The Indian National Students Association (INSA) UK, in association with the Indian Political Society at King’s College London (KCL), recently organised The India Forum with speakers including Indian journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh and Delhi-based jurist specialising in litigation J. Sai Deepak.
The focal point of the discussion was Indian , against the backdrop of concerns raised by recent reports by the Economist Intelligence Unit, V-Dem Institute and others deliberating on the standards of free speech, media freedom and religious discrimination in the country.
The event, hosted by INSA UK’s Amit Tiwari and KCL’s Rhea Kher and moderated by KCL’s Vidisha Madan, explored and probed various concerns raised in such reports during the lively panel discussion.
Singh drew the attention of the audience to Fareed Zakaria’s book ‘The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad’. In particular, she referred to Zakaria’s take that democratisation had not necessarily been appropriate or good for India.
In his book, Zakaria argues that the democratisation and opening up of the political system in India had given rise to greater political participation of people from “poor, rural, and lower caste backgrounds” but this also made the country “less liberal”.
Singh suggested that many among the elite still worryingly believe that the so-called “common man” neither has the aptitude nor the knowledge or the ability to make informed decisions and therefore should have only a limited say in political matters.
Since 2014, India has seen its “Lutyens” elite of the past lose much of its relevance, whether in politics, business or indeed academia (albeit to a lesser degree).
Given that backdrop, the trend to malign the current scenario in India must be viewed merely as an attempt by a section of the elite in India and the West to curtail the rise of the masses.
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Deepak sought to highlight that recent reports decrying a so-called “flawed democracy” in India as a “lack of understanding or deliberate ignorance of the state of affairs” prior to the led government being voted in 2014.
On matters such as censorship, Deepak drew attention to the fact that under India’s very first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, there were 127 instances of censorship (between 1947 and 1964). In his view, there has been a lack of proper historical comparisons and the data referenced in recent reports tend to focus only on the period 2014 onwards. Similar concerns were also raised by Deepak regarding the analysis on sedition laws in the country.
The jurist also flagged that many organisations in the West are still “deeply colonial” in their mindset. Such organisations, he argued, supported the informal continuation of the “standard of civilisation”, which was used as a tool by the West to gatekeep membership to international organisations and retain control over their influence and dominance in political affairs.
Such organisations, the speakers warn, impose and foist one “universal standard of liberalism and democracy” (largely based on Western/Christian value systems), and expect that all democracies should subscribe to this standard.
India, therefore, should not be too alarmed by reports that seek to label its democracy one way or the other as they lack transparent quantitative analysis and mostly pass off value judgements and opinion as factual statements. The speakers concluded that it is quite clear that Western institutions lack neutrality and , resulting in a predetermined outcome.
Whether we agree with this overall analysis or not, here’s a relevant Friedrich Nietzsche quote that sums this up nicely: “All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”
by Akshat JaganMohan and Munish Prabhakar
Akshat is a healthcare entrepreneur and Mentor & Midlands Coordinator for .
Munish is INSA's National Executive Member and a Markets Risk & Compliance Banking Professional.