“Defend institutions. It is institutions that help us to preserve decency. They need our help as well. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you make them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning. So choose an institution you care about—a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union—and take its side.”Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
People feel safe in a country that is protected by democratic institutions. They believe no anarchist or dictator will go unchecked. No one will be able to destroy the fortress of strong democratic institutions and the spirit of a liberal nation.
How can a leader who is elected by democratic institutions can destroy it? But that’s what happens when the rhetoric is to go back to the past nationalistic glory or to vilify and threaten the minority groups in the country. Democracy always hangs on a delicate thread.
The foremost objective of a far-right populist ideology is to erode the public’s trust on democratic institutions and other political parties in the country. The supreme leader is portrayed as the only protagonist who can save the country from the alleged democratic exploitation.
Disinformation and fake news propaganda machinery work ardently until a large mass of people believe in the fabricated mistrust.
Supreme courts and election commissions will be mauled. Media will be targeted for not showing the sufferings of the poor and film industries will be assailed for promoting western values. These institutions will be attacked on the pretext of being anti-national and sooner the institution will be filled with corrupt officials to conduct war on democracy.
Here are a few examples:
In the US, Donald Trump packed the Supreme courts with conservative judges, banned journalists from attending White House briefings, fired the FBI Director who was investigating Russian interference in the US elections.
In Brazil, in 2020, Bolsanaro’s government passed a law to regulate social media platforms to silence the critics. The previous year, it made it easy to prosecute journalists for fake news.
Viktor Orban in Hungary and Andrzej Duda in Poland gave their governments the power to appoint the Heads of media outlets. In Poland, it is illegal to insult the nation and so the critics of the government will be behind bars.
In India, educational institutions are under pressure to restrict free speech and the school curriculum has seen several changes that instills traditional ideologies among students as an antidote to western values prevailing in the society.
In 2018, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) administration banned holding unplanned events in the campus, and in 2020, it passed a new code of conduct that prohibits students from making defamatory or inciting statements. These initiatives are seen by many as a threat to free speech in the country.
Bollywood (not an institution but the Hindi film industry), a vital pulse of Indian society, even more than the judiciary and other democratic institutions, is accused for making anti-India movies, against some religious sentiments and for being secular or leaning towards western values. Far right populists touch what is sentimental to the masses and in India its Bollywood, sadly.
And that’s why the same Bollywood is used to promote hatred against religious minorities in the country. For example,the trailer of a movie named The Kerala Story, claimed that 32,000 girls from the Indian State of Kerala were converted to Islam and sent to Syria for Jihad. But there are no facts to support this claim. The movie was promoted by the Indian Prime Minister and his followers.
The impact of such attacks are visible. Some of the Bollywood movies produced have a strong religious affiliation to appeal to the larger masses.
When such attacks happen, people tend to offer anticipatory obedience, which we discussed in the previous article, either out of fear, or out of loyalty (from their supporters) against their lifelong cherished values.
The institutions will not be demolished all at once but gradually, one by one, by corrupting the very essence of their purpose and misusing them for vested interests.
So it is important to hold institutions you like close to your heart and defend them against any oppression, without fear.
To be continued..