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, found that India is growing increasingly undemocratic. The report found that the US and India—the world’s largest democracies—were both “willing to break down institutional safeguards and disregard the rights of critics and minorities as they pursue their populist agendas.” 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 include electoral process, pluralism, freedom of expression and belief, rule of law, personal autonomy, and individual rights.
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 “a massive deployment of troops and arbitrary arrests of hundreds of Kashmiri leaders and activists.” They call out the 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”.
The second action which points towards a dissolution of democracy was 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.
“These three actions have shaken the rule of law in India and threatened the secular and inclusive nature of its political system,” the report concludes. This, they say, caused the country to receive the largest score decline among the world’s 25 largest democracies in Freedom in the World 2020. It also criticises the government for trying to silence protest sentiments with police brutality.
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. This excludes Kashmir, which has a score of just 28 out of 100, way below Pakistan’s score of 38. 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 report compares Modi’s denial of persecuting minorities to China’s stance on Uighur muslims, saying, “Just as Chinese officials vocally defended acts of state repression against Uighurs and other Muslim groups before international audiences in 2019, Modi firmly rejected criticism of his Hindu nationalist policies, which included a series of new measures that affected India’s Muslim populations from one end of the country to the other.’’ It says that instead of learning from the persecution of religious minorities India’s neighbours have been accused of, “India is moving toward the lower standards of its region.’’
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