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India's democratic decline: World is able to see it

Last Updated : 17 March 2021, 07:48 IST
Last Updated : 17 March 2021, 07:48 IST

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Two telling descriptions have been made in the last few days of the decline of democracy in India. The US-based Freedom House downgraded India from a “free” country to a “partly free’’ country; the Sweden-based V-Dem Institute has defined India not as an electoral democracy but as an “electoral autocracy,” in the same category as Turkey and Hungary, and in some respects as autocratic as Pakistan and worse than Nepal and Bangladesh. The mere holding of elections is no true measure of democracy. Sometimes elections only provide an appearance, and the reality is very different. Many of the institutions that should protect democracy and citizens’ rights and freedoms have become weak. Electoral verdicts are dishonoured. The right to oppose and to criticise the government is often called an anti-national offence. That is why the country’s democratic credentials are increasingly being called into question.

The Swedish research institute’s Liberal Democracy Index has traced the decline of India’s democracy over the last several years and says it is "one of the most dramatic shifts among all countries in the world”. While India’s score was 0.54 out of one in 2013, it is 0.34 now, and its rank on the index is 97, among 179 countries. The report has noted that most of the democratic decline has occurred after the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014. What it calls the autocratisation of India has followed the typical pattern of institutional deterioration with curtailment of the freedoms of the media, academia and civil society and the weakening of institutions. It has also cited the attempts to silence the political opposition, the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), and the frequent use of sedition, national security and defamation laws as "among the instances contributing to the descent into electoral authoritarianism in what used to be the world's largest democracy."

Such evaluations of the country may be dismissed as the work of foreign agencies and organisations out to defame India, driven by their own agenda. External Affairs Minister Jaishankar has called them hypocrites. But it should be noted that these and other similar assessments of the state of India’s democracy have been made by vastly different organisations in different countries, and those assessments agree with views and apprehensions held widely and experienced by many within the country itself. The government’s responses have only served to prove exactly the point that democracy watchdogs are making, rather than assuring the world that India, for long the beacon of freedom in Asia, will hold itself to the highest values of democracy and to show that the government is at least trying to live up to them. Where do we go from here? To be clubbed with authoritarian China, Russia?

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Published 17 March 2021, 06:14 IST

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