India ‘one of the worst autocratisers’: V-Dem report on democracy

Wednesday, Mar 13, 2024

NEW DELHI: India, which was downgraded to the status of an “electoral autocracy” in 2018, has declined even further on multiple metrics to emerge as “one of the worst autocratizers”, according to the ‘Democracy Report 2024’ released by the Gothenburg-based V-Dem Institute that tracks democratic freedoms worldwide.

The V-Dem report categorises countries into four regime types based on their score in the Liberal Democratic Index (LDI): Liberal Democracy, Electoral Democracy, Electoral Autocracy, and Closed Autocracy. Their annual report, which maps each country on a matrix of whether they are turning more democratic (‘democratising’) or more autocratic (‘autocratising’), stated that in 2023, 42 countries (home to 35 percent of the world’s population) were undergoing autocratisation. “India, with 18 percent of the world’s population, accounts for about half of the population living in autocratising countries,” the report said. Democratisation was taking place only in 18 countries, accounting for just 400 million people, or 5 percent of the world’s population.

According to the report, 71 percent of the world’s population — 5.7 billion people — live in autocracies, an increase from 48 percent ten years ago. The level of democracy enjoyed by the “average person in the world is down to 1985-levels”, the report said, with the sharpest decline occurring in Eastern Europe, and South and Central Asia.

Noting that almost all components of democracy were getting worse in more countries than they were getting better, the report singled out freedom of expression, clean elections, and freedom of association/civil society as the three worst affected components of democracy in autocratising countries. The autonomy of the electoral management bodies “is weakening substantially in 22 of the 42 autocratising countries,” the report said.

South and Central Asia regressed significantly, with the level of “liberal democracy” enjoyed by the average Indian now “down to levels last seen in 1975….when Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in India”. As per the V-Dem classification, a liberal democracy is one where, in addition to the requirements of electoral democracy such as regular free and fair elections, mechanisms for judicial independence and constraints on executive overreach are robust, alongside rigorous protection of civil liberties and equality before law. In an electoral autocracy — the category India falls into — multiparty elections coexist with insufficient levels of basic requisites such as freedom of expression and free and fair elections.

Noting that India’s “autocratisation process has been well documented, including gradual but substantial deterioration of freedom of expression, compromising independence of the media, crackdowns on social media, harassments of journalists critical of the government, as well as attacks on civil society,” the report detailed how the “anti-pluralist” BJP government has “used laws on sedition, defamation, and counterterrorism to silence critics”.