By Ananya Singh
Over the course of one year, India has fallen 10 places—from 32nd to 42nd position—in the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Global Democracy Index 2017. The report, which gauges the state of democracy in 167 countries, reveals that democratic ideals are on a downward trend across the globe. According to the index released on Tuesday, India’s sharp decline is due to the “rise of conservative religious ideologies”, increasing vigilantism and violence against minorities and marginal communities.
What is the EIU Global Democracy Index?
Created in 1946, the EIU is the research and analysis division of The Economist Group, which also owns The Economist magazine. The Democracy Index is an annual compilation of data on 167 countries (165 independent states and two territories), that serves to rank the global state of democracy.
The index bases its analysis on 60 indicators grouped under five overarching subheadings: Electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, government functioning, political culture and political participation. Within each category, countries are scored on a wide range of indicators. Each nation is then categorised into four types of regimes based on the country’s score: Full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime and authoritarian regime.
The 2017 edition is the tenth Democracy Index published by EIU. This year’s report includes a special analysis of ‘media freedom’, where countries are studied on the extent of the freedom of the press and liberty of expression granted to its citizens.
State of democracy falls worldwide
As compared to their respective rankings back in 2016, 89 countries have charted a decline in the state of their democracy. Indonesia recorded the biggest decline, falling from 48 to 68 in 2017.
The average worldwide score fell from 5.52 in 2016 to 5.48. 89 countries charted a decline in their democratic scores. Only 27 countries recorded an improvement while the remaining 51 nations’ total score was stagnant. The US, earlier categorised as a ‘full democracy’, fell from this top position to a ‘flawed democracy’ in 2017. As a result of this, only 4.5 percent of the global population reside in a ‘full democracy’ while one-third are ruled by authoritarian regimes.
Asian nations experienced a regression as they recorded the biggest decline compared to the other continents. Asia, with a score of 5.63, fell behind North America (8.56), Western Europe (8.38) and Latin America (6.26).
The highest positions were awarded to Norway, Iceland and Sweden. Fourth and fifth positions went to New Zealand and Denmark respectively. Ireland, Canada, Australia, Finland and Switzerland were other countries that made it into the top ten. Norway was scored 9.87 overall, securing full points for its electoral process and pluralism, political participation and political culture.
The top 19 countries are the only ones categorised as ‘full democracies’. While India has been accorded the position of ‘flawed democracy’, other neighbouring states such as Pakistan at 110th position, Bangladesh at 92nd, Nepal at 94th and Bhutan at 99th position, have been classified as ‘hybrid regimes.’
Under the ambit of ‘authoritarian regimes’ are China (139th), Myanmar (120th), Russia (135th) and Vietnam (140th). The lowest position was taken by North Korea at 167, while Syria came second last with a ranking of 166.
India as a ‘flawed democracy’
India’s score fell by 0.58 points to 7.23, representing a drop of 10 places. While the country did well in the electoral process and pluralism category, it performed unsatisfactorily in the other four parameters.
The report attributed this decline to India’s growing “conservative religious ideologies.” With right-wing Hindu factions gaining force in the nation, vigilante violence has been on the rise. There has been a systematic repression of dissenters as well as continuous violence against minorities.
Analysing the freedom of press in India, the report stated that the country’s media is “partially free.” The report states, “India has also become a more dangerous place for journalists, especially the central state of Chhattisgarh and the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.” There have been various incidents of shutting down newspapers, and restricting internet services and press freedom in these violence-riddled states. Radicalism has seen an unprecedented rise, and journalists have been under threat from the government and radical groups. One such incident that sparked debate was the murder of journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh.
Clashes between right-wing factions, purported to be supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and minority communities have shot up. A Human Rights Watch report which was published on 22 January charged India with having failed its duty to protect minorities in 2017.
How can India improve its ranking?
Pluralism is an essential characteristic of a democracy. The ability to hold opinions on state matters and express these freely, irrespective of whether they oppose the state-sanctioned view, is what constitutes a democratic nation.
India has witnessed growing incidents of state violence and the repression of dissenting voices. Minority communities continue to live under the threat of life and livelihood while radical groups run amok, spreading havoc in their wake. All this continues under the guise of a “sovereign, secular, democratic republic.”
To improve its ranking on the Democracy Index, India must take note of the clear disregard for democratic ideals that has become close to a norm in the past few years. For a true democracy to emerge, the country needs to ascertain where it is going wrong and attempt to remedy the same. Only then can India rise from a ‘flawed democracy’ to a ‘full democracy.’
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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