Swedish Institute: World’s largest democracy India, has turned into an electoral autocracy

By Rabia Shireen

The analytical research by the Sweden-based Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute said that the world’s largest democracy, India is no longer an ‘electoral democracy. Analyzing the country as an ‘electoral autocracy,’ most of the decline in democratic Freedom occurred following BJP’s victory in 2014 and promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda. After Narendra Modi became the prime minister, censorship efforts have become routine and are no longer related to government matters, it said.

Based at the University of Gothenburg, the V-Dem Institute has published data-heavy worldwide on democracy reports since 2017. In last year’s report, it had recognized that India was on the verge of losing its status as a democracy.

The report identified that before Modi, the Indian government rarely used censorship. “India is now as autocratic as Pakistan, and worse than both its neighbors Bangladesh and Nepal.” It said, “In general, the Modi-led government in India has used laws on sedition, defamation, and counterterrorism to silence critics. For example, over 7,000 people have been charged with sedition after BJP gained power, and most of the accused are critics of the ruling party.

By the end of 2020, India’s liberal democracy level registered at 0.34 after a steep decline from its high of 0.57 in 2013. It represented a 23-percentage point drop on the 0 to 1 Liberal Democracy Index scale, making it one of the world’s most substantial shifts over the past ten years, alongside autocratizing countries like Brazil, Hungary, and Turkey, the V-Dem Institute reported.

“The BJP has increasingly used the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act [FCRA] to restrict the entry, exit, and functioning of civil society organizations,” it said. The report claimed that civil society organizations that have aligned themselves with the Hindutva movement had gained more Freedom.

It also alleged that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, amended in 2019, was used to “harass, tyrannize, and imprison political opponents” as well as against people protesting against the government’s policies. Universities and authorities have punished students and activists in universities engaging in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.”

A chapter is dedicated to India in the reports titled ‘Democracy Broken Down India.’ The chapter says that the “world’s largest democracy has turned into an electoral autocracy.” India’s autocratisation process has mostly 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 report says.

The Centre has given a sign to the latest IT Rules, which give the government sweeping powers, future reports could see India’s media freedom being downgraded further.

V Dem criticized India’s crackdown on the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), saying the Act itself “arguably” violates the Constitution’s prohibition of discrimination by religion. “These developments are among the instances contributing to the descent into electoral authoritarianism in what used to be the world’s largest democracy,” the chapter on India concludes.

Last year, the Institute had described the BJP as an illiberal party that is comparable to those that are ruling over autocracies. While the BJP has been indicating illiberalism since 1999, “all four parties have become more and more illiberal. By now, they fare close to the typical ruling party in autocracies in terms of illiberalism”. It said.

V-Dem gathered its data using surveys from country experts and then analyzed using a statistical model. Shreeya Pillai and Staffan I Lindberg compiled the Indian part of the report.

Last week, Freedom House reported India’s status on political rights and civil liberties, which was lowered to “partly free” in the US government-funded non-governmental organization’s annual Freedom in the World rankings. In 2020, the organization’s report ranked India as “free.”

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