India; One of the Least Free Democracies

Paper: II

For Mains: Comparison of the Indian Constitutional Scheme with that of Other Countries.

Context of News:

  • A new report on the “health” of democracies around the world published by Freedom House, America’s oldest organisation monitoring democratic freedom and human rights.
  • The Freedom in the World 2020 report finds democracy on the decline around the world but specifically in India.

Report in Details:

  • The report found that the US and India are the world’s largest democracies. These both countries “willing to break down institutional safeguards and disregard the rights of critics and minorities as they pursue their populist agendas.”
  • The world’s largest democracy has seen the most steep fall on the global index, with its overall score dropping to 71 out of 100. While the report acknowledges that half the world’s democracies have shifted away from liberal policies to more extremist ones over the past 14 years, India’s drop is the sharpest and could “blur the values-based distinction between Beijing and New Delhi.”
  • The Freedom in the World 2020 report titled ‘A leaderless struggle for democracy’ examined 95 countries and 15 territories over a year using 25 indicators which included:
  1. Electoral process
  2. Pluralism
  3. Freedom of expression and belief
  4. Rule of law, personal autonomy
  5. Individual rights

Democracy in Numbers:

Between 1988 and 2005, democracy surged around the world. Since then, the reversal has been less dramatic, but it has been “consistent and ominous,”

  • Political rights and civil liberties became weaker in 68 countries, and improved in only 50 countries.
  • The authors cite a shifting global balance of power in favor of countries like China, and “anger and anxiety in Europe and the United States over economic inequality and the loss of personal status” as underlying causes of the strains we’re seeing on democratic institutions.
  • Globally, 39% of people live in countries deemed “free,” while 24% live in “partly free” countries and 37% “not free.”

Reasons for India’s lowest Position in Report:

  • Criticising India for “discriminatory actions against minorities:
  • The report says that India’s current government led by Narendra Modi “has distanced itself from the country’s founding commitment to pluralism and individual rights, without which democracy cannot long survive.” They believe that this shift in its policies compromises India’s status as a strategic partner and democratic counterweight to China in the region.
  • While India continues to be classified as a “free” country, this is mainly due to its commitment to the electoral process. However, the report blames India’s declining democratic position on three actions undertaken by the Modi government, which began with the scrapping of Article 370. This not only took away Kashmir’s special constitutional status and placed the conflicted state in a communication lockdown, but was also followed by restriction of freedom of movement and the cutting off of internet in the region as the reason the freedom status of Kashmir was changed to “not free” from “partly free”.
  • NRC work in Assam:
  • Report talks about dissolution of democracy happened, when Assam’s National Register of Citizens left almost two million Indians out, effectively leaving them stateless and confined to detention camps. The report says this “deeply flawed process was widely understood as an effort to exclude Muslims,” and that the Citizenship Amendment Act, the third action, was a “remedy” to retain the Bengali Hindus from their vote bank who were left out.
  • According to report these actions have shaken the rule of law in India and threatened the secular and inclusive nature of its political system. It also criticises the government for trying to silence protest sentiments with police brutality.

Why this Report is wake up call for India?

  • Since independence, India has managed to stay on the democratic path in a way unprecedented among states freed from colonialism during the last century.
  • The makers of our Constitution designed the institutions of our democracy with great care and attention to detail. They were designed to endure and it was expected that these institutions will strengthen the democracy in India.
  • Recently, however, the dominance of the Hindu nationalists and the manner in which they have ruled – has given rise to claims that India’s democracy and its minorities are in grave danger.
  • Freedom of expression has been curtailed; institutions of democracy are weakened and diminished; democratic deliberation has been bypassed; attacks on religious minorities have been carried out.
  • Along with curtailment of freedom of expression what is more concerning is the involvement of Police in biased manner. This leads us to conclusion that some sort of Civil rebellion is making its way up, which is grave danger to the Democracy.
  • At a time when politics almost everywhere is leaning dangerously towards a centralised, authoritarian, national security state with a strong leader committed to the ideology of cultural nationalism, the values and ideas of democracy provided by early leaders becomes important.

Way Forward:

  • Centralization of power in the executive, politicization of the judiciary, attacks on indepen­dent media, the use of public office for private gain—the signs of democratic regression are well known. The only surprising thing is where they’ve turned.
  • This report is wake up call for India, that things are not going well according the ethos of our democracy, which needs desperate attention.