India slips on the Global Democracy Index

India has been ranked 42 out of 165 nations, last year it was 32. The report states, after Narendra Modi took over, India has degraded in political culture and civil liberties.

Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Mahendra Pandey

The Global Democracy Index 2017 has ranked India at 42, a 10-point dip from the 2016 index. Released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of the Economist Group, it states that “according to the 2017 Democracy Index almost one-half of the world’s countries can be considered to be democracies of some sort, but the number of “full democracies” has declined to 19 in 2016 and 2017 from 20 in 2015.

A white paper has termed India a “flawed democracy”. In the index published by the magazine, India is ranked 42 out of 165 nations. Last year its rank was 32. The US has been downgraded from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” because of a further erosion of trust in government and elected officials there. The “democratic recession” worsened in 2017, when no region experienced an improvement in its average score and almost twice as many countries (89) recorded a decline in their total score.” It is surprising that only 49.3% of world’s population lives in some sort of democracy, however only 4.5% live in full democracy.

The index, published annually by the newspaper, gauges the strength of a nation’s democracy on the basis of five parameters – election process, functioning of the government, political participation, political culture and freedom. Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand and Denmark tops the index. In the context of the current political culture, we are placed below many Sub-Sahara African countries. The report states, after Narendra Modi took over, India has degraded in political culture and civil liberties.

The report mentions that the strengthening of right-wing Hindu forces has led to a rise in vigilantism and violence against minorities, such as Muslims. The journalists are at a risk from the government, military, non-state actors and radical groups.

The Freedom House of USA publishes Quality of Democracy Index after considering parameters like – freedom, political system, gender equality, economy, health and environment. India was ranked 65th in the list of 112 countries. On this index, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland and Denmark top it.

According to the report, India maintains a robust electoral democracy with a competitive multiparty system at federal and state levels. However, politics (and business) are beset by corruption. The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the news media are vibrant, even as speech and reportage deemed seditious or harmful to religious sentiment is routinely censored and punished. India’s minority groups—notably Muslims, scheduled castes (Dalits), and scheduled tribes (Adivasis)—enjoy legal equality and sometimes benefit from affirmative action programs. However, they remain economically and socially marginalized and have been the victims of violent attacks.

The report adds that the private media houses are vigorous and diverse, investigations and scrutiny of politicians are common. Nevertheless, revelations of close relationships between politicians, business executives, and lobbyists and some leading media personalities and owners of media outlets have dented public confidence in the press. In October 2016, a prominent television station declined to air an interview with a major opposition-party politician and former finance minister, apparently because he had been critical of the Modi government’s “surgical strikes” on Pakistani targets across the Line of Control (LOC) demarcating the Indian- and Pakistani-held parts of Kashmir. Separately, in July 2016, three Chinese journalists were denied visa renewals by the Indian government and expelled from the country; a Chinese state-owned newspaper suggested that this was punishment for China’s objection to India joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

“An array of Hindu nationalist organisations and some local media outlets promote anti-minority views, a practice that critics charge is tolerated or even encouraged by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Modi. Like the year before it, 2016 saw a series of attacks on minorities tied to the alleged slaughter or mishandling of cows (animals held to be sacred by Hindus). Ruling-party politicians have called for the release of those charged with the lynching of a Muslim man in 2015, demanding instead that the victim’s family be prosecuted for cow slaughter. Self-styled gau rakshaks (cow protectors) have engaged in vigilante violence against Dalit communities in Gujarat and Karnataka. Modi has been criticised for failing to promptly condemn the perpetrators of such attacks” the report says further.

To protect the democracy, it is essential that it should reshape current governments into forms more suitable for modern life: technologically savvy, data-driven and fully globalised. The contrasts can be stark. In Sweden, for example, elementary students learn to code and to spot fake news, whereas in the US, the president routinely promotes falsehoods. Taiwan, Spain and Iceland are exploring new methods of democracy that tap collective intelligence, but Russia and Turkey are moving toward autocracy and totalitarianism.

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