington Post said columnist Fareed Zakaria.
In conversation with ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta during Off The Cuff On Monday, Zakaria spoke about the rise of illiberal democracy in India and its possible ramifications for a diverse country.
“Unfortunately, India has moved closer to Erdogan’s Turkey instead of Britain or France,” he said.
Zakaria said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership had been deeply divisive, adding that he wondered if Modi really wanted to bring all of India together.
“What I wonder about Modi is if he really wants to bring all of India with him?” Zakaria asked.
“Modi had the ability to do something different. He knows how to bring a certain part of India together. If it were to be inclusive, it would unify India in a way that no one else could, ”he added.
Pointing out that he was one of the first to interview Modi, he said: “There are elements of Narendra Modi that I praised. He is very intelligent and a very good politician. He has a good idea of how to communicate with the average Indian.
He also expressed concerns over whether the Modi government will be held responsible for the mismanagement of Covid-19.
“Everyone’s approval ratings have been affected by their handling of the coronavirus. The United States did it wrong, its approval ratings are dropping. Germany has done well, Angela Merkel’s ratings have gone up. Greece handled the crisis wonderfully and its ratings rose. Boris Johnson did badly, his grades fell, ”he said.
Yet even in the midst of a pandemic, issues of “religion, caste, class continue to dominate the narrative” in India, Zakaria said. “It has to be seen whether the pandemic will strengthen or weaken Indian democracy.”
Zakaria also said that a fundamental feature of liberal democracy – allowing opposing voices – had deteriorated in India, adding that the erosion of the free press had contributed to this decline.
“I don’t think India has more of a free press,” he said. Media freedoms have been curtailed by the Modi government’s decision to remove ads and, more worryingly, by “self-censorship,” he said.
Moreover, Indian institutions have not been a strong enough bulwark to resist such illiberal tendencies, argued Zakaria. “They were intimidated… and all of this suggests more fragility (in Indian institutions) than I would have imagined.
Also read: Indians will regret their silence on Modi’s ever-growing list of political prisoners
Nehru developed a “culture of democracy”
Asked about the fate of India since he wrote his book, The future of freedom: illiberal democracy at home and abroad, in 2003, Zakaria said: “I have been very sad to see how Indian democracy has developed over the past few years, but there are some trends that last longer than that.
He said, “In a system where you have an element of democracy, a general element of public participation, there is a great danger that this legitimacy will allow the elected government to engage in totally anti-liberal things.
These can include “violation of constitutional rights and liberal principles of open government”, which lead to attacks against minorities and individuals. There is also an erosion of the rule of law and an erosion of the separation of powers.
Many liberal protections are “formal and legal”, but most are just standards and the “inner stuffing of democracy”.
Citing an example of democratic culture and behavior, Zakaria mentioned India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who had a majority in both Houses and government in two-thirds of Indian states.
“And yet he would sit during Question Time, patiently listening to questions from opposition parties that would have four seats. Thanks to this, he developed a culture of democracy, ”said Zakaria.
Also read: It is not an emergency. Modi and Shah use democracy to overthrow democracy
Subscribe to our channels on YouTube and Telegram
You are reading this because you value quality, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and trust.
You also know that the media is facing an unprecedented crisis. You are also likely to hear about the brutal layoffs and pay cuts plaguing the industry. There are many reasons why the media economy is broken. But the big problem is that the right people still don’t pay enough for good journalism.
We have a newsroom full of talented young reporters. We also have the strongest editing and fact-checking team in the country, top press photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic information platform. And we’re not even three years old yet.
At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time, even in these difficult times. As you may have noticed, we don’t mind spending whatever it takes to make sure our journalists get to where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example of this. You can check out some of it here.
This comes at a considerable cost. In order for us to continue to provide quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay. Because the advertising market is also broken.
If you think we deserve your support, join us in this effort to strengthen fair, free, courageous and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism and the future of ThePrint. It will only take a few seconds of your time.
Support our journalism