Declining Democracy and the Dawn of Dictatorial India?

DD Mishra

DD Mishra

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India’s democracy is not an internal matter of India.

THERE IS A lot of debate around the decline and demise of democracy in India. However, many experts believe otherwise. This study is an attempt to deep dive into various facts to understand where democracy is heading.

I have tried to understand the study conducted by three different globally acclaimed institutions V-Dem, Economic Intelligence Unit, and Freedom House, which are involved in research around democracies across the word.

V-Dem – Liberal Democratic Index Score.

The V-Dem Institute (Varieties of Democracy) is an independent research institute founded by Professor Staffan I. Lindberg in 2014. It is funded by several government organizations, World Bank, and several research institutions.

The V-Dem Institute’s measures of democracy are the most detailed and granular among several democracy indexes. Today, in most of the world, the VDem report is the single source of truth for measuring democracy.

I have used the dataset of VDem, which has a database of more than 100 years for India. I have tried to plot the chart since 1952. India became a republic in the year 1950. I gave a couple of years as a cooling-off period and then tried to see how democracy has performed over a period till 2020.

Except for the year 1975, when Indira Gandhi declared an emergency, the democracy remained stable. From 2014 onwards, the decline of democracy is rapid, and the score is now close to 0.3, slightly better than the emergency period of 1975. As per the VDem report

A major change is that the world’s largest democracy turned into an electoral autocracy: India with 1.37 billion people”.

It adds further, “India’s level of liberal democracy registered at 0.34 by the end of 2020 after a steep decline since its high at 0.57 in 2013. That represents a 23-percentage point drop on the 0 to 1 LDI scale, making it one of the most dramatic shifts among all countries in the world over the past 10 years”

Fig 1: Liberal Democratic Index Data

democracy

Many experts question VDem data for being biased against India. Had it been so, the democratic values should not have shown a slight upward movement since 1979 and remained close to 0.6 most of the time. We can connect the same to political events which unfolded in last 70 years.

The primary concern we have is despite a stable favorable political environment currently, democracy is in decline. Does this trend indicate a structural system failure or shift towards autocracy? The VDem score is a composite score of multiple dimensions around democracy, and decline suggests a significant risk to our commitment to democracy.

Economic Intelligence Unit – Democracy Index

The Democracy Index is an index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the research division of the Economist Group, a UK-based private company that publishes the weekly newspaper The Economist.

The index is self-described as intending to measure the state of democracy in 167 countries, of which 166 are sovereign states and 164 are UN member states.I tried to look at the data Published in this report.

democracy

As per Economic Intelligence Unit report which I am quoting verbatim here:

“In India, democratic norms have been under pressure since 2015. India’s score fell from a peak of 7.92 in 2014 to 6.61 in 2020 and its global ranking slipped from 27th to 53rd as a result of democratic backsliding under the leadership of Narendra Modi, a member of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who became prime minister in 2014 and was re-elected for a second term in 2019.”

Freedom House Score for India

Freedom House is a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights. Freedom House was founded in October 1941, and Wendell Willkie and Eleanor Roosevelt served as its first honorary chairpersons.

The organization’s annual Freedom in the World report, which assesses each country’s degree of political freedoms and civil liberties, is frequently cited by political scientists, journalists, and policymakers.

To make a third level of validation of India’s declining trends of democracy, I tried to investigate deeper into Freedom House Score dataset. This corroborates with the above findings of VDem and Economic Intelligence Unit shown above.

democracy

I am quoting verbatim findings of freedom house report here

“India, the world’s most populous democracy, dropped from Free to Partly Free status in Freedom in the World 2021. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its state-level allies continued to crack down on critics during the year, and their response to COVID-19 included a ham-fisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers.”

‘Oxygen Langar’ organised by a Delhi Gurdwara during second wave of Covid-19

We have little doubt now that democracy is in actual decline. The tell-tale signs are visible in various forms.

The response to Pandemic attracted widespread condemnation. But was it due to structural failure of democracy for which the people of India paid the price.

Just look at the internet shutdown in India. This shows how the government has curtailed the voice of the people in India.

Failure of Institutions to perform independently is another Indicator and one of the consequences.

Fig: Internet Shutdowns in India from 2012 -2020 from Statistica.com

Source Statistica.com

RSF (Reporters without Borders) Names PM Modi Among 37 ‘Predators of Press Freedom’ and acknowledges India as India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly”.

Indian media is going through one of the worst phases of its biased and notorious journalism.

For those who do not know RSF, it is an independent NGO with consultative status with the United Nations, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, and the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF).

India’s Score sharply deteriorated from 40.34 in 2014 to 46.56 in 2021 for press freedom.

India’s democracy is not an internal matter of India. It is a global concern as the world has too much operational risk and investments with India.

Unless India wants to become a pariah state, failure of democracy in a global community is a recipe for disaster and it will have cascading impact. It is linked to our growth, economy, well being, destiny as a nation, and overall collective success with the rest of the world.

The analysis published above is an effort to understand the current decline with hope against the hope that someone will read and understand its gravity and its consequences.

Also Read:

Pandemic Profits and Politics – the saga of India’s “La Casa De Papel”

Assam-Mizoram Conflict: Centre must set up an Inter-State Border Commission to resolve such issues

The ‘Independent’ Indian Media

Cases against media persons – Don’t shoot the Messenger!

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DD Mishra

DD Mishra

The writer is a researcher, blogger, social worker, activist, and change agent who strives to create social equilibrium and harmony for sustainable development. The content represents personal views of the author and does not represent the organisation or any group with which he may be associated with.

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