India is no longer a democracy: Swedish institute

Islamabad, March 12 : A Sweden-based institute has said that India is no longer an electoral democracy and classified the country as an electoral autocracy instead, noting that much of the decline in democratic freedoms occurred after the BJP and Narendra Modi’s victory in 2014.

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

This year’s report, based on data from 2020, has confirmed that suspicion, with V-Dem retrospectively classifying India as an electoral autocracy from 2019. It said that the classification of India was highly uncertain last year because the underlying data was not clear. “But with more and better data this year, India is classified with a higher degree of certainty as an electoral autocracy from 2019,” it said.

India is among the countries leading the ‘third wave of autocratisation’, V- Dem said. It added that autocratisation typically follows a similar pattern across very different contexts. It begins with ruling governments attacking the media and civil society, followed by polarisation of the society by disrespecting opponents and spreading false information and culminates in elections being undermined, it says.

The report dedicates a chapter to India, 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 largely followed the typical pattern for countries in the “third wave” over the past ten years, which is a gradual deterioration where freedom of the media, academia, and civil society were curtailed first and to the greatest extent, the report says.

“Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory in India’s 2014 elections and most of the decline occurred following BJP’s victory and their promotion of a Hindu-nationalist agenda. India’s level of liberal democracy registered at 0.34 by the end of 2020 after a steep decline since its high at 0.57 in 2013. That represents a 23-percentage point drop on the 0 to 1 LDI [Liberal Democracy Index] scale, making it one of the most dramatic shifts among all countries in the world over the past 10 years,” the report noted.

V-Dem said that the sharpest decline was visible in government censorship of the media, repression of civil society organizations and the autonomy of the Election Commission of India. There is a high degree of media bias and a fall in academic and religious freedoms, the report adds.

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