'Deliberate Democratic Erosion in India': Report on 'Backsliding' Democracies
The report includes the US in the list for the first time, because it "fell victim to authoritarian tendencies."
A report published by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance or International IDEA on Monday, 22 November, has claimed that India is one of the countries that is experiencing "a more severe and deliberate kind of democratic erosion."
Titled The Global State of Democracy Report 2021 - Building Resilience in a Pandemic Era, it also has, for the first time, included the United States of America – "the bastion of global democracy" which "fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself" – in its annual list of "backsliding" democracies.
It also lamented that "perhaps the greatest blow to democratic ideals was the fall of the people’s government in Afghanistan, which has seen war being waged for the sake of preserving democratic principles."
The foreword of the report was written by Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi, who served as the 17th Chief Election Commissioner of India. He writes towards the end of the foreword that "despite India falling in the democracy ranks", he can "personally attest that the spirit of democracy among the Indian people remains strong."
India – Most Democratic Violations During Pandemic
The report slammed India specifically for committing "the most" democratic violations during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing arrests and harassment of human rights activists, journalists, and students among others whose loud voices have been critical of the Narendra Modi government.
The Indian government is also accused of using "excessive use of force in the enforcement of COVID-19 regulations."
The report accused the Indian government of using laws against cow slaughter and anti-conversion to vilify and attack the Muslim community of India.
This observation is especially pertinent as the Uttar Pradesh government's controversial “love jihad” law completed one year of its passing on 24 November.
Arguing that democratic backsliding takes multiple and varying forms, the report also states that in some backsliding democracies, "ethnonationalist strategies use religion as a political weapon (e.g. India)."
The report questions India's commitment to media freedom, citing its lack of capacity to report in areas like Kashmir where internet shutdowns are rampant.
It also says that governments like India and Russia reinforce "such a hostile landscape for journalism" by using digital technology to repress and target journalists online."
On the state of elections, the report provides a mixed review of India's performance.
On one hand, it says that India is one of the "10 democracies have experienced declines in Clean Elections since 2015", and criticised government's habit of resorting to internet shutdowns.
The Modi government, the analysis says, used internet shutdowns during elections and no other government in the world has deployed this tactic more than India's.
Interestingly, however, despite everything stated above, the report also says that India scored relatively well on the "Clean Elections" indices.
According to an analysis accompanying the report in question, called The Global State of Democracy Indices, India was only one of "eight countries in the world in 2020 that combined relatively good scores on Clean Elections with poorer performance in Civil Liberties and Checks on Government."
Baseless Election Claims Threw the US into the List
The turning point for the US, according to the report came in 2020–2021, when former President Donald Trump disputed the 2020 US election results.
Allegations of electoral fraud that were completely groundless nevertheless succeed in weakening the people's trust in the electoral process, which eventually led to the tragic episode of 6 January.
The US therefore, joined India in the list of "10 democracies have experienced declines in Clean Elections since 2015."
Freedom of Expression
The US has also been accused of not doing enough to protect freedom of expression, with the report citing accounts of doctors and medical personnel who had been ordered to not talk to the media.
Some who took the risk of defying the order ended up getting fired.
For example, in Arizona, an emergency-room doctor was fired by the hospital he worked in just because he tweeted about bed shortage caused by the rapid spread of COVID-19, The Guardian reported.
Voting Restrictions and Minorities
The report also talks about "restrictions on voting in the United States", citing research that shows how in some states, "voter registration and voting laws, either recently approved or currently under discussion, end up disproportionately affecting minorities in a negative way."
In fact, 17 Republican states in the US have, after the 2020 presidential elections, attempted to pass laws that restrict when and where citizens of the state can vote, BBC reported.
Curbs on Travel and Racism
The report slams the Trump administration's decision to impose early ban on travel from China to the US, imposing the same ban on Europe.
It cites a report by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that shows that "a ban on European travel to the USA in February 2020, when the ban on China was active, could have potentially saved tens of thousands of lives."
On the Bright Side - Political Activism
There is however, some good news despite the erosion of democratic practices, which has been met a strong response by civil society, the report argues.
Referring to the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2020 presidential elections, it says that citizens of the US are much more political engaged, who "have driven multinational private companies to protest against restrictions on voting rights in the United States, promote voting among their staff and to support the BLM movement."
Talking about the globe situation of democracies, the report presents quite a grim picture, claiming that more 25 percent of people in the world live in a backsliding democracy.
"The world is becoming more authoritarian as nondemocratic regimes become even more brazen in their repression and many democratic governments suffer from backsliding by adopting their tactics of restricting free speech and weakening the rule of law," it argues.
Additionally, "the number [of countries] moving in the direction of authoritarianism is three times the number moving toward democracy."
However, it concludes with a bright side, asserting that despite a worrying of democracies become undemocratic around the world, civic action is well and truly alive and well.
The report points to many social movements all over the world (in 80 percent of countries) that have taken place for tackling climate change and fighting racial inequalities" despite COVID-19 restrictions.
"Many democracies around the world have proved resilient to the pandemic."
(With inputs from The Guardian, BBC, and International IDEA)
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