Civil liberties in India have been in decline since PM Narendra Modi lead BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) came to power in 2014, and India’s status as a free country has changed to “partly free”, according to an annual report on global political rights and liberties.
India’s status as a democracy and free society has been downgraded to “partly free” in the latest annual report on global political rights and liberties by Freedom House, a US government-funded non-profit non-governmental organization that studies political freedom around the world.
The report titled “Freedom in the World 2021 – Democracy under Siege” said India “appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader”. It said India’s fall “from the upper ranks of free nations could have a particularly damaging impact on global democratic standards”.
India was earlier rated free in the previous reports
India has been on a continuous decline as far as the scores on the parameter of political freedom are concerned.
While it had been rated as “free” in Freedom House’s reports for 2018, 2019, and 2020, its scores on a scale of 100 had declined during this period from 77 to 71. In the latest report, India had a score of 67 out of 100.
About Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Report’
Freedom House was formally established in New York in 1941 to promote American involvement in World War II and the fight against fascism.
It was in 1973 that Freedom House launched the Freedom in the World report, which evaluated the level of freedom in each country and ranked them with a numerical score and declared them as “free”, “partly free” or “not free”.
The annual report is regarded as one of the oldest quantitative measures of democracy in the world. Many businesses consider the report as the market of political stability in a country in their PEST analysis.
The reason for decline in the rating for India
According to the report, the political rights and civil liberties in India had deteriorated since 2014 because of increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a “spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims”.
The decline accelerated in 2019, and the central government and its state-level allies “continued to crack down on critics” during 2020, while the response to the Covid-19 pandemic “included a ham-fisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers”.
Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a “counterweight to authoritarian influence from countries such as China”, the government and the ruling party are “tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism”, the report said.
Freedom House cited other incidents and developments that had led to the downgrade for India in the latest report, including the government intensifying its crackdown on protesters opposed to a the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the arrest of dozens of journalists who aired criticism of the official pandemic response.
“Judicial independence has also come under strain — in one case, a judge was transferred immediately after reprimanding the police for taking no action during riots in New Delhi that left over 50 people, mostly Muslims, dead,” the report said.
While India remains a multiparty democracy, the government has “presided over discriminatory policies and increased violence affecting the Muslim population”, and the harassment of journalists, non-governmental organizations, and other government critics has “increased significantly”.
While Freedom House gave high scores to India for the conduct of free and fair elections but expressed concern over the “opaque financing of political parties – notably through electoral bonds that allow donors to obscure their identities”.
While political participation is “generally free”, Freedom House said, “some political actors have sought to inflame communal tensions with the goal of energizing their own supporters”.
It also gave a low score to India over the ability of different segments of the population, including ethnic, racial and religious minorities, having full political rights and electoral opportunities.
Indian government officials have yet not responded on the report.
What does the report say about other countries?
The report was also remarkably critical of China, defining it as the “world’s most populous dictatorship” and saying the “malign influence of the regime” in Beijing was “especially profound in 2020”.
China “ramped up its global disinformation and censorship campaign to counter the fallout from its cover-up of the initial coronavirus outbreak, which severely hampered a rapid global response in the pandemic’s early days”, the report said.
Beijing’s efforts “featured increased meddling in the domestic political discourse of foreign democracies, transnational extensions of rights abuses common in mainland China, and the demolition of Hong Kong’s liberties and legal autonomy”.
The report cited a host of other countries, including China, which it said had spread “global disinformation and a censorship campaign” to counter the negative fallout of the initial attempt by the country to cover up the Covid-19 outbreak. China has always denied allegations of a cover-up.
The US also had a democratic decline during the final years of Donald Trump’s presidency, the report noted.
Mass protests, the rise of armed vigilante groups, and Mr. Trump’s “shocking attempts to overturn his election loss” which culminated in the storming of the Capitol Hill by rioters in January “have damaged the United States’ credibility abroad”, it said.
The global freedom report also added that “the countries with declines in political rights and civil liberties outnumbered those with gains by the largest margin recorded during the 15-year period”.
It downgraded the freedom scores of 73 countries, representing 75% of the global population.
“With India’s decline to Partly Free, less than 20% of the world’s population now lives in a Free country, the smallest proportion since 1995,” the report said.