Human rights activist Gautam Navlakha at his residence after he was arrested by the Pune police in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence Image Credit: PTI


Narendra Modi has been Prime Minister of India for four years and some months. Modi has used his tenure as a laboratory to test India’s Constitution and surgically probed all the other institutions that make up the world’s largest democracy.

The latest chilling saga in the Modi wreaks havoc on democracy was the raid and arrests of some of India’s most respected and credible human rights activists such as Sudha Bharadwaj, activist journalist Gautam Navlakha, and three others.

Human rights advocate Sudha Bharadwaj (L) after she was arrested by the Pune police in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence, in Faridabad on August 28, 2018

Modi’s government is particularly intolerant of any dissent and used the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to dub the activists ‘urban Naxals’ and arrest them.

For a complete explainer on the background of these arrests, read: Bhima-Koregaon: Indian activists arrested, state-wide Dalit protests and #UndeclaredEmergency

Pictured: A Progressive Organisation for Women (POW) activist scuffles with police during a protest against the arrest of Indian poet and activist Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, on August 29, 2018

It took the Intervention of the Supreme Court of India to ensure that the sentence was reduced to ‘house arrest’ and advise the Modi government “that dissent was the safety valve in a democracy and if plugged the pressure cooker will explode”.

Imagine the absolute power of the government to dub anyone speaking for the rights of tribals or Dalits, the most marginalised people in India ‘urban naxal’ (a meaningless term concocted by a failed film director and prominent Modi toady) and put them into prison.

"The plot to kill Modi..."

The Modi government used its pliant media to spin a fake letter and an incredible plot to kill Modi. Interestingly, after finding the maximum traction in the cheerleaders of the media (one institution that has not been able to withstand Modi), government prosecutors in the case did not even the raise the alleged plot to kill Modi or the giveaway letter in the Supreme Court.

The ‘plot to kill Modi’ is a gift that has paid dividends to Modi since his Gujarat Chief Minister days. With clockwork regularity, the Gujarat police uncovered mystery “modules” all looking to assassinate Modi. The same ‘Gujarat model’ has now got an all-India release, with the agencies all uncovering, and obligingly, making them available to the media complete with #PlotToKillModi.

Surprisingly, none these mystery plots, which pop up on channels just before crucial elections, finds their logical conclusions with a chargesheet in the courts of law.

Modi conflates India with himself and his government and anyone opposing him is heaped with loaded pejoratives. It began with ‘sickular’, a twisted form of ‘secular’ much favoured by Modi’s troll army for any dissenter. Then it moved on to any dissent being dubbed ‘anti-national’ and now the term de jour ‘urban naxal’. 

Like all wannabe dictators across the world, the Modi government has leached all significant terms of their original meaning.

If Indira Gandhi, another Prime Minister, who imposed emergency and who seems to be Modi’s role model, was told by adoring sycophants that ‘Indira was India’, much the same thing is currently going on. It is actually worse as Arun Shourie points out that “Indira used the law to impose emergency – this diffused undeclared emergency is creeping and slowly taking away all freedoms”.

Modi seems to want an India in permanent attrition with its own citizens. Modi creates new enemies and targets for the state to attack with authoritarian crackdowns. The Modi government is frozen in a permanent state of war. Polarisation against the Muslims was ensured by the beef law and the so-called cow vigilantes (gau rakshaks) had seeming state protection.  Lynchings in the name of the cow are now everyday Affairs.

Our threshold level of outrage against these mob murders has eroded with the frequency of the incidents. The Dalits and tribals and those who fight for them are new targets to ensure a permanent state of polarisation. So, it is now every right winger fighting for the nation state when attacking ‘urban naxals’.

Indian police detains Progressive Organisation for Women (POW) leader Sandhya (C) during a protest against the arrest of poet and activist Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, on August 29, 2018

A list is doing the rounds and I am proud to feature in it. But, the list is chillingly reminiscent of the Joseph McCarthy crackdown in the US. It is now a crime in India to possess the well-known book ‘What is History’ by E.H. Carr, which is part of the history syllabus in Delhi University. This was part of the Pune police’s evidence against Bharadwaj.

Having read this book as part of my history honours course, I am now wondering am I a criminal in Modi’s new India?

Make no mistake, a government, which brands an entire university ‘anti-national’ as the Modi government did, with the well-respected Jawaharlal Nehru University, is clearly anti-thought. It is intellectually bankrupt to attack students, the future of the country, as enemies of the state.

From the universities, the Modi government targeted the most venerable pillar of a democracy –  the judiciary. In an unprecedented event, four judges of the Supreme Court, the court of last resort, warned collectively that “democracy was in danger”.

Modi had already wrecked the institutional autonomy of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which was preserved for 70 years, by his voodoo economics measure – demonetisation – advised by some mysterious charlatans. 

Modi did not offer a second term to the globally respected former governor of the RBI, Raghuram Rajan. The lunatic demonetisation achieved nothing, with 99.3 per cent of the extinguished currency being returned and shaving of India’s GDP. Hundreds of people died and small and medium industries are yet to recover.

Modi had said “give me 50 days or burn me alive” when he defended his decision. Despite, the rapid change in goalposts – from the end to black money, to the wiping out of fake currency and terrorism to digitalisation of the economy  -- demonetisation was a comprehensive failure.

Modi is now conspicuously silent on it after his dramatic claims. With all the pillars of democracy under attack, the institutional damage that Modi has done is tremendous.

The Indian economy has still to recover from demonetisation, but Modi has now moved on to trying to demonetise democracy.

Will Indian democracy survive? The jury is out.

Swati Chaturvedi’s book “I am a Troll - Inside the BJP’s secret digital army” has received international acclaim. Her twitter handle is @Bainjal.