Progressive elements have been noting with concern an ongoing democratic recession around the world. The rise of authoritarian and populist tendencies is readily found in rich and poor countries alike.

The Covid-19 pandemic has not disrupted this problematic trend and may have even worsened it by providing authoritarian leaders an excuse to quash dissent and further fuel xenophobia.

Consider, for instance, what has been happening in India, the largest democracy in the world, or in the United States, the world's most powerful democracy.

The incoming Biden administration is trying to restore America's democratic credentials, but the extent to which the US will be able to resume its place as an apparent champion of global democracy remains to be seen. India, on the other hand, is reeling from growing criticism of its democratic credentials. 

The Sweden-based V-Dem Institute's latest report on democracy has called India an ''electoral autocracy''. The Economist Intelligence Unit has referred to India as a ''flawed democracy'' and the US -based Freedom House just downgraded India's status from a being a free democracy to a ''partially free democracy''.

Although India has still not experienced overt Martial Law, it is currently seen to be undergoing a democratic crisis comparable to Indira Gandhi's suspension of civil liberties via imposition of 'Emergency rule' in the mid-1970s.

As was to be expected , the Modi government has not reacted well to the growing international criticism of India's eroding democracy.

The Indian Foreign Minister has reacted angrily to attempts to downgrade India's democratic credentials by the above think tanks.

In an eloquently worded denunciation, Jaishamker specifically responded to Freedom House's report, saying : ''You use the dichotomy of democracy and autocracy. You want a truthful answer.............It is called hypocrisy.''

There is obviously an element of subjectivity when trying to rank all the countries that via an index measuring something as elusive as democracy. Often, while such rankings, Western based think tanks minimise their own historical role in creating the problems which continue to plague many post-colonial countries.

Western barometers of democracy or other similar indices are quick to point to internal failures in poorer countries while neglecting to highlight how poor countries continue being exploited by global corporations, or how the economic reforms implemented in these countries by powerful lending agencies continue producing lacklustre results.

Although limited in scope, the existing indicators - used by the Economist, Freedom House and other relevant entities - are the result of rigorous quantitative and qualitative assessments.

The resulting indices may not be able to pinpoint underlying causes, but they adequately identify evident problems. It is hard to refute, for instance, that lopsided distribution of seats in every country's national legislature, the introduction of discriminatory policies or the uptick of violence against minorities are not reasons enough for being concerned about the health of a country's democracy.

The very notion of democracy remains an ideal, however, and most countries aspiring to uphold and promote democratic ideals need TO DO much more to make their own governance process more representative.

Even when democracy first developed in the Greek city-state of Athens around 600 BC, it was limited to men, given that women, slaves and even resident aliens were not able to participate in the political process.

When Thomas Jefferson, the father of the American Constitution, wrote the declaration of Independence declaring ''all men are created equal'', he himself was a large slaveholder.

We have come a long way in terms of giving people a voice in the political process. Monarchies and dictatorships have become less prevalent. Yet, majoritarianism, populism, and other hybrid forms of military-civilian governments remain a prevailing threat to deepening democracy.

Instead of bolstering its democratic credentials, it is unfortunate to see Indian politicians place their bets on majoritarianism. Yet, it is worth noting here that Pakistan continues faring worse than India on all the indices mentioned above.

The World Students Society thanks author Syed Mohammad Ali, an academic and a researcher.


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