India under Modi among top 10 autocratizing nations

By Rajiv Shah

A new report, prepared by a top Swedish institute studying liberal democracy, has observed that there has been a sharp “dive in press freedom along with increasing repression of civil society in India associated with the current Hindu-nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” The report places India among the top 10 countries that “have autocratized the most”. Other countries that have been identified for rolling towards autocracy are — Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Serbia, Brazil, Mali, Thailand, Nicaragua and Zambia.

Autocratization Surges – Resistance Grows: Democracy Report 2020

Titled “Autocratization Surges – Resistance Grows: Democracy Report 2020”, produced by the Produced by the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg, it ranks India 90th in Liberal Democracy Index (LDI) among 179 countries, far better than two immediate neighbours, Pakistan (126) and Bangladesh (154), though worse than Sri Lanka (ranking 70th), Bhutan (66), and Nepal (72). In Electoral Democracy Index (EDI), the report ranks India 89th, better than Pakistan (126) and Bangladesh (139), though worse than Sri Lanka (74), Bhutan (74) and Nepal (75). 

Even as analysing LDI and EDI, the report analyses four other components of democracy – Liberal Component Index (LCI), in which India ranks 93rd; Egalitarian Component Index (ECI), in which India ranks 122nd; Participatory Component Index (PCI), in which India ranks 125th; and Deliberative Component Index (DCI) in which India ranks one of the worst, 145th. The report analyses 149 countries across the world. Explaining the four components, the report states, LCI “embodies the importance of protecting individual and minority rights” the tyranny of the state and the majority; ECI “measures to what extent all social groups enjoy equal capabilities” in the political arena; PCI “emphasizes active participation by citizens in all political processes, electoral and non-electoral”; and DCI focuses on public reasoning and common good for political decisions as against “emotional appeals, solidarity attachments, parochial interests or coercion.”

Interestingly, while in all the four components, Pakistan and Bangladesh fare worse than India, in the Deliberative Component Index Pakistan is ranked much better than India – at 78. “According to this principle”, the report asserts, “Democracy requires more than an aggregation of existing preferences. There should also be respectful dialogue at all levels – from preference formation to final decision – among informed and competent participants who are open to persuasion.”

 Autocratization is affecting major G20 states such as Brazil, India, USA and Turkey – major economies with sizeable populations

The report says, “Autocratization is affecting major G20 states such as Brazil, India, the United States of America and Turkey – major economies, with sizeable populations, exercising substantial global military, economic, and political influence”, warning, “India is on the verge of losing its status as a democracy due to a severe curtailment of scope for the media, civil society, and the opposition under Prime Minister Modi’s government.”
Noting that autocratization – which suggests “decline of democratic traits” – has accelerated across the globe, the report says, “For the first time since 2001, autocracies are in the majority: 92 countries – home to 54% of the global population.” It adds, “Almost 35% of the world’s population live in autocratizing nations – 2.6 billion people.”

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Insisting that while autocratization “is affecting” the US along with Brazil, India and Turkey, the report tanks US at 36 in Liberal Democracy Index and at 38 in Electoral Democracy Index – heads and shoulders above India. As for Brazil, which has lately moved closer to India following the victory of far-right leader, Jair Boslonaro, its LDI and EDI also remains better than India, at 60 on both the scores. But Turkey is rated one of worst – 153rd and 135th respectively.

Attacks on freedom of expression

Giving an overall picture, the report states, “Attacks on freedom of expression and media freedom are now affecting 31 countries, compared to 19 two years ago. Media censorship and the repression of civil society have intensified in a record 37 countries – 11 more than the 26 states currently affected by severe autocratization.” It adds, “These indicators are typically the first to move in a gradual process of autocratization.”

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The report also notes that “academic freedom has registered a conspicuous average decline of 13% in autocratizing countries over the last 10 years”, adding, “The right to peaceful assembly and protest has declined by 14% on average in autocratizing countries. Toxic polarization, pro-autocracy mass protests, and political violence rise in many autocratizing countries.”

Pro-democracy mass mobilization

Sounding a positive note, the report says, across the globe, “Pro-democracy mass mobilization reveals all-time highs in 2019: The share of countries with substantial pro-democracy mass protests rose from 27% in 2009 to 44% in 2019. Citizens are taking to the streets in order to defend civil liberties and the rule of law, and to fight for clean elections and political freedom.”

“The unprecedented degree of mobilization for democracy in light of deepening autocratization is a sign of hope”, the report says, adding, “While pro-autocracy rulers attempt to curtail the space for civil society, millions of citizens have demonstrated their commitment to democracy. Protesters in democracies resist the dismantling of democracy while their counterparts in autocracies are demanding more democracy.”

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