Opinion: A decade of transience by BJP has eroded democracy's essence

An analysis of key events and initiatives that changed the democratic landscape, shedding light on the complexities of governance in an era marked by rapid change towards right-wing authoritarianism.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Over the past decade, the essence of democracy has faced formidable challenges as the country grappled with balancing democracy and the ruling party’s right-lined principles. In particular, from 2014 to 2024, the country witnessed an uncertain period where the very foundations of democracy were tested. The two governments formed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance in 2014 and 2019 promised progress but the shadow of authoritarianism and questionable legislations undermined the true essence of democracy. 

The use of draconian laws like sedition laws, selective prosecution and political targeting through carrot and stick policies, and economic blunders like GST and demonetisation had severely affected the institutions as well as the federal structure. Through a critical lens, it is necessary to analyse key events and initiatives that have changed the democratic landscape, shedding light on the complexities of governance in an era marked by rapid change towards right-wing authoritarianism and uncertainty.

In the years spanning from 2014 to 2024, the Modi-led NDA government, which came to power with more than 300 elected MPs, had a clearcut edge over the Opposition. This has given the Modi government immense confidence to ride roughshod over the Opposition and come up with far-right agendas. Among many other executive actions, the Goods and Service Tax Act, The Constitution (124th Amendment) Act, 2019 for the advancement of “economically weaker sections” of citizens, the Citizenship Amendment Act, abrogation of Article 370, implementation of a controversial electoral bond scheme and the demonetisation blunder etc were the most projected ones. The country even witnessed mass suspension of Opposition MPs from the last winter session while discussing important bills including the amended criminal law bill, muting the voice of nearly 34 crore Indian voters. 

On judiciary & other major bodies 

National Judicial Appointment Committee Act (NJAC)

The NJAC Bill was introduced in Parliament in August 2014, shortly after the beginning of the Modi government's first term. The President approved it on August 15, 2014. Its objective was to replace the existing collegium system for appointing judges with a panel consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Chief Justice of India, and two eminent individuals selected by the panel. The government contended that the NJAC would enhance transparency in the selection and transfer of judges. However, petitioners argued that the NJAC would excessively involve the executive in the judiciary. Advocates-on-record from the Supreme Court filed a petition against it, invalidating the law in October 2015.

The move was audibly a threat to the independence of the judiciary and could potentially compromise its ability to function as a neutral arbiter of justice. Judicial independence is a cornerstone of democracy, to ensure that the judges are free from external pressures when making decisions. The devious effort of allowing the executive to have a larger say in judicial appointments was to erode this independence, as judges may feel obedient and accountable to the government that appointed them.

The existing collegium system, despite its criticisms, was designed to maintain a separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive. By replacing it with the NJAC, the balance of power could be disrupted, potentially leading to undue influence on judicial appointments. Nevertheless, the transparency of judicial appointments still needs to be attained. But those should be done judiciously.  

Appointments of Election Commissioners

In December 2023, the Centre introduced the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service, and Term of Office) Bill in Parliament, which was subsequently passed despite the Opposition's walkout in the Lok Sabha. The Act stipulated that the three-member panel is responsible for selecting the Chief Election Commissioner and election commissioners would consist of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and a Union Minister. Previously, in the absence of a governing law, the Chief Justice of India had been a part of this panel. It was evident that the mere nature of the act itself gives supremacy to the government as the foremost constitutional body.

Congress leader Jaya Thakur challenged the Act in the Supreme Court. Recently, ahead of the panel's meeting to select the new Chief Election Commissioner, lawyer Prashant Bhushan filed a plea in the apex court seeking an interim stay on the law. However, the Supreme Court declined to grant a stay and indicated that the matter would be addressed during the hearing of Thakur's plea scheduled for April.

Misuse of NIA (National Investigation Agency)

The National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, of 2019, proposed significant changes to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, 2008, which established the NIA as a specialised agency to investigate and prosecute offences related to terrorism and other specified crimes. The amendments aimed to enhance the powers and jurisdiction of the NIA by allowing it to investigate and prosecute offences committed outside India targeting Indians or Indian interests, as well as cybercrimes and human trafficking cases. It also enabled the agency to designate individuals as terrorists and seize their properties.

The Opposition argued about the potential misuse of these expanded powers, that they could be used to target individuals who stand against the government and communities without ensuring constitutional and civil liberties. Despite the voices of opposition against the misuse of central investigation agencies including CBI, ED and NIA, the bill was passed by Parliament and became law.

Aadhaar Case 

In 2016, the Modi government introduced the Aadhaar scheme through legislation in the Lok Sabha, passing it as a Money Bill. This action was seen as an effort to sidestep the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA lacked a majority, as the Upper House has limited authority over Money Bills. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh contested this decision in the Supreme Court in 2017, arguing against the classification of the Bill as a Money Bill. In January 2018, a five-judge Bench commenced hearings on the case, eventually affirming the law is constitutionally valid. However, they invalidated provisions that mandated linking Aadhaar to mobile phones and children's school admissions. 

