India may be the world’s largest democracy, but under Prime Minister Narendra Modi the country is sliding inexorably towards autocracy. In his six years in office, Modi has presided over an increase in arrests, intimidation and the alleged torture of lawyers, journalists and activists who speak out against him. His Hindu nationalist government has amended its citizenship laws to favour Hindus over Muslims and has pledged to create a national register of citizens, prompting concern that millions of Muslims with inadequate paperwork will be unable to qualify for citizenship. Modi doesn’t like to hear dissent: while in power he has not held a single press conference or given any unscripted interviews. Several international organisations have now marked India as only ‘partly free’ or as a ‘flawed democracy’. This great, vibrant, argumentative country with a proud history of debate has never seen anything like this prime minister: Narendra Modi is the most serious threat Indian democracy has ever faced.
That’s the argument of the Modi-bashers, but polls show Modi’s approval ratings are among the highest among world leaders. And for good reason: his government has tackled corruption and government inefficiency and the economy has flourished. Modi’s phenomenal energy and oratorical skills, his leveraging of social media, and his successful provision of public goods such as housing, sanitation and cooking gas should not be discounted. His swift response to the pandemic – he ordered a total lockdown of the entire country in March 2020 – demonstrated his decisive leadership. On the diplomatic front, Modi can boast of the growing ties between the US and India as a key foreign policy achievement. Far from being a threat to India’s democracy, Modi has galvanised the country. His popularity suggests he would be re-elected tomorrow if an election were to be held. If Indian democracy was in such jeopardy wouldn’t voters just pick someone else?
So say the supporters of Modi but which side is right? Join the debate, hear the arguments and decide for yourself.
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