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What is likely to replace the first republic? When? How? Can we still save the republic? What is to be done? 

These are the most critical and difficult questions of our time that political sense and political science must confront. They do not admit of a “correct” answer, at least as long as history admits the inescapability of contingency. Let me only, in conclusion, sketch three possible courses that the journey of democracy may take in the near future, without assigning probabilities. 

The first route leads to a long Indian summer. We may be witnessing a quick transition from the first “socialist, secular, democratic republic” to a quasi-democratic, firmly majoritarian, and crony-capitalist republic. We could date the inauguration of the second republic to 2014, when the BJP started consolidating its electoral, ideological, and coercive power into a new one-party dominance system. Unlike the famous Congress system of consensus, the new “BJP system” is based on a concentration of power, a sectarian ideology, and the social exclusion of minorities. This second republic need not have a new constitution for as long as the Modi regime can define and redefine the threshold of tolerance for deviations from constitutionally mandated procedures. The constitutional form of parliamentary democracy may remain untinkered with, yet for all practical purposes India could become a Latin American-style presidential democracy where the supreme leader draws power from the people and is answerable only to them. The public could be continuously mobilised to undo the republic. 

In such a new dispensation our political system, while retaining the label “democracy”, would in practice be describable as “competitive authoritarianism”. Elections would be held without fail, but only in order to affirm the supreme leader’s popularity. Instead of being one among many episodes in a representative democracy, elections might then become the only available democratic episodes. Any form of political contestation outside the electoral arena – dissent, protests, and human-rights struggle or civil-society activism – would be ruthlessly suppressed. For its survival and popular endorsement, the second republic’s ruling dispensation would depend on occasional electoral endorsement, a massive propaganda machine, formal and informal regimentation of the “independent” media, indirect control of the judiciary and other “autonomous” institutions, continuous crusades against “internal enemies”, and regular military adventures, especially preceding an election.

Also read: India attracted the world once. But it wasn’t because of its ambition to be a Hindu Rashtra

India may never formally be declared a Hindu Rashtra. It would be unnecessary, for the second republic is likely to be a non-theocratic majoritarian state with a de facto hierarchy of religious communities. An American style “melting pot” model could be tried in India, with the pot bearing a distinct Hindutva stamp. We are unlikely – or so I hope despite the Delhi riots of February 2020 – to witness large-scale anti-minority pogroms, in part because the regime would like to avoid the international outcry that is bound to follow such violence. In any case, since the need of the day in our second republic would be to reduce the minorities, mainly Muslims and Christians, to the status of second-rung citizens, quotidian put-downs and symbolic violence would suffice. 

Dalits and adivasis may not face the same kind of onslaught, because the ruling regime in the second republic would be cognizant of the political benefits of accommodating them, at least symbolically. To grind their noses into the dust would in any case seem unnecessary, given a de facto hegemony of upper-caste Hindus. In our New India the politics of social justice would effectively have taken a back seat, with any expression of Dalit or Adivasi upsurge being nipped in the bud or tamed. While the imposition of Hindi on non-Hindi states would be deemed an unnecessary upsetting of the apple cart, cultural homogenisation in all other respects would be the state’s agenda. Our second republic may not be quite the Hindu Rashtra of Savarkar’s dreams, but as close to its 21st-century version as required and feasible. 

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