Four indices that show how vulnerable India’s democracy is today

Living in a democracy?
Living in a democracy?
Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
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India’s ranking on several global democracy indices has been slipping. But the Indian government is not having it.

Just this month, the country’s status as a democracy has been called into question by two advocacy organisations.

First, Freedom House, an American non-profit advocacy for democratic rights, changed India’s status from “free” to “partially free” on March 3. This status change, according to the report, came “due to a multiyear pattern in which the Hindu nationalist government and its allies have presided over rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting the Muslim population and pursued a crackdown on expressions of dissent by the media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.”

A week later on March 11, V-Dem, a Swedish rights organisation, demoted India from being a democracy to an “electoral autocracy” in its report titled “Autocratization Turns Viral.”

Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar dismissed these data as nothing but the developed world’s “hypocrisy” while speaking at the India Today Conclave on March 15. Jaishankar may have called these reports “homilies,” but they point to a worrying trend of India’s declining status across key indices.

No freedom, no happiness

This decline has been gradual yet consistent over the past few years. And, given the various civil rights activists who have been arrested over the past two years, India’s rankings are likely going to worsen.

For instance, India has been notoriously worsening on the global press freedom index that is brought out by international non-profit Reporters Without Borders. “Ever since the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, pressure on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line has increased,” the 2020 report noted.

On the comprehensive indices in the World Happiness Report 2020, India slid many points between 2008-12 and 2017-19, an entered the bottom 10 in the list of 149 countries for the first time. “The 10 countries with the largest declines in average life evaluations typically suffered some combination of economic, political, and social stresses,” the 2020 report said.

A function of that happiness is access to food, and according to the Global Hunger Index, an annual peer-reviewed report, India continues to be among the worst in the world. It has, though, been improving its total score on the index since 2000.

On its part, though, the Indian government is now considering setting up with local think tanks to bring out its own freedom indices as a counter to damaging western perspectives. “We may encourage one of the Indian independent think tanks to bring out its own annual world democracy report based on comprehensive parameters as well as an annual global freedom of press index,” said an internal note prepared by India’s foreign ministry and reviewed by Hindustan Times newspaper.