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India’s Democratic Dictatorship

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s character is being transformed by a government with no regard for institutions, understandings, and conventions maintained since independence. If this trend continues, India may well soon cease to be the country which Mahatma Gandhi struggled to free.

NEW DELHI – Amid much fanfare, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has completed a hundred days of its second term. Despite his government’s poor record, Modi remains immensely popular personally. This does not bode well for Indian democracy.

The Modi government’s supporters tout a slew of new repressive legislation – including the criminalization of talaq-e-biddat, the Muslim practice of “instant divorce” – as a display of resoluteness. Likewise, Modi’s recent abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, guaranteed under Article 370 of India’s constitution, was undertaken amid a statewide lockdown. Political leaders were arrested, and telephone and Internet services were suspended. There is no telling what will happen when the lid is taken off the pressure cooker. Yet most Indians are offering unstinting support.

Modi’s supporters have less to say about the economy, which is in free fall, and relations among religious communities, which have never been tenser. (The unmanned Moon landing of which they had hoped to boast failed when the robotic rover crashed on the lunar surface on the eve of the hundred-day anniversary.)