Democracy on a downslide

As the world’s largest democracy, India has a responsibility to elevate democracy rather than contributing to its slump

Published: 1st Feb 2020   12:10 am Updated: 31st Jan 2020   11:29 pm

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide in 167 countries. This covers almost the entire population of the world. The 2019 Democracy Index reveals that almost half (48.4%) of the world’s population live in a democracy of some sort, although only 5.7% reside in a ‘full democracy’. Over one-third of the world’s population live under authoritarian rule and the rest in hybrid regimes.

The Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; functioning of government; political participation; political culture; and civil liberties. Based on its scores on a range of indicators within these categories, each country is then classified as one of four types of regime: full democracy (scores greater than 8), flawed democracy (greater than 6 and less than or equal to 8), hybrid regime (greater than 4 and less than or equal to 6) or authoritarian (less than or equal to 4). This is the 12th edition of the Democracy Index, which began in 2006, and it records how global democracy fared in 2019.

Regressive Tendencies

The one category, which recorded a steady and significant upward trajectory, is political participation. Other categories like election process and pluralism, functioning of government and civil liberties have shown regressive tendencies since 2008. In the EIU view, the main manifestations of this democracy recession include:

• Increasing emphasis on elite/expert governance rather than popular participatory democracy
• Growing influence of unelected, unaccountable institutions and expert bodies
• Removal of substantive issues of national importance from the political arena to be decided by politicians, experts or supranational bodies behind closed doors
• Widening gap between political elites and parties on one hand and national electorates on the other
• Decline in civil liberties, including media freedom and freedom of speech

In 2019, some 68 countries experienced a decline in their total score compared with 2018, but as many as 65 recorded an improvement. The other 34 stagnated. There were some impressive improvements and some dramatic declines. Thailand registered the biggest improvement and China the greatest decline. There were ten changes of regime category, six of them positive and four negative.

Three countries (Chile, France and Portugal) moved from ‘flawed democracy’ to ‘full democracies’. Malta moved in the opposite direction, falling out of ‘full democracy’ to become a ‘flawed democracy’. At the other end of the democracy spectrum, Iraq and Palestine moved from being classified as ‘hybrid regimes’ to ‘authoritarian’. Algeria moved from ‘authoritarian’ to ‘hybrid’. El Salvador and Thailand moved out of ‘hybrid regime’ and slipped into ‘flawed democracy’, while Senegal moved in the opposite direction, from being a ‘flawed democracy’ to a ‘hybrid regime’.

Tumultuous Asia

Asian democracies had a tumultuous year in 2019. The biggest score change for good occurred in Thailand. The largest democracy in the world, India, dropped ten places to 51st and is in the second category of ‘flawed democracy’. China’s score fell to 2.26, and the country is now ranked 153rd, close to the bottom of the global rankings. The introduction of a ‘fake news’ law in Singapore led to a deterioration in the score for civil liberties in the city-state. China’s score fell as discrimination against minorities, especially in the north-western region of Xinjiang, intensified and digital surveillance of the population continued apace.

India which reached its highest-ever position of 27 in 2014 — just two ranks away from becoming a ‘full democracy’, slipped to 42 in 2018. Elections took place in India over April-May 2019 and at the end of the first year of Modi 2.0, the standing slipped to 51. India’s overall score fell from 7.23 in 2018 to 6.90 in 2019. The primary cause of this democratic regression was observed to be mainly an erosion of civil liberties in these countries.

In 2019, the government stripped Jammu & Kashmir of its special status. Following the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, J&K was divided into two Union territories. Ahead of the move, the government deployed a large number of troops in the State, imposed various other security measures and placed local leaders under house arrest, including those with pro-India credentials. The government also imposed a clampdown on the internet.

Then the government brought in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, and proposed to conduct a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) to give citizenship to some select group of illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The selective CAA and the prospect of the gargantuan NRC have become major national issues, relegating most important issues like meltdown of economy, drastic fall in revenue and growing unemployment in the country. The government, instead of engaging protesters to ease the tension, is organising counter-protests, resorting to harsh policing and illegal detentions.

No Bias

The ruling BJP and its supporters think that it is a conspiracy by western liberal media to denigrate India. But, world Freedom House, economic freedom index, World Press Freedom index all are showing a downward trend in India. These organisations work in all countries of the world, not only on India, based on certain standard indices. There is no need for them to work with a particular bias towards India. It is for India to take notice, analyse and take corrective action.

There can be some deficiencies inherited from the past, but in correcting them we cannot ‘throw the baby (the democracy) out with the bathwater’. The endeavour should be to raise the democracy index to make it a full democracy not fall continuously. If the fall continues, it will not be long before India joins the world hybrid regime club leaving the well-entrenched portals of its democracy, painstakingly built in the last 70 years.

The country is not an island unto itself to do whatever it likes. It is a member in the comity of nations of the world. As the largest democracy in the world, it has certain responsibilities to enhance democracy and not downgrade it.

(The author is a freelance journalist)


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