India is no longer an 'electoral democracy' but an 'electoral autocracy', says a study conducted by Sweden based V-Dem Institute. The institute's previous report, which observed that India was on the verge of losing its status as a democracy, noted in its current report that democratic freedoms took a sharp decline in the country after Narendra Modi-led BJP came to power in 2014.
The broken-down democracy
"The world's largest democracy has turned into an electoral autocracy," says the study, which devoted a chapter for India alone titled 'Democracy Broken Down: India'.
"India's 'autocratization' process has largely followed the typical pattern for countries in the "Third Wave" over the past ten years: a gradual deterioration where freedom of the media, academia, and civil society were curtailed," the report reads.
The study titled 'Autocratization Turns Viral' states India slid down from 90th rank of top 50% last year to 97th, which is the bottom 50%, out of 180 countries subjected in the study.
After the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which brought BJP to power, the country witnessed a landslide decline following the BJP government's Hindu nationalist agenda. In 2013, India hit a high of 0.57 on the 0 to 1 Liberal Democracy Index (LDI) which crumpled to 0.34 in the next seven years; a 23 per cent point drop. The report alleged the drop as "the most dramatic shifts among all countries in the world over the past 10 years."
India emerges as an autocracy
V-Dem notes that the sharpest decay happened in government censorship of media, policies to repress civil society organisations and the Election Commission of India's autonomy. A rampant decline happened in academic and religious freedoms while severe bias crept in media.
The reports read that before the Modi regime, the score on censorship was 3.5 out of 4. It is remarkable when it is placed against the 1.5 in 2020, implying that the government amplified its systematic censorship efforts. The report infers that India is as autocratic as Pakistan and worse than Nepal or Bangladesh on censorship aspects. Now that the Centre has revamped the IT Rules, V Dem expects media freedom in India to collapse further.
The report mentions the harassment journalists faced while they covered Covid-19 in India. A large number of journalists faced police actions and threats while engaged in field reporting during the pandemic. The harassment repeated during the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and Delhi riots in the initial months of 2020. It further criticised the government's crackdown on the CAA protests calling the Act itself unconstitutional since it discriminates among religions. The report claims that civil society organisations were being "muzzled" in the autocratization process through Foreign Contributions (Regulations) Act which was amended in September 2020, constraining foreign contributions within India.
"These developments are among the instances contributing to the descent into electoral authoritarianism in what used to be the world's largest democracy," the chapter on India reads.
"Majority lives under autocratic regimes"
V-Dem's report adds that 68% of the world's population now lives under autocratic regimes. "This reflects an accelerating wave of autocratization engulfing 25 nations that hold 1/3 of the world's population – 2.6 billion people. Several G20 nations such as Brazil, India, Turkey, and the United States of America are part of this drift," the report reads. It adds that 'autocratization' follows a similar pattern across nations, beginning with the ruling party attacking the media and civil society, followed by polarisation of the society by "disrespecting opponents and spreading false information" and culminating in elections being undermined.
The V-Dem Institute is based at the University of Gothenberg which has been conducting studies on democracies worldwide and publishing reports since 2017.