Based at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden-based Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute produced its latest report on democracy. The report says that India- The Largest Democracy had turned into an “Electoral Autocracy”.
V-Dem is believed to produce the most extensive global dataset on democracy from 1789 to 2020, with around 30 million data points for 202 countries. It considers 3,500 scholars and other country experts, measures hundreds of different attributes of democracy such as the liberties and independence of the media and society, legislatures, judiciaries, human rights, and many related topics. All these produced 29,759,876 data points in the v11 dataset, and 7 million graphs were created for analysis.
This report shows that many of the autocratizing nations are G20 nations, such as the USA, Brazil, Turkey, and India. According to the data, many countries are in the group of autocracies, such as Bangladesh, Tanzania, Hungary, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. This has become a global trend now, making electoral autocracies the most common type of regime. In North America and Western and Eastern Europe, no country has advanced in democracy in the past 10 years. Hungary, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, and the United States of America have declined substantially.
Electoral and closed autocracies are home to 68% of the world’s population. Liberal democracies have diminished from 41 countries in 2010 to 32 in 2020, with a population share of only 14%. Electoral democracies account for 60 nations and the remaining 19% of the population.
Yonatan L Morse, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Connecticut and a country expert for V-Dem, says that “India is the latest example of this following Hungary and Turkey. The Indian case stands out given the size of its population and past record as a successful model of multi-ethnic democracy.” Formerly the world’s largest democracy with 1.37 billion inhabitants is now an electoral autocracy.
According to the report, India, as an autocracy, is equal to Pakistan and worse than Bangladesh and Nepal. Most of India’s decline happened after the BJP’s victory and their promotion of a Hindu-nationalist agenda. India’s score as a Liberal Democracy declined from 0.57 in 2013 to 0.34 in 2020. This 23-percentage drop on the 0 to 1 LDI scale is the most shocking among all countries in the history of 10 years.
According to Prof. Morse, India follows the pattern observed in other cases of recent democratic breakdown. “Populist leaders first capture many of the gatekeepers in the state. They then often repress freedom of expression by censoring media, limiting academic freedom, or curtailing civil society. Populist leaders often polarise society. They delegitimise the political opposition, often presenting them as enemies of the state or people. What follows is often a violation of electoral integrity itself and outright fraud.”
Government of India before PM Modi rarely exercised censorship and had a score of 3.5 out of 4 before Modi became PM. In 2020, the same score was 1.5, which shows that censorship is a routine and not restricted to sensitive issues. The report has also stated, “India has misused laws on sedition, defamation, and counterterrorism to silence critics. Over 7,000 people have been charged with sedition after the BJP assumed power, and most of the accused are critics of the ruling party.” Strict punishments for sedition, constraints placed on civil society moves against secularism. Recent amendment in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) from 1967 in August 2019 is being used to intimidate and imprison political opponents and protesters of government policies are the instances highlighted in the report. “Universities and authorities have punished students and activists in universities engaging in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The BJP has increasingly used the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) to restrict the entry, exit, and functioning of Civil Society Organisations (CSO). These developments are among the instances contributing to the descent into electoral authoritarianism in what used to be the world’s largest democracy,” says the report.
It is just not V-Dem who has criticised Indian democracy. Last month, The Economist Intelligence Unit, which analyses the health of democracy in 165 countries and two territories, described India as a “flawed democracy”, as it slipped two places and now ranks 53rd. Freedom House has also produced the latest global report on political rights and civil liberties, covering developments in 195 countries and 15 territories. It further stated that India has moved from the category of ‘free country’ to a ‘partly free’ country.
India has refused to accept these reports and has shown a vigorous reaction. The foreign ministry commenting on the Freedom House report said, “India had robust institutions and well-established democratic practices and did not need sermons especially from those who cannot get their basics right”. The political judgements of the report were inaccurate and distorted”. Venkaiah Naidu said, “All countries which are commenting on India should first look inward and then comment on India.” Some news reports say, not satisfied with reports, India now will create its own democracy rankings.
Rohan Mukherjee, an assistant professor of political science at Yale-NUS College, says, “most non-academics would be incredulous that a handful of research assistants and country experts get to decide that a country is an “electoral autocracy” while most of that country’s citizens would disagree”. He says, in the V-Dem dataset, democracy has a precise and multi-faceted definition, and there are many aspects of it, which the majority of Indians do not keep in mind when they think about their lives and the political system in which they live. “That’s not to say that their experience is any less valid, but it explains the disconnect,” he says.
Hence, they can be relied upon, as said by Prof Mukherjee; these rankings are a conclusion of a study of various aspects. This means that India has lost its status of being the world’s largest democracy. This is a real cause of concern as it has affected India’s image at the global level. Now there is a strong need to look upon this, and efforts should be made to make India a Liberal Democracy.
This post was written by Harmanpreet, Ist year