Post ‘flawed democracy’ rating, Indian govt working secretly to preserve reputation: Report

The report gains significance as it comes during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the US where several questions regarding the status of freedom and democracy in India are being raised by US leaders and civil society organisations.

The Indian government has been secretly working to safeguard its status as the ‘world’s largest democracy’ after multiple international reports cited major democratic backsliding under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist regime, a report by The Guardian stated.

The report stated that it based its findings on the internal reports seen by the news organisation.

According to the minutes, senior Indian officials have convened at least four meetings since 2021 to debate why the Economist Intelligence Unit’s worldwide Democracy Index has degraded the world’s most populous country to a ‘flawed democracy’ for the last three years, the report said.

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The Guardian report further said that despite officially denouncing multiple global rankings that suggest India’s democracy indicators are on a downward track, minutes from meetings show that personnel from several government departments have been ‘covertly assigned’ to monitor India’s performance.

The US-based not-for-profit Freedom House‘s ‘partially free democracy’ tag and V-Dem Institute’s ‘electoral autocracy’ tags raised concerns with the ruling establishment, the report stated.

The Indian government has publicly disregarded these rankings with the Minister for External Affairs (MEA) S Jaishankar and other central cabinet ministers stating that Delhi does not ‘need sermons’ from the west.

Jaishankar accused the rankings of ‘hypocrisy’ and called them “self-appointed custodians of the world who find it very difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval”.

But behind closed doors, according to a senior government official, the response has been ‘less self assured and more panicked’. “[The] prime minister was giving more importance to the Democracy Index and was keen to get improved rankings since India is the largest democratic country in the world,” the official said,” according to the report.

According to this official, the centre gave utmost importance to the Democracy Index as it ‘affected the reputation of India’. Concerns have been raised as recently as February that these rankings should not be ignored as mere opinions as they could affect international business in India if the country is seen as a ‘politically risky place to invest’.

The report further said that there is opposition to this move from certain quarters of the government. The Indian home ministry under Amit Shah was highlighted as not completely cooperating in the talks, despite being at the centre of the problem, which has mostly centred on minority rights.

According to the official who led the conference, the Democracy Index focused on the removal of Kashmir’s special status, which had been cited as preserving rights in the Muslim-majority state, anti-Muslim riots in 2020, and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

“The aforesaid issues are administratively concerned with the ministry of home affairs, which till today has not provided any information or data on the parameters and sub-parameters allocated to them,” the official, a member of the legislative department, was quoted as saying at the meeting held in February.

“Without the information and involvement of the line ministries/departments, it is difficult for the legislative department to monitor the performance of Democracy Index and to make its global ranking better,” he further said, according to ther report.

In 2020, The Guardian article stated that post the EIU ‘flawed democracy’ report, Indian government officials discreetly approached the London-based body to use ‘official’ government-approved data on its Democracy Index rankings rather than their own independent data – and the offer was declined, according to Indian government documents.

(The Economic Intelligence Unit pointed out a decline in democratic norms in India since 2015. The EIU wrote in its 2020 report that “in India, 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 leadership of Narendra Modi....The increasing influence of religion under the Modi premiership, whose policies have fomented anti-Muslim feeling and religious strife, has damaged the political fabric of the country.”)

The report gains significance as it comes during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US where several questions regarding the status of freedom and democracy in India are being raised by US leaders and civil society organisations.

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