India’s status fell from “free” to “partly free” in the Freedom in the World 2021 report released on Wednesday. India’s score in the index decreased by four points, from 71 in 2020, to 67 in 2021. The report, published by Freedom House, a US-based non-governmental organisation, measures the strength of democratic processes in countries.
The report attributed the decline in India's score to the policies of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government. “The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its state-level allies continued to crack down on critics during the year, and their response to COVID-19 included a ham-fisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers,” it added.
It also highlighted the communal nature of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a major cause of declining freedoms in the country. It pointed out that as people and governments across the country struggled to tackle the disruption caused by COVID-19, “the ruling Hindu nationalist movement encouraged the scapegoating of Muslims, who were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs”.
“Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence from countries such as China, Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism,” it added.
India is the world’s most populous democracy. The decline of freedom in the country caused a very significant rise in the proportion of the world’s population who do not live in a “free” country. According to the report, with India’s decline to Partly Free status, less than 20% of the world’s population now lives in a free country, the smallest proportion since 1995.
Freedom House pointed out that the fall of India from the upper ranks of such nations could have a particularly damaging impact on global democratic standards. “Political rights and civil liberties in the country have deteriorated since Narendra Modi became prime minister in
2014, with increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims,” it said.
This decline accelerated further after Modi’s re-election in 2019, the report noted, pointing out that the Union Government had taken steps and implemented policies that threaten the freedoms enjoyed by India’s citizens. “Under Modi, India appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader, elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all,” it said.
According to Freedom House – although freedom in the world’s better-performing countries had been in retreat for several years – in 2020 it was struggling democracies and authoritarian states that accounted for more of the global decline. The proportion of “Not Free” countries is now the highest it has been over the past 15 years.
On an average the scores of these countries have declined by about 15% during the same period. At the same time, the number of countries worldwide earning a net score improvement for 2020 was the lowest since 2005, suggesting that the prospects for a change in a global downward trend are more challenging than ever.
“As repression intensifies in already unfree environments, greater damage is done to their institutions and societies, making it increasingly difficult to fulfill public demands for freedom and prosperity under any future government,” the report said.