Geopolitics

Watching Impeachment, Mocking India's Broken Democracy

Trump's biggest problem, it's safe to say, are all those pesky checks and balances. *Luckily, those limitations don't apply in 'the world's largest democracy.'

An eye on street protests in India
An eye on street protests in India
Badri Raina

-Essay-

NEW DELHI — If you have been watching the televised proceedings of the U.S. Congress' House Judiciary and the Intelligence Committees pertaining to the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump — "the world's most powerful man," in common political parlance — you might be wondering how an American institution can be so indifferent to damaging its nation's "image" abroad.

Any congressperson, it seems, can say anything, level any charge, and be allowed to do so for the whole world to see and hear. And without being hauled up for sedition. Sure, America may be the world's "oldest" democracy. But it's clearly not the wisest, being, after all, a very young nation.

Americans in public service seem to think that democracy is about questioning, debate and accountability, whereas in this land of ancient wisdom, we know that such is not the case. Democracy ought to be about "good governance," and "good governance" must mean whatever the government of the day says it means.

This is why India's opposition parties are clearly being irresponsible, immature and undemocratic, frankly, when they demand that one parliament's senior-most elected members —​ Farooq Abdullah (now in detention without charge) — be allowed to attend the current session of the people's house and thus carry out his democratic and constitutional obligation to represent his constituents.

The government of the day must consider the dangerous circumstance that he may actually open his mouth. And the opening of just about any mouth is patently averse to the spirit of democracy.

Many self-appointed advocates of democracy have also been raising that other imprudent question: the issue of press freedom. They point to the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and such channels as CNN, NBC, CBS, and note that there seems to be no hold on what they may say and write about the establishment. They even argue that free media is chief guarantor of American democracy.

Don't mistake democracy for freedom.

Perish the thought. Not only that, but such busybodies also demand a legislation akin to the American First Amendment right to absolute freedom of expression. It's imperative, they say, if Indian democracy is to be secured from the danger of authoritarian rule and executive tyranny.

The sad fact is that such maverick demands are once again pointers to a virus of anarchism that continues to infect many educated Indian minds. The blunder here is again to mistake democracy for freedom, whereas democracy ought to mean discipline and punishment in the larger interests of those who make the mare go.

And in the interest of always shoring up the image of India, whatever our realities.

A question asked by Indian intellectuals, made dangerously anti-national by leftward ideologies, is whether the right to free assembly and association, and the right to peaceful protest against government policies, is not a fundamental tenet of constitutional democracy.

How is it, they ask, that hundreds of thousands of people in countries like Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Hong Kong-China, Chile, Bolivia and Brazil — and many even in the Russian Federation — are allowed to gather in protest, and without being immediately fired upon nor jailed? Not only that, but the protest have continued for months on end.

When it's time to elect a new "people".

The answer is again a simple one: Bad examples, however multifarious, remain bad examples. Secondly, these countries, not being democracies in any full sense, need such practices of free expression, association and protest in order to evolve further in their quest for democracy. None of that applies to India. Being already a "republic," where is the need to show that we are one in daily practice?

As you can see, we have given the world proof that an efficient democracy can be run without such fanfare of freedoms. What better example of that than what we have achieved in Kashmir, where, according to sundry political representatives, we have brought about revolutionary policy changes without incurring needless public involvement. And without firing a shot, since there is no one to fire a shot at on the streets that, as you can see every day on TV channels, are neat and clean, and wholly unencumbered with citizens out making a brouhaha of democracy.

America hasn't achieved such a feat. Nor has England or Europe. And that right there is part of what makes us the world's most "developed" democracy.

Soon we will be holding elections with only right-minded protagonists in the fray, guaranteed to campaign positively in support of government policy. And if the people don't like it, well we may go ahead and elect a new people as well through yet another ingenious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

A good democracy is that which protects the people as much as possible from troubling their minds, especially about matters that concern them the most. Such things are best left to guardians whose mandate derives as much from divinity as from some proforma exercise of vote.

Free speech — Photo: Master Steve Rapport

For now, we do have a parliamentary system. But it is not as though we are oblivious to the ragged and ignominious history of parliaments. Here too, we may have to show the way. Think how well-equipped the word "president" sounds next to a prime minister. Already you would have seen that our pace of conversion (of prime minister to president) has been impressive.

Once we achieve that full conversion, our democracy will have become a centralized force of immense possibilities, wherein the chosen one will have far greater leeway to dictate policy at the drop of a mace any hour of day or night without being hemmed in by the ever contentious pandemonium of contrary voices that always have only their own small-time interests in mind. We can then ensure that committees are peopled by men and women who are of one mind with the numero uno, and expeditiously stamp edicts to the people's benefit without wasting precious time and resources.

To conclude: our experiment in Kashmir thus must be read in relation to a larger good, namely of setting an example of how deleterious covenants signed and sealed in the past must never hold us back from rearranging our promises and priorities. The same goes for any embarrassing facts on the ground.

Because the the important thing is that every diverse citizen and territory be made over into one loyal, undifferentiated citizen and one obedient territory — captured in a flag and a slogan that leave no need for any post-modernist proliferation of words, arguments, contentions, perspectives or demands.

The most loyal must to continue to be loyal.

Thus, if there was anything holding both Kashmir and India back it's not poverty, malnutrition, joblessness, disease, social oppression of women and minorities, unconscionable inequalities of opportunity and income, suicidal farmers, stunted children and anemic mothers or mob lynchings of the "other." It was Article 370!

And so we said, "let it be gone," and it was gone. See how democracy now flourishes in Kashmir without a people's assembly and just a government officer in charge?

We are told we should not have done what we have done to leaders who have stood by the TV channel accession. As we know, it is often the most loyal who have to continue to be loyal, however we alter our affections. After all, we have detained them so far without formally annulling constitutional provisions that govern freedoms.

As a strong government, we must make it clear that, if need be, we can further consolidate democratic peace in Kashmir by formally suspending Articles 19 (freedom of speech), 21 (right to life with dignity), 25 (right to practice and propagate religious faith) as henceforth non-applicable to Kashmir. And of course we'll find sub-clause to exclude the Jammu region. All that in the nationalist-democratic interest.

And what Kashmiri who's not just Kashmiri isn't charmed by the revolution we have effected in peace and tranquility?

No doubt Donald Trump would dearly love to emulate our example — if only he could. Instead he'd being held back from making America great again, while in India, our greatness is only growing.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