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Indian Democracy’s Moment of Truth

With its relentless, decade-long effort to criminalize dissent, undermine free speech, and curb any political opposition, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party represents a grave threat to India’s democracy. The upcoming general election may be Indians' last chance to pull their country back from the brink of autocracy.

NEW DELHI – With around 968 million people registered to vote, India’s upcoming general election (to be held over several weeks in April and May) will be the largest democratic exercise in human history. Yet hovering over the occasion are questions about the future of Indian democracy itself.

After a decade of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) holding power, the country’s democratic culture and institutions have been substantially eroded. BJP rule has featured frequent threats to dissent and a cultural shift away from pluralism. Civil liberties and press freedoms have visibly come under strain, with the party repressing and intimidating political opponents, student protestors, media organizations, individual journalists, and human-rights organizations.

Among other things, the authorities have targeted and arrested journalists and activists on charges of sedition, simply because they covered farmers’ protests or exposed abuses of power. They have pressured social-media platforms and mainstream newspapers to remove critical content. They have shut down social-media accounts and internet access in areas where protesters are mobilizing. And they have arrested opposition leaders and misused anti-terrorism laws to deny critics’ bail.