The mere act itself was criticised widely. It even questioned the role of parliament and representative democracy. The act questioned the right to privacy, a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. One of the major critics of the Aadhaar Act and the Aadhaar program in India was Justice KS Puttaswamy, a retired judge of the Karnataka High Court who fought for the same right. He was one of the petitioners in the Aadhaar case and played a crucial role in challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar on the grounds of privacy concerns.

On Media and Right to Information 

Right to Information (RTI) Amendment Act

The Right to Information Act was a golden feather on the crown of Indian democracy. The latest amendment introduced by the Modi government to the RTI Act of 2005 weakened the transparency and accountability provisions of the original Act. The amendments gave power to the central government to determine the tenure and salaries of Information Commissioners at the central and state levels, which could compromise the autonomy and independence of the RTI regime. 

The mere act of the government created concerns that the changes could hinder the effectiveness of the RTI Act by discouraging Information Commissioners from making impartial decisions and diluting their ability to hold public authorities accountable.

Digital Data Protection Act 

The Digital Personal Data Protection Act (DPDPA), while a positive step towards data privacy in India, presents some serious areas for concern. The act allows the central government to collect data in the interest of specified grounds such as security of the state, public order, and prevention of offences. The Act does not require government agencies to delete personal data after the purpose for processing has been met.  Using the above exemptions, on the grounds of national security, a government agency may collect data about citizens to create a 360-degree profile for surveillance. It may utilise data retained by various government agencies for this purpose. 

The prominent critical voice other than opposition against this act was Apar Gupta, Supreme Court Lawyer, co-founder of Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) and a commentator on technology. He said that “the Act is a concerning expansion of state power that tilts the law against the interests of individual privacy.” 

Telecommunications Act 

The Telecommunication Bill, passed in December 2023 consolidates and replaces the Indian Telegraph Act, of 1885 and the Wireless Telegraphy Act, of 1933, bringing the regulatory framework up to speed with modern telecommunications. Through the Act, the Central Government maintains ownership of the spectrum and assigns it through auctions, with some exceptions for specific entities and purposes. This grants significant control over infrastructure. Companies need authorization to operate telecom networks, provide services, or possess radio equipment. Existing licences remain valid for their granted period or five years (whichever is longer).

The Act allows for ‘lawful’ telecommunications interception on grounds of national security, public order, or preventing crime. This provision has raised concerns about potential misuse. More than 50 domestic and international organisations wrote to the ministry against the bill and said, “The bill would threaten this foundational element that enables people to communicate freely and privately, in an environment of ever-increasing surveillance and cyberattacks, and potentially even resulting in such secure services choosing to not operate in India.

On Economy 

The Central Goods and Service Tax (GST) Act 

The Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha on March 27, 2017.  The Bill provides for the levy of the Central Goods and Services Tax. Through this act, the centre intended to unify the tax system where the centre would levy CGST on the supply of goods and services within the boundary of a state.  This supply included sale, transfer and lease made for consideration to further a business. It replaced numerous indirect taxes where the states lost their autonomy. 

It has encountered several challenges and negative effects while aiming to simplify the tax structure and streamline the taxation system. The immediate replacement had affected various stakeholders including small-scale industries, causing compliance issues, and confusion over tax rates, disrupting business operations. Despite its long-term objectives, GST implementation has only incurred short-term adverse effects on certain segments of the economy which notably affected the state’s economy, ultimately shaking the essence of federalism. 


Demonetisation, implemented in India in November 2016, aimed at curbing corruption, counterfeit currency, and black money. However, it led to immediate disruptions in economic activity, with cash shortages affecting sectors reliant on cash transactions, particularly agriculture and informal sectors. Small businesses faced liquidity challenges, and GDP growth temporarily slowed. While demonetisation increased digital transactions and tax compliance in the long run, its immediate effects included job losses, decreased consumer spending, and reduced GDP growth. Moreover, the effectiveness of demonetisation in curbing black money also remained untouched. The data issued by the Reserve Bank of India itself confirmed that 99% of the money that was invalidated through the late-night declaration came back into the banking system.

There were several critics of demonetisation including opposition political parties, economists, and commentators. One prominent critic among them was the prominent economist and former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who termed it as "organised loot and legalised plunder" during a parliamentary debate in 2017. The Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy has estimated that 1.5 million jobs were lost during the January-April period. Also, the sweep of the BJP-led NDA during the Uttar Pradesh state election held just after this malicious move concreted the criticisms.

