REPORTING. Faced with Modi’s authoritarian drift, is India still the largest democracy in the world?

Indians are called to vote from Friday to elect their assembly. These results may or may not renew the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, for a third term. But its practices worry some human rights defenders.



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Supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party during a rally in Puducherry, India, ahead of the legislative elections, April 19, 2024. (RAGUL KRISHNAN / MAXPPP)

It is the greatest democratic exercise in the world. From Friday April 19, and for six weeks, more than 970 million voters are called to the polls in India for the legislative elections. A vote which could renew Narendra Modi for a third term, who, since coming to power ten years ago, has left his mark on this country of 1.4 billion inhabitants.

In the form, first of all, of an ideology used for political purposes: Hinduness. It aims to establish the domination of Hindus to the detriment of minorities and in particular Muslims, who represent 200 million people. Narendra Modi’s campaign began with the inauguration of the temple ofAyodhya, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, in place of a mosque which was destroyed in the 1990s by Hindu extremists. The Prime Minister also relies on a national narrative: an India which is developing at breakneck speed, while exalting the age-old roots of Hinduism, a religion practiced by 80% of the population.

Censorship of associations, media…

All this worries the most eminent Indian intellectuals. “To save democracy, we must ask ourselves what we need to do to strengthen our institutions so that we do not become so vulnerable to the powers of politicians repeatedly”worries Yamini Aiyar.

Indian intellectuals gathered on April 13, 2024 for the presentation of a book dedicated to the Defense of the Indian Republic and democratic values.  (FABIEN GOSSET / RADIOFRANCE)

Until last February, she headed one of the most prominent research centers in the Indian capital, the CPR (Center for Policy Research). The latter had to lay off almost all of its 200 employees after the Indian Interior Ministry decided not to renew its accreditation which allowed it to receive funds from abroad.

Many international NGOs such as Oxfam, Greenpeace or Care suffered the same fate because their reports did not please those in power. The media, for their part, are increasingly subject to censorship and overly critical journalists are labeled anti-national. Siddharth Varadarajan is the founder of the independent media The Wire. “I think there is a sense of paranoia and insecurity on the part of the government, even though they control much of the media.”

“The kind of threat that Narendra Modi poses to Indian democracy and press freedom is something very unique, something we haven’t seen in decades.”

Siddharth Varadarajan, founder of independent media The Wire

at franceinfo

Unprecedented, like the solitary exercise of power by Narendra Modi. “He is not someone who has a sense of dialogue, he has not held a press conference in 10 years, which is rare for someone who heads a democracy of this size. He is the personal power”assures Balveer Arora, former professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

Siddharth Varadarajan is the founder of the independent Indian media outlet, The Wire.  (FABIEN GOSSET / RADIOFRANCE)

Narendra Modi’s opponents also have another fear: that he will modify the Indian constitution to erase the term “secular”, the equivalent of our secularism, if he were to win a third term. Like Harsh Mander, 68 years old, tireless Indian human rights activist.

His home was searched last February by agents of the CBI, the equivalent of the American FBI. He notably highlighted the anti-Muslim pogroms of 2002 in the state of Gujarat, then led by Narandra Modi. “I am accused of insurrection, incitement to hatred, money laundering, financial irregularities…”

“In India, Hindus believe in a second life. So I could spend this whole life and the next in prison if I was guilty of all these crimes.”

Harsh Mander, Indian human rights activist

at franceinfo

This disciple of Gandhi denounces a climate of fear established by those in power. “There is an attempt to silence dissent, as authoritarian leaders do around the world. Except here it is coupled with an ideology aimed at transforming India into a very different India from the one we We chose as part of Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for freedom, which was born out of equal rights.”

Harsh Mander, 68, is a tireless Indian human rights activist.  He is today at the heart of an investigation after embarrassing revelations about Narendra Modi.  (FABIEN GOSSET / RADIOFRANCE)

The witch hunt works: Harsh Mander finds it more and more difficult to publish articles. But he refuses to give up. “I don’t want a country marked by inequality, fear and hatred. I want a country that is equal, fair and caring. This is truly a battle for which you must even be willing to go to prison and give his life.” Harsh Mander is currently working on writing a book dedicated to the rise of Nazism in Germany.

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