Is the Modi government right?

India

Joachim Betz

Professor Dr. rer. soc. Joachim Betz, born in 1946, was a senior research fellow at the Institute for Asian Studies at the GIGA (German Institute of Global and Area Studies / Leibniz Institute for Global and Regional Studies) and is Prof. emeritus for Political Science at the University of Hamburg.
His specialist areas are politics and economics in South Asia, debt, raw materials policy, globalization and development finance.

India is the largest democracy in the world, its federal system has a stabilizing effect and it enjoys great popular acceptance. A wide range of parties and civil society organizations represent the interests of social groups. The judiciary and police are independent, but suffer from overload and corruption.

The seat of the Indian national parliament in New Delhi, here at the beginning of the winter session in November 2012 (& copy Reuters / B Mathur)

India likes to celebrate itself as the "greatest democracy in the world". Despite all the criticism of human rights violations and the temporary or regional overturning of democratic procedures, this pride is entirely justified, especially in view of the developments that other states have made after their independence. Democracy is recognized by all important groups as the only legitimate form of rule, there are hardly any political movements that seek influence in an extra-parliamentary way, and the military is subject to strict civilian control. At most, one can argue about whether procedural democracy (i.e. formal political freedoms) and the proclaimed political equality have created a sufficient foundation of material equal opportunities and whether socio-economic inequality is not reflected in widely differing opportunities for political influence.

Constitution

The political system of India
© Bergmoser + Höller Verlag AG, number picture 874 521
The constitution of the Republic of India breathes the spirit of western liberal state traditions. With its 395 articles it is one of the longest constitutions in the world; it contains universal suffrage, a catalog of human rights (including equality before the law), a ban on discrimination based on religion, caste and gender, and generous guarantees of legal recourse. The implementation of the elections was placed in the hands of an independent electoral commission. The Dalits and Adivasi were granted special rights (reservations in the public service and for training places at universities), which are intended to bring them closer to the majority population.
A special feature of the Indian constitution are the guidelines for political action that are given to the government, for example the obligation of the state to ensure the welfare, employment and education of its citizens. Due to the lack of implementing laws, these principles were initially not legally enforceable and were therefore often ridiculed as having no consequences. Wrongly, because in the past few decades the Supreme Court has forced the government to give space to the right to food, education and employment through relevant programs.

Democratic freedoms and elections

The democratic freedoms granted by the constitution in India are subject to significant, if often only temporary, restrictions. If the internal and external security of the country is threatened, the President can, on the advice of the Prime Minister, take emergency measures and suspend civil liberties. However, after six months this must be confirmed by both chambers of parliament. In addition, the President can also place a Union state under the trustee of the central government if law and order are endangered or the state government no longer has a majority. Finally, in the interests of the integrity of the state and public morality, freedom of the press can be restricted and preventive detention can be ordered to ward off internal unrest.
Voter turnout in India is quite high given the fact that you have to register for it (over 66 percent in the 2014 elections to the House of Commons, up to 83 percent in the 2016/17 elections to the legislative assemblies of the Union states). There are hardly any differences between women and men, poor people participate more often than wealthy people, so they obviously have the impression that their voice carries weight.

There is no doubt about the freedom of voting. The independent electoral commission monitors even more closely than before which impairments of the election - for example in the form of violence, buying votes, fraud or the robbery of ballot boxes - require by-elections. It forces the candidates to disclose their financial circumstances and their level of education as well as to explain whether criminal proceedings are pending against them. It also oversees the implementation of its code of conduct, which strictly prohibits the distribution of election gifts by the incumbent government or individual officials and limits spending on candidates' election campaigns.

Also because the limits for election campaign spending were set far too low, capping them was only partially successful. The political competition between potential candidates and parties has increased significantly because of their multiplication; This is not least due to the fact that an electoral mandate is also financially attractive. As a consequence, less serious aspirants are also pushing their way into politics. A fifth of the members of the House of Commons are involved in criminal litigation, including serious crimes, including murder. The tendency of the parties to nominate candidates with criminal careers is because they are financially potent and have a "powerful" follower. You are more likely than others to be successful in elections. Today, politicians who have already been convicted or imprisoned are excluded from running. This was preceded by a lengthy dispute between the Supreme Court and the parties who tried to block this provision.