By Devika Bedi
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2017 Democracy Index report, which was released on Tuesday, shows that democracy is in decline across the world. The list has been divided into four broad categories — full democracy, flawed democracy, the hybrid regime and authoritarian regime. In the ‘media freedom ranking’, India ranked 49 out of 167 countries that the index covered.
“India has also become a more dangerous place for journalists, especially the central state of Chhattisgarh and the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir,” the Economist Intelligence Unit said. “The authorities there have restricted freedom of the press, closed down several newspapers and heavily controlled mobile internet services. Several journalists were murdered in India in 2017, as in the previous year.
“The rise of conservative religious ideologies also affected India,” the authors of the report noted. “The strengthening of right-wing Hindu forces in an otherwise secular country led to a rise of vigilantism and violence against minority communities, particularly Muslims, as well as other dissenting voices.”
A Human Rights Watch report published on January 22 had also alleged that Indian failed to protect its minorities in 2017. Women, Dalits and religious minority communities lived under threat in 2017 as violence perpetrated by vigilante groups that claimed to be supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party continued unabated, the report had said. In light of the above, analyse the reasons for India having lost sound ground in calling itself a democracy and the coincidental decline in democratic values in the NDA regime.
On 30th January, Democracy Index 2017 was published by the Economist Intelligence Unit. According to the report that featured 167 countries (165 independent states and 2 territories), India ranked 42nd on the Democratic Index and 49th in the media freedom ranking. India along with a collective 48% of the world’s population was categorized as surviving in “flawed democracies”.
Numbers paint a neutral picture
This Democratic Index report is the tenth of its kind. It has expressed grave erosion in democracies across the world since 2006. Along with Indonesia, democracy in India declined the most. India fell ten places in the rankings as our score deteriorated by 0.58 points to give us 7.23 points (on a scale of 0 to 10). Asian countries by enlarge suffered a big hit in the rankings. According to the index, Asia (5.63) lagged behind North America (8.56), Western Europe (8.38) and Latin America (6.26). The worst performing nation has been Indonesia dropping 20 ranks from 48 to 68.
However, it is not too bad after all. India remains a better democracy than all of its neighbouring countries. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar rank 110th, 92nd, 94th, 62nd and 120th respectively. Geographically wrapped in severely hit democracies and an authoritarian government of China, India maintains its total score in the index as 7.23 on the scale of 0-10.
Time for India to introspect
India is a country where an Indian born in a Muslim family feels like an outsider all their life. In the past few years, Indian socio-political scenario has suffered blatant bias. Ostensible populism has found a place in newspapers and prime time spots in news channels. The edifice of “achhe din” (better days) have got with them a complex, opaque, almost suffocating campaign of homogenous and modified nationalistic sentiment. If 2016 saw the rise of populistic powers, 2017 saw a somewhat unified revolt against them. Freedom of the press, Rohingya crisis, beef row, identity-driven politics and courtroom battles were pressing matters in India last year. “The rise of conservative religious ideologies also affected India,” the authors of the report noted. “The strengthening of right-wing Hindu forces in an otherwise secular country led to a rise of vigilantism and violence against minority communities, particularly Muslims, as well as other dissenting voices.”
Our ‘flawed democracy’ remains the largest and the oldest in the world. According to the report, “flawed democracies” are “countries that have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.”
Cobwebs in the largest, oldest democracy
India flaunts its stature as the largest and oldest democracy in the world. Its deteriorating condition as one attracts doubts on the functioning of the current government. “This report should serve as a warning sign for the Prime Minister. His style of governance is not really democratic and this report has just proved his critics at home right,” says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, political analyst and the author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times said. Since our copious population reflects copious culture and ethnicity, it may rightly be a task to ensure fool-proof democracy. However, with a rich and comprehensive constitution, Indian administration must act stern by the rule book with seasoned wisdom and jurisdiction.
Grave concerns over Indian press have also been reflected in the report. Websites like AltNews.in and Smhoaxslayer.com show the prevalence of fake news across various media platforms in India. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on India in October last year warning for the identification and prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of many journalists in the recent past then. It went on to remind India that freedom of the press is the cornerstone of an effectively functioning democracy. The recent Democracy Index report is also themed on the freedom of the press. It reiterates that “India has also become a more dangerous place for journalists, especially the central state of Chhattisgarh and the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.” It went on to say that authorities have engaged in closing down many newspapers, news agencies and hampering with mobile services for many. Director of Voters Mood, Jai Murg holds the credibility of the report and seconds the what most people in India are saying. “This is a very comprehensive report. It only indicates what people have been vouching for in the country. It is important that institutions like the media are allowed to function without interference from the government,” he said.
What are we? What have we become?
India is a pluralistic democracy like the EU. Here no single culture or language is given more priority than the other. After the British left, they were of a mindset that “no one can make a nation out of a continent of many nations”. However, Vallabh Bhai Patel integrated and united the various provinces on account of giving each ethnicity it deserved political and legal inclusion in the central administration. What we observe now is not only the conscious effort to paint the nation with the same brush, but also the imposition of a misinformed history through various tools and techniques.
Democracy and freedom of the press are why many like me are able to express this. Fear and hurdles in the transparent electoral process and media freedom brings down the trust and confidence of people in the government. The democratic ethos of ‘for the people, by the people and of the people’ must be reinstated back to ground levels.
Featured image source: Wikimedia Commons
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