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The Longest Democratic Recession of the World’s Largest Democracy

On 16th May 2014, I was watching the victory celebration of Narendra Modi on my laptop with my friends in New Delhi. Social media platforms were flooded with a lot of pro-democracy words ie, referendum, mohalla-sabha (town-hall meeting), intra-party democracy, maximum governance, participation, etc. Like millions of Indians, I was also an optimist and was hoping that the next few years would be an evolution for the world’s largest democracy. Nonetheless, the recent trends of the two most prominent global indexes show that Indian democracy is under its longest recession since 2014.

According to Democracy Index 2020 by the Economic Intelligence Unit, India has become a defective democracy with a 6.61 rating and did very poorly in terms of political culture and civil liberties. In 2014, when Modi came to the power after defeating the incumbent Congress rule, we were performing quite well with a 7.92 rating which was too close to be a full democracy. In the last 6 years, there is a decline of more than three points in the world democracy index for India. Democracy Index isn’t the only one that is raising a red flag on the world’s largest democracy. Even the Global Freedom report portrays an alarming picture for us and as well as all pro-democracy people across the globe. According to the recent Freedom House’s 2021 report, India has lost its status as ‘free’ and has rated “partly free” with 67 points, a record 9-point decline since 2005.

I am well aware that many friends will call these reports nonsense or fabricated. Hence, I will try here to connect the dots here to support these figures with some kind of evidence.

Media and the Internet: a government ‘toolkit’ to murder democracy

The fourth and one of the most prominent pillars of democracy – ‘Media’ played an important role in this fall. According to the World Press Freedom index 2020, India ranks 142nd position out of 180. Ever since the general elections in the spring of 2014, won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, pressure on the media to toe the government’s line is an open secret now. Those who espouse Hindutva, the ideology that gave rise to Hindu nationalism, are trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate. Kashmir had one of the longest internet suspensions in the history of India.

India is also a global leader in internet shutdown. In 2020, more than 90 times the home ministry of India suspended internet service to suppress anti-government movements. This year also, the country has observed more than 30 times internet suspension till now. A neighboring state of its national capital like Haryana has also witnessed an internet shutdown of more than 15 days. And, the BJP’s troll army is quite capable of spreading misinformation across the country as they have developed an enormous network of WhatsApp groups which is fairly unstoppable. All these factors led India to score 51 out of 100 in the World Internet Freedom House index, 2020. Also, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Inclusive Internet Index 2020 ranks India 68 out of 100 which is quite poor for a so-called liberal democracy like India.

Not a sudden fall

It is not a sudden fall at all. I believe many intellectuals, scholars, and activists wouldn’t get shocked after reading these new figures. Many of them have predicted this quite earlier. However, in this current situation, where populism is at its peak and majoritarian politics has hijacked everything, civil liberties will always be on a knife-edge. In the last two years, we have witnessed many such incidents which even draw a more worrying picture than these latest global figures. The two most populous sections of the country are protesting against the government. Farmers are demanding to repeal the farm laws and youths are asking for jobs. Unlike a healthy democracy, they didn’t get a single positive and constructive response from the side of the government. And how can we forget the violence on the pro-CAA-NRC protestors? More than 50 people (most of them were Muslims) were killed by extremists in the national capital of the world’s largest democracy in the presence of the President of the most powerful democracy. Many activists, journalists, and intellectuals who took a stand against this autocracy have also been put in jail under the national security act. And how can we ignore the third pillar of our democracy which has also faced some serious criticism by a section of a group? The bar of justice has become so low in our country that we have been forced to contemplate ‘getting bail’ as a victory. Some of the past few decisions were also controversial and the nomination of the former Chief Justice as a member of the upper house of the parliament is enough to establish the fact that there is something fishy.

The current situation looks too grim. A partly free country with a flawed democracy needs some quick and serious political as well as social solutions. I believe, the heat of the fall of the world’s largest democracy has started touching the middle class of India and the global community too. The desperation of Indian farmers and youths is quite visible. International celebrities and organizations have also criticized the Modi government. Nonetheless, the worse has still yet to come. I think all we have witnessed till now is just a trailer and the next 5 years will be a defining phase for Indian democracy. Otherwise, India may become a cheap copy of China. The alarm has been set, the ball is in our court, and the official battle between Democracy and Modicracy has officially begun. Hence, let’s choose our sides wisely.

 

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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