13th March 2021, Baaghi TV: A Swedish Institute by the name of V Dem Institute, that ranks countries and scores them on the basis of democratic practices, has released its report titled “Autocratization Turns Viral”. The heading is a nod to the observation that a significant portion of the world’s population has begun to fall under autocracies, and the countries in question have fallen down on rankings.
This year’s report has dedicated a section to India, the world’s largest democracy, and the observations within have been duly taken note of by sections of the Indian media, including The Print and The Wire.
The Short Journey from ‘Electoral Democracy’ to ‘Electoral Autocracy’
India up until the election of BJP under Narendra Modi has resided within the top half of the rankings of 180 countries. Therefore it has remained within the top 90. In the previous report the status of the country was considered murky due to insufficient data, but this time the report says that with the emergence of conclusive and comprehensive data, it is necessary to downgrade it from ‘electoral democracy to electoral autocracy’.
India has been declared as autocratic as Pakistan and worse than its neighbours Bangladesh and Nepal. India has seen a very quick fall in points during a short time period.
Observations of the Report
The report, which can be accessed here, has identified major decliners as follows:
• Several G20 nations such as Brazil, India, and Turkey are among the top 10 decliners.
• Poland takes a dubious first place and three new nations join this group: Benin, Bolivia, and Mauritius.
• Six of the top-10 decliners became autocracies.
HOW AUTOCRATIZATION UNFOLDS (Quoted from the Report)
“Autocratization typically follows a similar pattern. Ruling governments first attack the media and civil society, and polarize societies by disrespecting opponents and spreading false information, only to then undermine formal institutions.”
The report discusses the adverse impact on democratic freedoms triggered by the COVID19 pandemic and mentions the harassment of journalists in India covering the same.
Due to the change in India’s status, the report observes, a country home to 1.37 billion, 68% of the world’s population now resides in either closed or electoral autocracies, among the highest recorded since 1972.
The report states: ‘The world’s largest democracy has turned into an electoral autocracy. India’s autocratization process has largely followed the typical pattern for countries in the “Third Wave” over the past ten years: a gradual deterioration where freedom of the media, academia, and civil society were curtailed first and to the greatest extent.’
The decline in India’s score is mainly related to Narendra Modi’s coming into power. The Election Commission and the freeness and fairness of elections has taken a hard hit during this time. However it is the freedom of expression of the media and the civil society that has suffered the most. India was not a country that curtailed such freedoms or indulged in censorship of any kind at all before Narendra Modi’s election win of 2019. However since then, the situation has alarmingly deteriorated and isn’t even restricted to sensitive or government issues. Most of the 7000 persons charged with sedition under Modi were critics of the government.
Defamation laws have been used to silence critics and journalists and the constitutional commitment to secularism has severely declined. The Citizen Amendment Bill has largely been criticised for its discrimination on the basis of religion, in its exclusion of Muslims. Peaceful protestors are also subject to harassment.
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