Russia has one of the most autocratic regimes in the world. Vladimir Putin rules through fear, crushing dissent with deadly force. Moscow assassinated dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London. It attempted to murder Alexei Navalny who is in now a prison camp after returning to home. Now Putin has threatened to ban Twitter for posts asking people to rebel and free Navalny.
The irony is that Russia is technically a democracy. India has lost its cool against foreign democracy auditors downgrading its democratic status and accusing the Modi government of authoritarianism. One over-reaction does not merit another. The fault lies in the interpretation of dissent by India’s overzealous bureaucracy and media - both agencies that are more loyal than the king.
India is very much a democracy. It has vitriolic poll campaigns, hostile state governments and states where the BJP is trashed electorally and ideologically. In some of the states the BJP didn’t win, it came in through the backdoor through defections Madhya Pradesh is a glaring example.
It faces raucous rebellion in West Bengal for giving TMC defectors party tickets. Its chances of winning in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, etc. is as good as Kangana Ranaut getting an Oscar.
News television channels self-censor themselves like sarkari toadies last week alone they largely ignored major anti-government agitations by farmers, bank employees, uproar against the Kanpur gangrape and a BJP minister's sex-for-job CD scandal.
But India's robust online media does its job. A social media rule envisaged by ministers, babus and media collaborators to censor anti-government online sites is yet to be applied - perhaps its authors lack enough GK to know that elected dictatorship Nigeria was forced to withdraw a similar bill. However, seating Pakistan and India on a similar human rights bench is absurd. Pakistan is a martial democracy and has a censored press.
The ISI 'vanishes' domestic critics. Its Army is responsible for mass disappearances, rapes and imprisonment of Balochs. Prominent Baloch critic Karima died under suspicious circumstances in Canada. India’s inclusion in Quad shows the world’s confidence in its ability to counter Chinese imperialism.
But the government must curb its enthusiasm to regulate everything it deems bad press. Absurd suggestions by apparatchiks to define desi parameters of democracy should be canned. Creating its own Democracy Index through a domestic NGO smells like a cover-up.
Recently, our foreign minister called Western critics hypocrites. But interfaith or inter-race marriages do not land you in jail in the US. The West has a fiercely independent media. Sweden does not arrest critics of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven for sedition; Norwegian courts do not deny bail to a comedian who never cracked a joke. The predilection for banning every dissension must cease.
All opinion polls show Narendra Modi as the most popular prime minister in Indian history. Mantris, mandarins and media finks are doing a terrible job of championing him. Modi does not need the help of self-appointed sycophants to polish his halo with their penchant to punish.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)