The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (hereinafter EIU) released its Annual Democracy Index. India, this year, slipped 2 places and reached 53rd position; the primary reason for this demotion was “erosion of civil liberties”. As per the index, India is a ‘flawed democracy’.
Needless to say, it took the modern-day civil liberties champions- essentially comedians, a few actors, JNU PhD students and liberal youngsters- little time to express their concerns over this result. Especially since the ‘fascist BJP’ narrative became prominent in 2019, the Indian liberals have not spared any chance to bash India’s democratic credentials, blaming the BJP for destroying our secular fabric and tolerant atmosphere.
The index is based on five parameters-
- Electoral process and pluralism
- The functioning of government
- Political participation
- Political culture
- Civil liberties
Additionally, it is important to look at a few pertinent remarks made by the EIU before one express agreement or disagreement with the results:
“With mounting pressure on India’s democratic norms, India’s score fell from a peak of 7.92 in 2014 to 6.61 in 2020 and its global ranking slipped from 27th (in 2014) to 53rd as a result of democratic backsliding.”
“In India and Thailand, democratic backsliding by the authorities and crackdowns on civil liberties led to a further decline in their global rankings.”
“The Narendra Modi-led government has introduced a religious element to the conceptualisation of Indian citizenship, a step that many critics see as undermining the secular basis of the Indian state.”
“The authorities’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic led to a further erosion of civil liberties in 2020.”
Based on these observations, amongst other points, India has been placed in the same category as the US, France, Belgium, Brazil, Poland and Hungary.
For those who are perturbed by the results, it may come as a relief that we are faring well in comparison to all of our neighbours.
I, personally, am not bothered at all.
India has its flaws, but it is not a flawed democracy. The various organs of our government, the systems in place, the legal mechanism, etc. could stand to gain a lot from certain radical reforms.
But India is a democracy in the true sense, and no Eurocentric, biased survey influenced by those who would like to see us fail can tell me otherwise.
Even if we discussed the parameters of this index one by one, it is fairly easy to see that India is democratic (and how!)-
Electoral Process and Pluralism- India has a brilliant- yes, brilliant- electoral system. In a country with a population as large and diverse as ours, it is a daunting task to carry out elections periodically, at both National as well as State level. Yet our Election Commission (ECI) ensures that not even one vote is unaccounted for. While the losing party often cries “EVM tampering!” whenever they face a humiliating defeat, the ECI has gone out of its way to prove that a situation wherein EVMs could be tampered was highly unlikely- they even proved it to the Supreme Court.
Our system is highly accommodating of pluralism as well; As per the latest ECI stats, India has over 2500 political parties- 8 national parties, 52 state parties and other unrecognised parties. It is fairly easy to start a political party in India, with the most publicised example being that of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has its origin in Anna Hazare’s ‘India Against Corruption’ movement. Today, AAP is the ruling party in our National Capital.
As per Britannica, Pluralism means “…in liberal democracies power is (or should be) dispersed among a variety of economic and ideological pressure groups and is not (or should not be) held by a single elite or group of elites. Pluralism assumes that diversity is beneficial to society and that autonomy should be enjoyed by disparate functional or cultural groups within a society, including religious groups, trade unions, professional organizations, and ethnic minorities.”
India has to be the only country where we have parties expressly supporting capitalism, or parties such as CPI which have ‘communism’ in their names. Shiv Sena has always held control in Maharashtra owing to its blatantly pro-Hindu image (slowly dwindling) while AIMIM openly calls for pro-Muslim policies. And I don’t even need to compare the ever-diverging ideologies of BJP and INC.
In which other country will we have an electoral system this diverse?
The functioning of government- India’s government functions in favour of all sections. The Modi-led centre has rolled out laws, reforms, and policies one after another in favour of both capitalists and those who were suffering in poverty. The latest, most controversial farm laws seek corporate agriculture, thereby opening the economy further, while simultaneously allowing the farmers to get a good price for their produce outside mandis. Our bureaucracy, which was often highlighted for being too sluggish and corrupt, has finally picked pace and it is easier to get work done today, than it was 7 years ago (although considerable improvement is still required). The Government today works at breakneck speed, works for all sections of the society and is pushing for reforms that could help India achieve growth rates it was hitherto deprived of.
Political participation- No other country in the world has the kind of voter turnout the way our elections do. Not just in terms of numbers, which have been improving ever since Indians started becoming politically literate. Starting from the ground level, Gram elections, to the national level as well as Rajya Sabha and election of the President: Indian electoral system guarantees participation of everyone. Our electoral system allows NRIs as well as soldiers posted outside their home constituencies to vote. Thus, political participation is considerably high in India.
Political culture- “A political culture is a set of attitudes and practices held by a people that shapes their political behaviour. It includes moral judgments, political myths, beliefs, and ideas about what makes for a good society.”
Indian society is highly traditional even today, and has within itself, multiple cultural strains which are in need of reconciliation. But at the most essential level Indians only want a progressive, development-oriented society, which can aid them and their future generations in becoming better than what they are today. India’s political culture cannot be classified into one of the 3 categories given by prominent thinkers like Elazar; but at the most basic level, India’s political culture is diverse yet all-inclusive.
Civil liberties- This is a category I don’t even consider as worthy of my time. Today in India, when these civil liberties activists ask for ‘more rights’, they are essentially asking for the right to insult the Hindu faith, spew anti-India venom, share propaganda, and fake news, bash much-needed economic reforms (example- farm laws) as well as brainwash people.
This was fairly common under the previous government. That Indian State today is actually marching on the path towards an egalitarian society is indigestible to these people, making them cry ‘fascism’.
As far as the Covid-19 pandemic is concerned: The Government, as a parent of its citizens, took some harsh steps to let greater good prevail. The lockdown from March-May ensured that India did not suffer more than it did due to the Coronavirus. Criticising the Government for keeping us at home and prescribing punitive measures for those who flouted norms is illogical and reeks of anti-Government propaganda.
My article was not an attempt to whitewash the results of this index, primarily because I don’t feel the need to do so. That we have been categorised the same as US and France is a good sign: that we put national interest above anything else, and do not let people’s- especially European Nations which are today suffering- perverted notions of democracy overshadow our need to see India grow.