BY: Rajshree Chandra
There are enough systemic and institutional tools available to any regime that are entirely dependent on how malignant the executive allows them to become.
Ashutosh Varshney begins his piece, ‘Modi, on balance’ (IE, April 29), by stating that he fundamentally disagrees with polarised views on Modi, and that there may not be reason enough to be either deeply anxious or over exuberant. He says, “the discipline of political science, which I have taught for two decades, fundamentally disagrees with this view”.
As a student of political science, I have often found myself constrained by its continued exuberance about “structural functional” theories.
These regard a political system to be a sum total of structures (institutions), their functions, the ability of democratic institutions to process levels of mobilisations and demands that arise from society in general.
Varshney lays out three political arguments: inner truths or androoni sach, institutional approach or sansthayik vichardhaara, and weak institutions or kamzor sansthayen.
All three arguments address what op-ed columns routinely conflate as the “unsubstantiated paranoia” that India will become a fascist state or, as in this piece, “India will become a greater Gujarat”. The three reasons given by Varshney why this will not be the case is essentially because a political leader has to work “with and through institutions”; that the “inner truths”, the political and ideological dispensations of a leader like Modi — for instance, his and his party’s almost symbiotic RSS connections, their Hindu nationalist ideology — will always get tamed through institutional checks and balances. Even if we were to argue that some institutions are weak, Varshney points out that it is only the institutions directly under the executive that are weak. The ones outside of it — the Supreme Court, EC, Parliament and the powerful CAG — will prevent a lapse into authoritarian leadership of any kind.
But, there are three aspects of parliamentary democracy that Varshney ignores. First, the Indian executive is a parliamentary executive and it has the potential to exercise great influence over the legislative process, particularly if the party in power has a working majority. The outcome of legislative activity is then dependent on the political will, dispensations and ideologies of the government. There is enough reason to believe that, while the plank of developmentalism might displace the earlier welfarist orientation, the aggressive nationalist posturing might lead to an intensification of the already harsh terrain of anti-terror, sedition, censorship laws that may find opportune extensions into dissent management.
Who is to say that the government-in-waiting will not draw from the climate of aggressive nationalist posturing and not enact more dissent management laws? A second point that Varshney ignores is the role of the executive. It is continued…