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View PointOpinion: Degradation of Democratic India

Opinion: Degradation of Democratic India

Published: 18th Oct 2021 12:19 am

By J R Janumpalli

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The Economist Intelligence Unit published the 13th edition of the Democracy Index in February 2021. The index began in 2006, and records how global democracy fared year after year. It provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide in 165 independent states and two territories. This covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world’s states.

The index is based on 60 indicators grouped in five different categories, measuring electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation, and political culture. In addition to a numeric score and a ranking, the index categorises each country into one of four regime types: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes.

The Democracies
Full democracies are nations where civil liberties and fundamental political freedoms are not only respected but also reinforced by a political culture conducive to the thriving of democratic principles. These nations have a valid system of governmental checks and balances, an independent judiciary whose decisions are enforced, governments that function adequately, and diverse and independent media. These nations have only limited problems in democratic functioning. (score 8.01 -10.00)

Flawed democracies are nations where elections are fair and free and basic civil liberties are honoured but may have issues (eg, media freedom infringement and minor suppression of political opposition and critics). These nations have significant faults in other democratic aspects, including underdeveloped political culture, low levels of participation in politics, and issues in the functioning of governance. (score 6.01 – 8.00)

Hybrid regimes are nations with regular electoral frauds, preventing them from being fair and free democracies. These nations commonly have governments that apply pressure on political opposition, non-independent judiciaries, widespread corruption, harassment and pressure placed on the media, anemic rule of law, and more pronounced faults than flawed democracies in the realms of underdeveloped political culture, low levels of participation in politics, and issues in the functioning of governance. (score 4.01-6.00)

Authoritarian regimes are nations where political pluralism is non-existent or severely limited. These nations are often absolute monarchies or dictatorships, may have some conventional institutions of democracy but with meagre significance, infringements and abuses of civil liberties are commonplace, elections (if they take place) are not fair or free (including sham elections), the media is often state-owned or controlled by groups associated with the ruling regime, the judiciary is not independent, and censorship and suppression of governmental criticism are commonplace. (score 0.00 – 4.00)

Changing Dynamics
The democracy index of countries is dynamic. Each year there is a likelihood of change in the scores depending on the variations in the parameters. In 2016, the United States was downgraded from a full democracy to a flawed democracy. In 2017, Venezuela was downgraded from a hybrid to an authoritarian regime. In 2019, France, Portugal and Chile were upgraded from flawed democracy to full democracy. By contrast, Malta was downgraded from full democracy to flawed democracy. Thailand, from a hybrid regime, was tagged a flawed democracy. Algeria was upgraded from an authoritarian to a hybrid regime.

In 2020, a large majority of countries showed variation in their democracy index score because of the coronavirus. Many countries recorded a decline in their overall score. There were some impressive improvements and some dramatic declines, with Taiwan registering the biggest improvement and Mali the biggest decline. Three countries, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, moved from ‘flawed’ to full democracies and Albania, was upgraded to flawed democracy from hybrid regime. France and Portugal experienced a reversal, losing the full democracy status they had regained in 2019, re-joining the ranks of flawed democracies. El Salvador and Hong Kong were relegated from flawed to hybrid. Algeria, Burkina Faso and Mali lost their status as hybrid regimes and are now designated as authoritarian regimes.

Impact of Corona
The report focused on the impact of the pandemic on democracy and freedom around the world. It looks at how the pandemic resulted in the withdrawal of civil liberties on a massive scale and fueled a trend of intolerance and censorship of dissenting opinions. It also examines the state of US democracy after a tumultuous year dominated by the pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement and a hotly contested presidential election.

In India, the report says that the democratic norms have been under pressure since 2015. India’s score fell from a peak of 7.92 in 2014 to 6.61 in 2020, and its global ranking slipped from 27th to 53rd as a result of democratic backsliding under the present government from 2014.
The tampering of civil liberties, increasing influence of religion and escalation of religious strife have affected the political fabric of the country. Besides, handling of the pandemic also led to further erosion of civil liberties. By contrast, the scores for some our neighbours, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan and Pakistan, improved marginally. The continuous fall in the democracy index from 2014 is a matter of grave concern for the country with democracy for 75 years and is the largest democracy in the world.

For India, the index reached its maximum of 7.92 in 2014, some 0.80 points away from being classified as full democracy. Since then, it is on the decline with some temporary hype in 2016. There was a sharp fall of 10 ranks in 2017, a rare occurrence in leading democracies. It reached its lowest score of 6.61 in 2020. If the happenings in 2021 like the insensitive treatment of year-old farmers agitation and Lakhimpur Kheri incident are any indication, India is likely to slide further. If it slips into hybrid regime it will be the first democratic degradation of its kind for us.

(The author is a freelance journalist)

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