Many government efforts to subvert democracy are “legal” in the sense that they are approved by the legislature or accepted by courts. They may even be portrayed as efforts to improve democracy – making the judiciary more efficient, combating corruption, or cleaning up the process… write Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in “This is How Democracies Die.”
10:55am: It was October 30, 1922. A thin fog was hanging in the air. Clad in black suit jacket, a black shirt, and sporting a matching black hat, a gentleman got off an overnight sleeping car in Rome. The city was in great turmoil.
The man walked up to the king’s Qurinal Palace. He had come to take the premiership from the King and bring the unrest under control. The gentleman was none other than Benito Mussolini. He brought the law under order. And the Italian stock market soared. The rest is history. He was an outsider to Rome.
A group of political outsiders – Adolf Hitler, Getulio Vagras in Brazil, Alberto Fujimori in Peru and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela – came to power by winning elections. Even America, considered father of modern democracy, could not pass the test when elected a President with a little loyalty to democracy.
India, too, has witnessed such politicians and had her share of experience of a totalitarian government. In 1970’s the people of India saw the rise of Indira Gandhi, and in 2014, cashing in on the popular mandate (though there are allegations of EVM management), an outsider to Delhi took over the reins of power.
Unlike blatant dictators, elected autocrats maintain a veneer of democracy while eviscerating its substance. The Constitution and other nominally democratic institutions remain in place under them. People, blind to the backsliding of their political masters, do not immediately realise what is happening. They still vote them to power, believing they are living under a democracy.
There is no single moment in which the regime obviously “crosses the line” into dictatorship, nothing may set off society’s alarm bells. Those who denounce government abuse may be dismissed as exaggerating or crying wolf. Democracy’s erosion is, for many, almost imperceptible.
Newspapers still publish but are bought off or bullied into self-censorship. Journalists who try to bring forth the truth before the people are brazenly being threatened with life allegedly by government-sponsored “fringe elements”, because they don’t want to hear anything against the ideology of their party. Citizens continue to criticise the government but often find themselves facing tax or other legal troubles. This sows public confusion.
The situation in the country is alarming. Democracy, which was on its deathbed since long, particularly after the general election and Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland assembly elections, has finally been laid to rest following the assembly elections and its aftermath in Karnataka State. But, thank God! The BJP’s two-day chief minister BS Yeddyurappa has, after delivering an emotional speech in the House, breathed it to life while relinquishing the seat to HD Kumaraswamy, the claimant from the Congress-JDS combine.
Given to the present political condition in the country, the resurrection of democracy is seems to be very difficult, but not impossible. Let’s hope for the best, for “hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.”
Assembly elections in Karnataka state have produced a fractured verdict with no party getting a clear majority. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with 104 seats has emerged as the single-largest party, while the ruling Congress got 78 seats and the JD(S) 38. Two independent candidates have also emerged victorious in this election.
The cliffhanging situation had left everybody guessing that who will form the government in Karnataka. Both the BJP, which is short of eight seats to reach a simple majority, and the Congress-JD(S)-combine, which has 117 MLAs, have claimed to form the government. However, setting aside the Congress-JDS’s claim, Governor Vajubhai Vala, who still has his lien in the RSS, gave the BJP chief ministerial candidate Yeddyurappa a chance to rule the state with an uncommonly inordinate time of 15 days to prove majority on the floor of the House.
Once bitten, twice shy. The Congress, which had cried “murder of democracy” after the BJP cobbled up post-poll coalitions in Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya and Bihar, this time played smart by swiftly making a post-poll alliance with the JD(S) and has paid back to its opponent in the same coin.
Appalled by the Congress alacrity, the BJP leaders this time found the tables turned in Karnataka. “More surprising was HD Kumaraswamy whose party benefited from our strategy… and then he agreed to go with the Congress,” a BJP source said.
The mood in the BJP, which was euphoric when trends during the day suggested it was going to cross the half-way mark in Karnataka, turned sombre once it became clear that a simple majority would elude the party.
It is true that “Cheaters never win and winners never cheat”. There was a feeling in the BJP that it had been outsmarted by its rival despite holding the “advantages”. And it was true also. If you sow wind, you will reap whirlwind. How can you expect good from others, when you have done evil to them through and through?
Instead of justifying the injustice done to others, leaders of political parties should introspect what went wrong with them. Leaving the attitude of what we have done is ethical and the opponent unethical, they should accept their failures, for failure is nothing more than a chance to revise your strategy.
Addressing party workers at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the Karnataka results was an “unparalleled and unprecedented win” and “I want to assure the people of Karnataka that the BJP will not allow the state’s development journey to be trampled upon”.
Though the BJP did not have the simple majority, the party leadership with the explicit approval of the Governor formed government under BS Yeddyurappa. As the party has failed to buy the required member of MLAs within the 24- hour time given by the Supreme Court, the government lasted only for two days and Yeddyurappa has to make a shameful exit on the third day.
After a tougher-than-expected victory in Gujarat last year, the Karnataka poll result is seems to be not much impetus-giving for the BJP, considering the tactics and sources the party has used in the state. The party had deployed over 40 ‘star campaigners’, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed 21 rallies in the state, the BJP national president Amit Shah and droves of Union Ministers, besides the Bellary brothers.
The Karnataka results, ahead of three tough state elections later this year in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, may well energise the party cadres. The BJP is in power in all three states and faces the challenge of overcoming anti-incumbency.
The general perception among pollsters and political pundits going into the 2019 elections is that the BJP may not hit the majority mark of 272 in the Lok Sabha as it did in 2014, and may therefore have to depend on its allies to cobble together a majority. But even if that happens, Modi’s political clout might ensure that he remains the prime minister.
Among a host of challenges, rising global crude oil prices and a depreciating rupee in particular threaten to derail to government’s fiscal math and it could miss its fiscal deficit target of 3.3% of GDP for the current financial year.