International Democracy Day 2020: Lockdown on Indian democracy

In Modi’s India, rights and freedoms erode further amid Covid-19 pandemic


September 15, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

International Democracy Day 2020: Lockdown on Indian democracy

EIU reports that downfall in India's Democracy Index is due to erosion of civil liberties, police brutality, disregard of protests by citizens and non-answerability (MIG Photos/Aman Kanojiya)

As the world observes International Day of Democracy, it’s worrying that India, once renowned for its democratic model, is on its way to being called an authoritarian and majoritarian country globally. The pandemic has accelerated the process. As feared, the paradox of the largest democracy slipping from a flawed one to a hybrid regime may slowly be turning into a sad reality.

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I was supposed to receive an award from the state government for one the best professors but suddenly after a Facebook post, my name was withdrawn from the list of nominees,” says an assistant professor at Lucknow University. “All I did was to put up a Facebook post about how dissent is not tolerated anymore in India and that it is a dangerous situation to live in. It further stated that the current government’s regime has fuelled the sentiment of Hinduism among the majority,” he adds.

“I was beaten up by three of my roommates as I was active in Anti-CAA protests in January this year. I tried to make them understand that I was just defending my point of view which was different from theirs, but they took it as an insult to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on a personal level and they ended up beating me, calling me by racial slurs and complaining about me to the landlord, following which, I had to vacate the room,” says 22-years-old student, Mohammad Asif who shared a flat with two other friends of his in Delhi’s Sangam Vihar.

These are but only two of the thousands of instances that point at a worrying trend of an India becoming intolerant of not just dissent but even diversity. There have been several instances where human rights activists have alleged that the government has launched an all-out assault on freedom of expression by jailing people for even mildly critical social media posts. At the same, media has been criticised by these organisations for transforming into a lapdog of the government instead of doing its job as a watchdog.

But India is not the only country where democracy seems to be under an unprecedented assault. Across the world, notably in Europe, extreme right-wing parties have been winning a greater share of votes and in some countries going on to even form governments, albeit short-lived ones as was the case in Italy with the Northern League and in Austria with the Freedom Party. The far-right parties thrive on fear of the unknown and the coronavirus is just one such unknown that the parties are exploiting to the hilt to create fear of the foreigners in many nations. And it has also given the handle to governments to become more coercive. From the United States to India, governments have used the pandemic to consolidate power, curb individual liberties and restrict the space for civil society organisations and freedom of expression. Democratic and authoritarian societies alike are ramping up surveillance of their citizens as a part of their attempts to stop the spread of the virus.

The Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) has documented the downfall of the biggest democracy in the world. The latest democracy ranking in of 167 countries in the world, released in January 2020, kept India on 51st place which belongs to the category of a ‘flawed democracy’. In 2018, India was at 41st rank. India’s latest ranking has been its worst ranking since the inception of the Democracy Index in 2006. The EIU report mentioned ‘erosion of civil liberties, as the reason for India’s democratic downfall.

EIU report talked about the manner in which the Modi government scrapped down Article 370. “The government deployed a large number of troops in J&K, imposed various other security measures and placed local leaders under house arrest, including those with pro-India credentials, before repealing the articles,” mentions the report. Other such mentions included the countrywide police brutality, disregard of protests by citizens and non-answerability.

The Democracy Index ranks countries based on five parameters: electoral process and pluralism, political culture, the functioning of the government, political participation and civil liberties. The year 2020, so far, has only been worse for India than the previous year on all mentioned fronts, owing to the global Covid-19 pandemic and the government’s mishandling of the situation.

“In a country where the majority is bully, media is cynical and the opposition laughed at, the government can’t be anything but a tyrant,” professor from Lucknow University sums up.



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