New Delhi: The fifth annual democracy report by Sweden’s V-Dem Institute, titled ‘Autocratisation goes viral’, has downgraded India from “the world’s largest democracy” to an “electoral autocracy”, citing “muzzling” of the media, and overuse of defamation and sedition laws.
V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) claims to produce the largest dataset on democracy with almost 30 million data points for 202 countries from 1789 to 2020.
This report comes within a week of US watchdog Freedom House downgrading India’s status to “partly free” in its ‘Freedom in the World’ report.
While India’s score was at an all-time high at 0.57 (on a scale of 0-1) in 2013, it had declined to 0.34 by the end of 2020 — a loss of 23 percentage points in seven years. “Most of the decline occurred following BJP’s victory in 2014 and their Hindu nationalist agenda,” says the report.
“India is, in this aspect (censorship) now as autocratic as is Pakistan, and worse than both its neighbors Bangladesh and Nepal. 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 the BJP assumed power and most of the accused are critics of the ruling party,” says the report.
It adds that the use of defamation “frequently used to silence journalists” and the use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) have placed constraints on civil society and gone against the Constitution’s commitment to secularism.
“Amended in August 2019 (it) is being used to harass, intimidate, and imprison political opponents, as well as people mobilizing to protest government policies. The UAPA has been used also to silence dissent in academia. Universities and authorities have also punished students and activists in universities engaging in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).”
The report notes that civil society is being increasingly muzzled while organisations aligned with the “Hindutva movement” have gained freedom. “The BJP have increasingly used the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) to restrict the entry, exit and functioning of Civil Society Organisations (CSO),” it says.
Democracy on the decline
The fifth annual report by the organisation summarises the state of democracies of the world against the backdrop of developments that have taken place over the past decade.
The report finds that liberal democracies have diminished over the past decade from 41 countries to 32 countries.
“The global decline during the past 10 years is steep and continues in 2020, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2020 is down to levels last found around 1990,” says the report.
It adds that what it calls “electoral autocracies” remain the most popular regime type, and along with closed autocracies, number 87 states, home to 68 per cent of the world’s population.
It also notes an accelerating wave of autocratisation engulfing 25 nations, home to one-third of the world’s population — that is 2.6 billion people. “Several G20 nations such as Brazil, India, Turkey, and the United States of America are part of this drift,” says the report.
It also notes that the number of democratising countries has dropped by almost half to 16, hosting a mere 4 per cent of the global population.