A year of chaos on the United States Capitol, a symbol of American democracy, has proved prophetic for many countries around the world, including those in South Asia. 2021 has been a bad year for democracy in the region, as politicians and political parties, even those who came to power through electoral politics, pursued policies increasingly authoritarian and intolerant of dissent.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier for South Asian governments to justify authoritarian measures, including discriminatory restrictions on civil liberties, excessive surveillance and media repression. In New Delhi, police arrested more than 20 people for putting up posters examination The vaccination policy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Emboldened by pandemic-induced conflicts and economic crises, the democratic recession in South Asia worsened as the year wore on.

2021 saw the Modi government and its state-level allies stoke sectarian tensions, harass critics and journalists, and hunt down nonprofits. Hate speech and attacks against minorities and their places of worship too increases.

Even as the communal storm showed no signs of abating, a storm accelerated on the outskirts of New Delhi, where tens of thousands of farmers camped for months, demanding the repeal of three contentious farm laws that paved the way for the takeover of the Indian agricultural sector. As unacceptable as the implications of the laws were undemocratic way where the Modi government made them pass; there was no discussion or debate prior to the promulgation of the laws. In addition, the government use of force quelling protests showed that she had little time or interest in engaging in sincere dialogue with farmers. As the BJP government repealed farm laws in December, possibly in view of the upcoming state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, the possibility of the government reinstating farm laws agriculture cannot be excluded.

Across the Pakistani border, Imran Khan’s government, often described as a hybrid regime given its civil-military nature, was rocked by multiple mass protests in 2021. In addition to protests led by the Pakistani Democratic Movement, a conglomerate opposition political parties, Khan had to contend with the far right demonstrators belonging to a religious party, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP). His prostration to the religious right enabled him to lift the TLP ban, an unscrupulous move that could cost Pakistan dearly in the months and years to come.

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To further complicate the situation, civil-military tensions were mounting. An unprecedented dead end between the Prime Minister and the army on the appointment of the new head of the country’s first intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. Khan dragged his feet to designate the army’s choice for the post. As the stalemate was resolved with Khan ultimately appointing the choice of army chief, Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed Anjum, as the new ISI chief, the rift between Pakistan’s civilian and military rulers was wide. day.

The fact that Khan, who came to power in 2018 with the support of the military, lost the support of his patrons was evident from the results of the elections to local bodies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This province, which was his party’s stronghold, rejected Khan and voted in favor of his opponent, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a cleric who shares the same credo as the Afghan Taliban. Incidentally, Rehman happens to be an old favorite of the Pakistani military establishment.

Tensions with the military, opposition protests, the integration of far-right groups and mismanagement of the economy have significantly reduced Khan’s chances in the next general election. The ruling party, in search of a clean constituency, has now taken to wooing Pakistanis overseas with electronic voting.

However, the biggest blow to democracy in South Asia in 2021 was the Taliban’s return to power. Although democracy in Afghanistan under President Ashraf Ghani was deeply flawed, it was nonetheless an elected government. Afghanistan had a constitution that gave its citizens certain rights. These small steps on the road to democracy have been reversed with the coming to power of the Taliban and the application of a regressive interpretation of religious laws and the revocation of the freedoms that Afghan women have acquired through struggle and activism. historical. As the Taliban fight for Course A country dependent on unaided aid, Afghans face hunger and famine amid an economic crisis threatening the security situation in the region.

In Sri Lanka, the Rajapaksa family’s grip on power has tightened; the number of Rajapaksa in ministerial positions rose to five, with Basil, the younger brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, having been appointed finance minister in July. Gotabaya’s dependence on the military to run the country increased dramatically in 2021. Military-led and military-led task forces developed and implemented policies. To deal with the pandemic, for example, Gotabaya has relied not on epidemiologists but on the military to shape policy.

The Gotabaya government’s crackdown on the media and freedom of expression continued, leaving thousands unemployed and withdrawing to the highlands. “This is why there is virtually no coverage of the COVID-19 situation in Sri Lanka,” said a reporter who spoke to The Diplomat on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh celebrated 50 years of independence last year but has yet to establish a “substantial democracy. “Although democracy was restored in the 1990s, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s administration has been accused of rigging elections and using authoritarian tactics to crush dissent. Hasina has often dismissed criticism of her autocratic administration. highlighting the economic growth of Bangladesh. “If I can provide food, jobs and health care, it is human rights,” she said. noted in 2019.

In the Maldives, infighting within the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party could undermine its electoral chances in the next election, possibly paving the way for the return of autocratic Abdulla Yameen. In Bhutan, a senior general and two judges were arrested over an alleged plot to overthrow the country’s top judge and military man. As for Nepal, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli have dealt several blows to democracy by acting in total contempt for constitutional norms, principles and procedures. The horrific power struggle between Nepalese political parties in 2021 public confidence shaken in democratic processes and institutions.