In his second set of lectures, Professor Agrawal talks about Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian rule in India from June 1975 – March 1977. Gandhi was democratically elected as Prime Minister in 1975, but the election was declared void by the Allahabad High Court due to electoral malpractice. Instead of stepping down after her appeals failed, Indira Gandhi had the President of India declare a state of emergency in India – purportedly because the protests were a danger to the country. During the state of emergency, Gandhi broke all five of the key components of democracy as outlined by Professor Agrawal. When she declared a state of emergency, she shut down electricity to media outlets so that the situation could not be fairly reported. She arrested her opposition, and the ones she couldn’t arrest had to go into hiding. Thus, all five of the key components of democracy (as outlined by Professor Agrawal) were broken: rule of law, freedom of expression, presence of a coherent and organized opposition, a free judiciary, and free and fair elections where all citizens have the right to vote.
The scary thing about this situation is how quickly it happened. One night, people went to sleep in a democracy. When they woke up, they were in an authoritarian regime. Just like that.
For discussion, Professor Agrawal asks: What do you see as the two most important institutions of democratic politics whose decline should set alarm bells ringing for citizens and why?
Of the five institutions of democratic politics, I think the most important should be free and fair elections where all citizens have the right to vote and the rule of law. As I see it, these are the most basic ones that define democracy, and are the easiest to break.