Sweden’s V-Dem Institute has once again classified India as an “electoral autocracy,” listing it among the world’s top 10 autocratising countries along with El Salvador, Turkey and Hungary. The Institute blames “anti-pluralistic parties,” arguing that “these ruling parties… have used government power to push forward autocratic agendas.” (See the article below.)

India’s ruling parties are able to use government powers in autocratic ways because the country’s parliamentary system is overly centralized. Its inherently unitary structure, combined with the fact that state Governors and funds are controlled by the Centre, makes the office of the Prime Minister all powerful. In addition, a PM’s control over his or her party’s Members of Parliament is absolute because of India’s anti-defection laws.

Autocratization in the country has only worsened over the years. As is well known, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took it to an extreme in the 1970s and almost ended India’s democracy. Our current PM Modi is more subtle. He has dismantled institutions, upended India’s federal structure, and gained control over many top officials and opposition leaders by misusing tax and investigative agencies.

So the problem with India is not just with anti-pluralistic parties, as the V-Dem Institute alleges; it’s with India’s system of government. Its structure allows the majority party to do as it pleases because it fuses state, executive, and legislative powers in the PM office.

-Bhanu Dhamija

[Excerpts of article published on The Wire website on 04 March 2022.]

India Among Top 10 Autocratising Nations; Democratic Slide to Continue’: V-Dem Institute

India has figured in the top 10 autocratising countries of the world along with El Salvador, Turkey and Hungary, with projections ominously indicating that there will be a further decline in democracy in the country, according to the latest report of the V-Dem Institute on the state of democracy globally.

After being classified as ‘electoral autocracy’ in the last year’s report, India continues to hold on to its dubious honour even in this year’s report. Consequently, India finds itself in the category of the bottom 40% to 50% of countries. Much of the slide in India’s democratic credentials has occurred in the years following the rise and consolidation of power by the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after 2014.

Titled Democracy Report 2022: Autocratisation Changing Nature, the Swedish institute’s report notes that a new wave of democratisation is being seen in 15 countries while 32 countries reel under autocrasation. The countries are categorised based on V-Dem’s liberal democracy index (LDI), which captures both electoral and liberal aspects of democracy and goes from the lowest (0) to the highest (1) levels of democracy.

The report highlights that autocratisation has “worsened” in India along with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Thailand and the Philippines in the Asia-Pacific region in the last decade.

“Anti-pluralist parties are driving the autocratisation in at least six of the top autocratizers: Brazil, Hungary, India, Poland, Serbia, and Turkey,” the report notes.

“Anti-pluralist parties and their leaders lack a commitment to the democratic process, disrespect fundamental minority rights, encourage demonization of political opponents, and accept political violence. These ruling parties tend to be nationalist-reactionary and have used government power to push forward autocratic agendas,” adds the report.

The report underscores that while “Brazil, India, and Mauritius’ trajectories have stabilised in recent years, enough to remain electoral democracies or, in India’s case, an electoral autocracy”.

India’s slide to become an electoral autocracy has been linked to the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party and the legitimisation of the Hindu-nationalist agenda, which was pointed out even in the last year’s report.

“Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory in India’s 2014 elections and most of the decline occurred following BJP’s victory and their promotion of a Hindu-nationalist agenda. India’s level of liberal democracy registered at 0.34 by the end of 2020 after a steep decline since its high at 0.57 in 2013. That represents a 23-percentage point drop on the 0 to 1 LDI [Liberal Democracy Index] scale, making it one of the most dramatic shifts among all countries in the world over the past 10 years,” V-Dem’s Democracy Report 2021 pointed out.

Global scenario

As for the global scenario is concerned, the report reveals that the level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2021 is down to 1989 levels. “The last 30 years of democratic advances are now eradicated.”

It has ominously pointed out that dictatorships are on the rise, affecting nearly 70% (5.4 billion) of the global population. However, it states that the “nature of autocratisation is changing”.

“Like many other observers around the world, we are deeply concerned with the decline of democracy over the past decade. This year’s Democracy Report documents a continuation of that trend during 2021,” says the V-Dem Institute’s team in its foreword to the report.

It also adds that ‘electoral autocracy’ – of which India is part – remains the most common regime type, affecting 44% of the world’s population, or 3.4 billion people.

Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) has been producing the largest global dataset on democracy with over 30 million data points for 202 countries from 1789 to 2021. Involving over 3,700 scholars and other country experts, V-Dem measures hundreds of different attributes of democracy. It enables new ways to study the nature, causes and consequences of democracy embracing its multiple meanings.