Two Major Democracies At Risk

Two articles in the New York Times opinion section dealt with creeping authoritarianism in the world oldest democracy and the world’s largest. First, from Thomas Edsall’s column about the oldest:

Herbert Kitschelt, a political scientist at Duke, noted in an email that the United States stands apart from most other developed nations in ways that may make this country especially vulnerable in the universe of democratic states to authoritarian appeals and democratic backsliding:

There are two unique American afflictions on which T___ could thrive and that are not shared by any other advanced Western … country: the legacy of slavery and racism and the presence of fundamentalist evangelicalism, magnifying racial and class divisions. There is no social organization in America that is as segregated as churches.

In this context, Kitschelt wrote,

a critical element of T____ist support is trying to establish in all of the United States a geographical generalization of what prevailed in the American South until the 1960s civil rights movement: a white evangelical oligarchy with repression — jail time, physical violence and death — inflicted on those who will not succumb to this oligarchy. It’s a form of clerofascism [i.e. clerical fascism]. A declining minority — defined in economic and religious terms — is fighting tooth and nail to assert its supremacy.

Underlying the racial motivations, in Kitschelt’s view, are

changes in political economy and family structure, strongly related also to a decline of religion and religiosity. Religions, for the most part, are ideological codifications of traditional paternalist family kinship structures. Postindustrial libertarianism and intellectualism oppose those paternalisms. This explains why right-wing populists around the world draw on religion as their ultimate ideological defense, even if their religious doctrines are seemingly different: T____(white Protestant evangelicalism and Catholic ultramontanism [which emphasizes supreme papal authority], Putin (Orthodoxy), Modi (Hinduism), Erdogan (Islam), Xi (Confucianism).


India is the world’s largest democracy, with four times the population of the U.S. The other Times article described its more established slide into religious fascism. This is by an Indian journalist, Debasish Roy Chowdhury:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood last month atop India’s nearly completed new Parliament building, built to mark the country’s 75 years of independence, and pulled a lever. A sprawling red curtain fell back to reveal the structure’s crowning statue. Many across India gasped.

The 21-foot-tall bronze figure — four lions seated with their backs to one another, facing outward — is of India’s revered national symbol. The beasts are normally depicted as regal and restrained, but these looked different: Their fangs bared, they seemed angry, aggressive.


To Mr. Modi’s critics, the refashioned image atop the Parliament building— a project that was rammed through without debate or public consultation — reflects the snarling “New India” he is creating.

In his eight years in power, Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party government has profaned Indian democracy, espousing an intolerant Hindu supremacist majoritarianism over the ideals of secularism, pluralism, religious tolerance and equal citizenship upon which the country was founded after gaining independence on Aug. 15, 1947.

Drawing comparisons to Nazi Germany, the regime uses co-opted government machinerydisinformation and intimidation by partisan mobs to silence critics while dehumanizing the large Muslim minority, fanning social division and violence. Civil liberties are systematically violated.

India, the world’s largest democracy, is where the global battle between liberalism and tyranny is being lost….

Laws and rights are applied unevenly. Muslims can now be arrested for praying in public, while Hindu pilgrims are congratulated by state officials. The state celebrates the Hindu religion, while protests are orchestrated against Muslim customs like the wearing of the hijab and the call to prayer. Hindu vigilante groups attack Muslims and their businesses.

A high-ranking B.J.P. leader called Muslim refugees from Bangladesh “termites” eating away the country’s resources. Emboldened by state support, Hindu extremists now openly threaten the genocide and rape of Muslims, while the government arrests journalists who call out acts of hate. On Aug. 15, Independence Day, the government released 11 convicts serving life sentences for gang-raping a Muslim woman and murdering 14 members of her family during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom that occurred on Modi’s watch…..

At 75, after decades of institutional abuse, India’s democracy is too frail to withstand a strongman taking a sledgehammer to its weak foundations. Mr. Modi calls the Parliament building a “temple of democracy.” But the institution’s new premises in New Delhi are instead a monument to the demi-democracy he is building — a hollowed-out facade that exists to legitimize authoritarian rule.