Most of the Absolute Monarchies, except in the Middle East, have gone into folklore today but the desire to dominate refuses to die down. Monarchies are transformed into Dictatorships which sometimes behave benign but most of the times act as tyrants. Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone, a leading British Conservative politician who had served in six governments, including Churchill’s wartime administration, and was the longest-serving Lord Chancellor, or head of the British judiciary stated in his Dimbleby Lecture at BBC that the British nation supposedly dedicated to freedom under law, has moved towards nothing less than totalitarianism. He used the words “Elective Dictatorship.” He said, “The system of government we had evolved through the centuries, a system of government which we were apt to think of as the best and most democratic in the world. In present conditions the whole absolute powers of Parliament are wielded by the Cabinet alone and sometimes by a relatively small group within the Cabinet. This means that what has always been an elective dictatorship in theory, but one in which the component parts operated in practice to control one another, has become a machine in which one of those parts has come to exercise a predominant influence over the rest. Our constitution is wearing out. Its central defects consist in the absolute powers we confer on our sovereign body, and the concentration of those powers in an executive government formed out of one party which does not always fairly represent the popular will.”
He was not talking about the dictatorships. But while studying the gradual flourishing of new dictators, we find a lot of traits and instincts that were common in them.
The world history considers Napoleon Bonaparte as the first dictator of modern world. He was a general during the French Revolution and that was a period of huge social and political upheaval in the country. Monarchy was abolished in France in 1789 and the country evolved from a monarchy to a republic. It was a period full of uncertainties, executions, coups and confusion. Napoleon was an undefeated military commander and he enjoyed immense popularity. At the helm of affairs, he created a balanced budget, reformed the government and wrote the Civil Code that still forms the basis of French civil law today. Subsequently, he abolished the Senate and continued to reform the constitution. He named himself consul for life, and in 1804, crowned himself emperor.
Interesting feature of his rule was that he controlled every facet of government and had established a fierce spy network. He also controlled the press, ensuring that his propaganda machine continued. He made mistakes and ended in prison at St. Helena.
Most of the modern dictators usually come to power during states of turmoil and emergency. Let’s look at what makes a dictator a dictator. The first heady idea he believes in is that he knows better than the rest what is good for the country and public. These dictators usually begin with a benign control of public information and opinion that soon degenerates into putting up false and misleading information. The ministry of information is reduced to the ministry of propaganda.
The next step is quite the drastic that involves the Undue official influence on trials and juries, exclusion of those opposed to the law, exclusion of the jury from hearing argument on the law, exclusion of private prosecutors from access to the grand jury, and prevention of parties and their counsels from making effective arguments or challenging the government.
It is followed by Usurpation of un-delegated powers that ultimately leads to the deprivation of rights of minorities and individuals.
Then a sort of war-hysteria is created to divert the attention of the masses from the real problems to emotions. The term WAR is associated with every activity and becomes popular. His government declares a “war on crime” “or “war on drugs” or “war on terror” or war on anything that he feels beyond reach. Instead these slogans become the instrument to suppress the civil liberties.
Suppression of investigators and whistleblowers becomes necessary as public wants to know the facts. When people who try to uncover high level wrongdoing are threatened, that is a sign the system is not only riddled with corruption, but that the corruption has passed the threshold into active tyranny.
The power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That leads to subversion of internal checks and balances. This involves the appointment to key positions of persons who can be controlled by the ruler. He puts up the subordinates who are ready to do illegal things.
There is long list of these traits and historians have been analyzing the traits of dictators from ancient times to the present day.
However, a recent development in IIT Madras is worrisome symptom that could one day cause a threat to our democracy.
“The IIT-Madras banned a Dalit students association following an anonymous complaint that it had criticised the Central government’s policies and spread “hatred” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hindus. The prestigious technical education institute acted after the Union human resource development ministry forwarded the complaint, which alleged the Ambedkar Periyar Student Circle (APSC) was mobilising scheduled caste and scheduled tribe students against the government’s policy on the use of Hindi and the ban on beef. The pamphlet mentioned the ‘ghar wapsi’ programme of right wing groups and the ban on beef in some states. The complaint claimed the APSC was trying to create hatred against the “Prime Minister and Hindus.”
IIT-Madras’ dean of students welfare Sivakumar M Srinivasan said members of APSC failed to follow the code of conduct for student bodies which states that activities should have the dean’s approval. “The members did not go through me or take my permission for the posters or the activity.”
Members of the APSC dismissed the dean’s allegations that the association was involved in “divisive” activities. They pointed out the group had not misused any facilities.
By Naim Naquvi