Electoral Bond Scheme 

The amendment of the Finance Act of 2017, allowed individuals and corporations to donate money to political parties anonymously through financial instruments called electoral bonds. These bonds could be purchased from authorised banks (SBI) and then deposited into the accounts of political parties without disclosing the donor's identity. In the latest development in the electoral bonds case, the Supreme Court asked the SBI to disclose all conceivable details available, including the alphanumeric number corresponding to each bond. The court highlighted the right to information, the lack of transparency, and the potential for misuse of political funding through electoral bonds.

There was a provision that capped corporate donations at 7.5% of the donor companies’ average net profits in the three preceding financial years but the amendment took it away. Based on an analysis of the electoral bond data, 385 companies had donated bonds totalling Rs 5,362.2 crores to the ruling BJP, the highest recipient of electoral bond donations. Also, 55 firms were found to have made donations that exceeded the original 7.5% cap in 2022-23 and 2023-24.

Critics say that the act helped BJP to institutionalise corruption through a veiled legal route, and enabled them to acquire maximum benefits with the ‘carrot and stick’ policy by using the investigation agencies including the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), etc. Even though the delay in the trial significantly favoured the BJP, the Supreme Court verdict against electoral bonds helped in upholding democracy. 

On Farmers 

The three Farm Laws were introduced by the Indian government to liberalise agricultural markets, promote private investment, and provide farmers with more options for selling their produce. However, these laws faced widespread criticism and opposition from various quarters, including farmers' unions, political parties, and agricultural experts.

One of the major opponents of the Farm Laws was Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmer leader and spokesperson for the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU). He criticised the laws, stating, "These laws will lead to the corporatisation of agriculture and leave farmers at the mercy of big corporations." All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and the All India Farmers' Coordination Committee (AIFCC) also criticised the move. They highlighted issues such as the lack of guaranteed minimum support prices (MSP) for crops sold outside government-regulated mandis and the absence of provisions for dispute resolution mechanisms in favour of farmers. 

The Supreme Court of India proclaimed a stay order on the implementation of the three Farm Laws in January 2021, responding to petitions challenging the laws' constitutionality and legality. Amidst the abandonment and brutal suppression by the Modi government, the farmer’s protest for securing legal assurance for the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all crops and complete forgiveness of loans for all farmers continues. 

On Minority Rights 

Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)

Specifically, the CAA provides a path to Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian immigrants from these three neighbouring countries, who faced persecution based on their religion. Notably, it excludes Muslims from its provisions, which has been a point of contention and criticism. Critics argued that the CAA violates the secular principles of the Indian Constitution by discriminating against Muslims and undermines the country's long-standing tradition of secularism. They also express concerns about its potential to marginalise and disenfranchise Muslim minorities in India

This act also sparked significant controversy and led to legal challenges in India. As the great election battle proceeded, The government order triggered widespread protests and debate across the country, with concerns raised about its potential implications for secularism, inclusivity, and the rights of religious minorities. While the Supreme Court has not issued a final verdict on the Citizenship Amendment Act, the legal proceedings regarding the Act remain ongoing.

As the 2024 Lok Sabha election approached, the Union government notified the gazette after four years of presidential assent and used it to polarise people. While the critics argue that the Act is discriminatory and undermines the secular fabric of the Indian Constitution, the BJP campaigners contend that it provides much-needed relief to persecuted minorities in neighbouring countries for electoral gains.

Abrogation of Article 370 

The abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir by the Modi government drew criticism for its potential impact on minority rights. Critics argue that the move was conducted without adequate consultation with the region's predominantly Muslim population, raising concerns about democratic principles and minority representation. The mere act of abrogation itself was unconstitutional by its nature as there wasn't a state legislative council for Jammu and Kashmir. 

The subsequent bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories further marginalised the region's inhabitants, fueling apprehensions about loss of autonomy and cultural identity. Additionally, the accompanying security crackdown, including communication blackouts and arrests of political leaders, has been condemned as a suppression of dissent and civil liberties, exacerbating fears of discrimination against minority communities. 

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal said that “Article 370 was no longer a 'temporary provision' and that it had assumed permanence post the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly of J&K”. Senior constitutional jurist late Fali S Nariman called it an “unconstitutional judgement.” 

UAPA (Amendment) Act, 2019

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019, was introduced to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), aimed at combating terrorism and unlawful activities. However, the amendment gave power to the government to designate individuals as “terrorists” and seize their properties. 

Critics raised concerns about the broad scope of the amendment, arguing that it could be misused to suppress dissent and target activists, journalists, and political opponents. It also enabled potential misuse against minorities, including religious and ethnic minorities, as well as marginalised communities through the criminalisation of dissent and suppression of movements by minorities. Data shows 8,719 UAPA cases were registered between 2014 and 2022. In 2014, the number of cases was 976 and in 2022 it stood at 1,005.

