Annual report by Swedish institute downgrades India from ‘world’s largest democracy’ to ‘electoral autocracy’

‘Narendra Modi led BJP to victory in 2014 and most of the decline occurred following BJP’s victory and their promotion of a Hindu-nationalist agenda,’ the report by Sweden’s V-Dem Institute says

(Photo by Keshav Singh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
(Photo by Keshav Singh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
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NH Web Desk

The world's largest democracy has turned into an electoral autocracy, the 2021 ‘Democracy Report’ titled ‘Autocratization Turns Viral’ by the Sweden-based V-Dem Institute has observed.

Set up in 2014, V-Dem is an independent research institute based at the University of Gothenburg, and has been publishing a data-heavy worldwide democracy report each year since 2017. As the name suggests, these reports look at the status of democracies in countries around the world. The institute calls itself the world’s largest data collection project on democracy.

“India's autocratization process has largely followed the typical pattern for countries in the "Third Wave" over the past ten years: a gradual deterioration where freedom of the media, academia, and civil society were curtailed first and to the greatest extent,” the report by V-Dem Institute said in its report on India authored by Shreeya Pillai and Staffan I. Lindberg.

“Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory in India's 2014 elections (marked with a vertical dashed line in the figure above) and most of the decline occurred following BJP's victory and their promotion of a Hindu-nationalist agenda.”

Annual report by Swedish institute downgrades India from ‘world’s largest democracy’ to ‘electoral autocracy’
Annual report by Swedish institute downgrades India from ‘world’s largest democracy’ to ‘electoral autocracy’

“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, alongside autocratizing countries like Brazil, Hungary, and Turkey.”

“The overall freedom and fairness of elections ("Elections free and fair") also was hard hit, with the last elections held under Prime Minister Modi's reign in 2019, precipitating a downgrading to an electoral autocracy,” the report said.

“Yet, the diminishing of freedom of expression, the media, and civil society have gone the furthest. The Indian government rarely, if ever, used to exercise censorship as evidenced by its score of 3.5 out of 4 before Modi became Prime Minister.”

Annual report by Swedish institute downgrades India from ‘world’s largest democracy’ to ‘electoral autocracy’

“India is, in this aspect, now as autocratic as is Pakistan, and worse than both its neighbors Bangladesh and Nepal. In general, the Modi-led government in India has used laws on sedition, defamation, and counterterrorism to silence critics' For example, 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,” V-Dem said in its annual report

“The law on defamation, upheld in India's Supreme Court on May 2016, has been used frequently to silence journalists and news outlets that take exception to policies of the BJP government.' The punishments for critical messaging range from two years in prison to life imprisonment for "words, spoken or written, or signs or visible representation that can cause "hatred or con-tempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection" toward the government!'.”

“Recently, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) from 1967 and amended in August 2019 is being used to harass, intimidate, and imprison political opponents, as well as people mobilizing to protest government policies. The UAPA has been used also to silence dissent in academia! Universities and authorities have also punished students and activists in universities engaging in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).”

“Civil society is also being muzzled in the autocratization process. The indicators gauging the level of repression of civil society organizations (CSO) and the government's control of which organizations are allowed to exist ("CSO entry and exit") capture that severe deterioration. Meanwhile, civil society organizations aligning themselves with the Hindutva movement have gained more freedom,” the report read.

The entire report can be read here

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