A US think tank, Freedom House, in its latest report has noted that India has dropped out of the list of “free” nations and can now only be termed “partly free”.
The report, titled “Freedom in the World 2021 – democracy under siege”, discusses the effect of the lethal pandemic and the resulting economic and physical insecurity that ultimately led to democracy suffering losses and the balance shifting in the favour of authoritarianism.
It notes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and allies “encouraged the scapegoating of Muslims, who were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs”.
The ruling Hindu national movement “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”, adds the report.
It regrets that Modi and his party, instead of leading the fight against democracy and “serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence” in the world, are “tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism”.
Modi as PM and his re-election
The report observes that ever since Modi became prime minister in 2014, political rights and civil liberties have witnessed a deterioration.
There are greater incidences of “increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims”, it states.
It also observes that the decline “accelerated after Modi’s re-election in 2019”.
It recounts a series of events that have directly impacted India’s standing as a free democracy.
“Last year, the government intensified its crackdown on protesters opposed to a discriminatory citizenship law and arrested dozens of journalists who aired criticism of the official pandemic response,” reads the report.
The US think tank has also noted that judicial independence has “come under strain” and is no longer freely exercised .
“In one case, a judge was transferred immediately after reprimanding the police for taking no action during riots in New Delhi that left over 50 people, mostly Muslims, dead,” the report said.
India’s approval of the contentious law that seeks to prohibit forced religious conversion through interfaith marriages and the resulting clampdown on Muslim men has also been criticised in the report.
“In December, Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, approved a law that prohibits forced religious conversion through interfaith marriage, which critics fear will effectively restrict interfaith marriage in general; authorities have already arrested a number of Muslim men for allegedly forcing Hindu women to convert to Islam,” it observes.
The report says that India, under Modi, seems to have “abandoned” the chance to serve as a democratic leader, “elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all”.
It warns that India’s fall from the ranks of free nations could have a particularly damaging impact on global democratic standards.