Award-winning Indian journalist Barkha Dutt argued in a recent column that the West – both governments and civil society – should desist from bringing up India’s democratic backsliding.
“Yes, India’s democracy has to be strengthened and repaired. But this must be done by Indians – and Indians alone.
Let us have the argument. Let us make the noise.”
To be clear, Dutt is not arguing that everything is hunky-dory when it comes to Indian democracy. Indeed, there can be little doubt on this count. From blatant suppression of dissent to the utilisation of investigative agencies against political opponents to the introduction of deliberately opaque political funding instruments – if there were a democratic dashboard, a number of indicators would be flashing red.
Instead, she points out two things. One, that Western coverage of Indian issues is often shoddy and routinely regurgitates reflexively Orientalist tropes. Two, that lecturing by Western institutions, state and non-state, tends to backfire. [One might add a third – that the language of human rights and democracy has often been instrumentalised to promote parochial foreign policy goals, prompting general cynicism about these kinds of interventions.]
“These growing murmurs about the backsliding of democracy – polite rebukes from Western governments and strident editorials by Western media – are having the exact opposite from the intended effect….