BJP has turned India into a semi-autocracy

The saffron party is undermining free elections and winning power not only through defections but in five other ways.

ByArun Sinha

Published Sep 26, 2022 | 1:14 PM Updated Sep 26, 2022 | 1:18 PM

Narendra Modi with Amit Shah

Why did the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seduce eight Congress MLAs into its fold recently in Goa? It had 25 MLAs in a House of 40. It did not need any more MLAs to maintain a majority. On the surface, it may seem the BJP did it to make its majority more secure. However, its game was deeper than that. It wanted not only to doubly secure a majority in the present House but also in the future House.

The more MLAs the BJP snares out of the Congress, the fewer the number of constituencies where Congress candidates can hope to get elected. In the previous House, the BJP enticed 12 Congress MLAs. In this House, it has baited eight of them. In the previous one, it had also lured away three MLAs from regional parties. The aim of the BJP obviously was not just to gain power but to retain power in the future by making the opposition weaker and weaker.

Making India monochromatic

We are seeing it not only in Goa. The BJP is hell-bent on capturing and retaining power across the country by shrinking the opposition. The reason is the party can implement its ideological agenda unrestrainedly only where it is in power.

Ever since it came to power with a dominant majority at the Centre in 2014, it has executed several articles of its ideological constitution (Ram temple, Article 370, CAA). With support from its government in several states, it has been obsessively engaged in an undertaking to make the polychromatic canvas of India monochromatic.

For the BJP, it is the golden age. But they know they cannot reshape India according to their design unless they continue to be in power. And they know they cannot continue to be in power unless they go on winning elections. Unless of course they abolish free elections.

Seizing power after losing polls

There are examples across the world when authoritarian governments have institutionalised a mockery of elections (for example, Recep Erdogan in Turkey) to perpetuate themselves in power. However, with that they forfeit the world’s recognition as a democracy and are seen as an autocracy. As of now, the BJP is not on that brazenly authoritarian road. It is working its way to power through elections.

Yet one trend is unmistakable. Where it fails to work its way to power through elections, it does it through defections. It has seized power after losing elections in eight states/Union territories by tempting MLAs from the other parties since it came to power at the Centre eight years ago.

Shivraj Chouhan

The BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan became Madhya Pradesh chief minister again in March 2020 after the party toppled the Kamal Nath-led Congress government (Twitter/ Shivraj Chouhan)

Although in theory the BJP abides by the value of high character that its ideological father, the RSS, places at the top of all values, in practice it lives by the contrasting principle of low character which says, “Win or lose, we rule”. The RSS raises no ethical issues with the BJP when it subverts popular mandate with open and hidden allurements, for it is serving its ideological ends.

The BJP’s game clearly is: “Let us keep up the facade of free elections. We will go on expanding our empire by undermining them. That would keep the legitimacy of India as a democracy intact in the world eye, while we annihilate the opposition as a dictatorship does. We shall be a democracy in image and a dictatorship in reality.”

Misusing central agencies

And the BJP is undermining free elections and winning power not only through defections but in five other ways.

One, by directing the central agencies such as the CBI, ED, and I-T department to conduct investigations and raids to defame and de-legitimise opposition parties in the voters’ eyes. Their cases are usually opened or blown up in the run-up to elections (CBI cases against AAP leaders in Punjab, 2017; ED and CBI raids against TMC leaders in West Bengal, 2020; I-T raids on Samajwadi Party leaders in UP, 2021; I-T raids on Makkal Needhi Maiam leaders in Tamil Nadu, 2021; ED raids against the Congress CM’s relative in Punjab, 2022). When the central agencies act, the media plays it up, painting a negative image of the opposition before the electorate, causing an erosion in its vote.

Elections in India

The elections are rigged by the BJP by using a variety of instruments (Wikimedia Commons)

Two, by controlling the media. The TV channels have turned into the BJP’s propaganda conduits, with anchors serving as dummies of the party’s ventriloquists. They ignore the news of opposition parties’ activities (for instance, the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra) and give full coverage to the BJP government and party activities.

The print media gives the BJP the largest share of space. It publishes government and party advertorials under ministers’ and party officials’ bylines as articles on edit and op-ed pages. By overwhelmingly dominating both the newspaper space and television screen, the BJP denies a level playing field to the opposition, thus influencing voters’ choices in its favour.

Appointing its loyalists

Three, by creating a propaganda legion to spread disinformation about opposition parties through WhatsApp groups and a troll army to defame, harass, and discourage criticism and dissent on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The BJP’s unholy war reaches its peak in the run-up to elections, influencing voters’ choices adversely against the opposition.

Four, by denying civil and human rights to protesters and prosecuting critics and dissenters in civil society and the media in multiple cases and under draconian laws for activities and statements that a healthy democracy would welcome as nutrition.

Persecution of the few has resulted in a widespread reluctance in the intelligentsia and civil society to speak out or organise street protests against the regime. The withdrawal of dissenters leaves the space free for the regime to assert its sole right to righteousness to influence the voters in its favour.

Five, by appointing loyalists in the academia, judiciary, and the Election Commission of India. If you have administrators, teachers, and books that daily indoctrinate students with your ideology, you are not only gaining more young voters but also older voters who might be their parents and close relations. Collaborating judges help you keep opposition leaders, activists, and journalists in jail as long as you want. Faithful election commissioners shut their eyes when you make a mockery of election rules.

Rigged by BJP

From the above, it is obvious that although we still have free and fair elections in the sense that every voter queues up at a polling booth to freely vote, the elections are rigged by the BJP directly and indirectly by using a variety of instruments — central investigative agencies, social media armies, the police, the academia, the judiciary, the Election Commission, and anonymous moneybags — to denigrate, discredit, demonise, and divide the opposition and glorify itself in the eyes of the electorate.

To conclude, the BJP has turned India into a semi-autocracy. We are not a full autocracy like Erdogan’s Turkey yet, but we might not escape that fate if there is no strong resistance to the actions of the BJP by the democratic forces. Free elections would then cease to be even partially free and become a total sham.

(Arun Sinha is an independent journalist and author. These are the personal views of the author)