Misuse of Sedition Laws 

Instances of sedition laws being used against minorities have raised concerns about freedom of speech and expression, particularly in cases where individuals from minority communities are targeted for expressing dissenting views or criticising government policies. The broad interpretation and misuse of sedition laws have disproportionately affected minorities, stifling their voices and undermining their right to dissent. 

The selective application of these laws against individuals from marginalised communities has led to allegations of discrimination and suppression of minority rights. Such actions contribute to an aura of fear and intimidation, inhibiting open discourse and challenging the principles of democracy and pluralism. The actions taken by the authorities during the non-violent anti-CAA protest held in Delhi, the JNU sedition case, Dissent in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 and comments on the Bhima Koregaon Case and many other unnoticed (by so-called national media) incidents are evident examples. 

The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Fourth Amendment) Act, 2019

The Act sought to provide for the advancement of “Economically Weaker Sections” of citizens. The bill introduced the 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for economically weaker sections (EWS) among the general category. 

While intended to address socioeconomic disparities, critics argued it could undermine existing reservations for marginalised communities based on caste. Concerns were raised about its potential to dilute affirmative action measures and perpetuate inequality. Also, questions arose about the practicality and effectiveness of implementing such a reservation without adequate infrastructure and resources like updated census reports. Critics like Sitharam Yachuri and Anand Sharma, Members of Parliament, Rajya Sabha contended that rather than addressing structural inequities, it could exacerbate social divisions and deepen disparities in access to opportunities. Both the members said this act is unconstitutional by its nature. 

Attacks on minority communities have been almost common in “Modi”fied India since 2014. It continues today even with worrying statistics.  It includes not only the so-called ‘anti-national’ Muslim minority but other minority religions too. 

Anti-Conversion Laws 

In recent years, India has witnessed multiple debates over the use of anti-conversion laws. Some people believe that these laws are necessary to protect the cultural and social cohesion of the country, while others say that these laws are used as a tool to suppress minority religions and violate the right to freedom of religion, which is protected by international human rights laws. 

“Freedom of Religion” laws are currently in force in eight states in India, namely Odisha (1967), Madhya Pradesh (1968), Arunachal Pradesh (1978), Chhattisgarh (2000 and 2006), Gujarat (2003), Himachal Pradesh (2006 and 2019), Jharkhand (2017), and Uttarakhand (2018). The Supreme Court of India has ruled that anti-conversion laws are constitutional as long as they do not interfere with an individual’s right to freedom of religion. But in its real sense, it threatens conversion even if it is protected by the Constitution. 

On Education

NCERT Curriculum Change & New Education Policy (NEP) 

The NCERT curriculum changes have often sparked debates about the role of the government in shaping education policies. While the government plays a crucial role in setting educational standards and curriculum frameworks, critics argue that politicisation and ideological biases have already influenced these decisions.

Notable voices in this debate included historians like Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and economist Jayati Gosh who said that the government's effort to rewrite history will erase our diversity and pluralism. Thapar's remarks reflect concerns about the potential distortion of historical narratives and the imposition of a singular ideological perspective in educational materials.

Similarly, educationist Anil Sadgopal voiced concerns about government interference in curriculum development including the New Educational Policy (NEP), stating, "The government's attempt to revise textbooks is a blatant effort to promote a particular ideology and suppress dissenting voices." Sadgopal's remarks underscore fears of ideological indoctrination and censorship of educational content.

National Medical Commission Act

The National Medical Commission (NMC) Act of 2019, aimed to overhaul India's medical education and regulatory framework, replacing the Medical Council of India (MCI) with the National Medical Commission. While proponents lauded its potential to address issues of corruption and improve medical education quality, critics raised significant concerns. 

Dr K Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India, criticised the bill's provisions, stating, "The NMC Bill in its present form will produce monopolies of power in medical education and in practice which will be detrimental to the health of our people." Dr Girdhar Gyani, Director-General of the Association of Healthcare Providers India, expressed reservations, saying, "This legislation will completely distort the federal structure of the health system, and open floodgates for corruption." Critics highlighted apprehensions about the centralization of power, potential conflicts of interest, and lack of representation for medical professionals and state governments in the NMC. They called for amendments to ensure transparency, accountability, and the preservation of federal principles in medical regulation. 

It is evident that the actions of the government threaten the concept of democracy and the constitution. The erosion of institutional autonomy, the suppression of dissent, and exclusionary policies risk undermining the core values of democracy. On the contrary, it is heading the nation towards a constitutional autocracy. The people of the country must recognise the situation and should raise their voices to engage in inclusive dialogue and uphold the principles of pluralism, the rule of law, and respect for fundamental rights to ensure the robustness and vitality of India's democratic position.

Nabeel Kolothumthodi is the Parliamentary Associate to a Lok Sabha MP and a Student of the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.

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