Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi threatened to turn the country into a one-party state, The news magazine reported in an article published on November 28. The paper cited the premier’s continues erosion of checks and balances.
Starting with from the arrest of prominent Indian journalist Arnab Goswami in early November the Indian government ministers decried the act and called it assault on free speech.
Judges at the supreme court turned their attention to an urgent plea, the article stated. The hearing was short. “If we as a constitutional court do not lay down law and protect liberty, then who will?” one judge proclaimed.
That evening Goswami swept out of Mumbai’s Taloja prison into a rapturous crowd.
“This is a victory for the people of India!” he said.
According to The news magazine, Goswami’s case represented not a test of freedom so much as a test of power. “Goswami’s case represented not a test of freedom so much as a test of power. The world’s largest democracy is headed to a future that is less, not more free,” the article read.
Victims of Goswami’s criticism in his show were often critics of government policy.
“They are typically reduced to a corner box as Mr Goswami swells into a finger-jabbing prosecutor, denouncing them as “anti-national” or, worse, an agent of Pakistan,” the weekly newspaper magazine stated.
With Indian government’s intentions, Goswami spent just a week in police custody and India’s topmost judges ignored the court’s backlog of some 60,000 cases to schedule a bail hearing within a day of the anchor’s appeal, it the article reported.
India’s prisons hold twice as many inmates awaiting trial, some 330,000 people, as they do convicts.
“A majority of these “undertrials” come from minority groups and a quarter have spent more than a year behind bars,” said Leah Verghese, a law researcher.
When the Modi-led government annexed the special status on Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) in August 2019 thousands of its residents were detained.
The Indian court entertained only a handful habeas corpus petitions, same as Goswami’s, out of more than 550 writs.
The article further reported that in 2017 Modi slipped through parliament a controversial law that created “electoral bonds”, asserting that as a budgetary matter it need not be scrutinised by the upper house, which was not then in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) control.
The supreme court of India still had not examined the constitutionality of the innovation, which allowed unlimited, anonymous donations to political parties.
“Judges have yet to take up include the imposition last year of direct rule on Kashmir and some 140 legal petitions against the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019, which by inserting religion as a criterion for citizenship undermines the secular nature of the Indian state,” The news magazine reported.
“This government has done so much damage to personal liberty,” says Ajit Prakash Shah, a former high court judge. “But the courts, especially the supreme court, have watched this indiscriminate and violent trampling of dissent like mute spectators.”
The article reported that it was a judge’s ruling that Indira Gandhi, perhaps the country’s most powerful prime minister, had cheated in an election that prompted her in 1975 to plunge India into a 21-month emergency, during which she threw opponents in jail and ruled by decree. “Legal professionals now liken the current moment to that darkest period for Indian democracy,” the article stated, adding, Many cogs in India’s institutional machinery are not merely complacent, but have grown complicit in a project that threatens to turn the country into a one-party state.
The news magazine quoted Vice-Dean of law at Oxford University and author of a paper, “Killing a Constitution with a Thousand Cuts”, Tarunabh Khaitan, that at least during the emergency the threat was clear that details India’s institutional decay.
“What we have now is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” he says. “There is no full-frontal big-ticket attack on democracy, but there are multiple, simultaneous attacks on all fronts. We are sleepwalking into authoritarianism.”