What a black magic assasination says about India’s awful democracy


FACT: Indian anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar, who has campaigned for a law to ban black magic in the state of Maharashtra was gunned down in Pune yesterday.

The word awful has a duel meaning.

The definition we are most familiar with relates to something being terrible and it is a definition that can easily be applied to much of Indian politics.

Political violence is substantial. This is most obvious in the context of the conflict in Kashmir, the various separatist insurgencies and the prevalence of Maoist terrorism. There is also the ever present menace of Hindu extremism. It’s victims include Gandhi and there must be a strong suspicion that Mr Dabholkar has now joined their numbers. And there is the disturbing fact that Narendra Modi, a nationalist who as a state governor, stood back and allowed thousands of Muslims to be massacred may be the next prime minister.

Nor is this the only blot on Indian democracy: corruption, cronyism and an extraordinary fragmentation of the party system.

Yet Indian democracy seems also to merit the old, middle English meaning of awful: it does leave us full of awe. The existence of an even modestly functional democracy in a huge country so plagued by  poverty and illiteracy, and so divided by caste, religion and language is remarkable. It’s endurance even more so. Despite all the menaces it has faced, it has survived. The murder in Pune has led to a wave of strikes and protests demanding justice and seems to have resulted in the law Dr Dabholkar was promoting being passed.

These signs of resilience should give us faith that Indian democracy will survive Modi, much as it survived partition, Indira Gandhi and the other threats it has faced since independence.


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