Multipolar World

Illiberal democracy in India and the West turning a blind eye

Jorge Costa Oliveira

India is the “largest democracy in the world” (970 million voters in the current elections). According to the Democracy Index 2023 by the unsuspecting Economist’s Intelligence Unit, India appears ranked among the “flawed democracies”, i.e., those that “at least allow for the possibility of change, although incumbents or anointed successors are likely to win in these too.” In this Democracy Index, India’s “electoral process and pluralism” is rated excellent, the “functioning of government” and “political participation” are good, but the “political culture” and “civil liberties” receive poor scores (6.25 and 5.88 out of 10).

In the Global State of Democracy (GSoD) Initiative, India ranks 66th in 2022 (up from 50th in 2017). The Swedish V-Dem Institute, in its latest report on democracy, considers that India has become an “electoral autocracy”.

What are the reasons for this degradation of the Indian political regime’s democratic credentials? First of all, the Hindu religious nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has grown electorally riding a religiously based apartheid. At a recent rally, Modi again used hateful rhetoric, calling Muslims “infiltrators.”

Moreover, the BJP has been displaying authoritarian tendencies, manifested in: (i) progressive centralization of power, undermining the autonomy of institutions such as the judiciary and the electoral commission; (ii) misuse of central investigative and financial agencies (e.g., freezing the bank accounts of the Congress Party, weeks before the current general elections); (iii) increasing government repression of dissenting voices – including journalists, activists, academics, and opposition politicians – with accusations of harassment, arbitrary detentions, and misuse of sedition and anti-terrorism legislation; (iv) censorship and control of the media, through intimidation and pressure on journalists; (v) imposition of internet freedom restrictions, including blocking access to websites and information platforms, and implementing surveillance measures that violate privacy.

On the other hand, according to Amnesty International, “we are witnessing a brutal crackdown on human rights, including through the misuse of central investigative and financial agencies, attacks on peaceful protests, arbitrary detentions, the use of invasive spyware for illegal surveillance, targeted suspension of opposition leaders who dare hold authorities accountable, and systematic discrimination against religious minorities to fuel (…) Hindutva.”

In addition to the treatment of marginalized communities such as Dalits and Adivasis, there have been calls for the genocide of Muslims, who have been lynched by Hindu mobs under allegations of eating or smuggling cows (an animal considered sacred to Hindus), Muslim homes have been demolished, their businesses boycotted, and their places of worship set on fire.

The allure of the Indian market and geostrategic considerations (India’s relevance in the [American] strategy of “containing” China in the “Indo-Pacific”) do not justify turning a blind eye while civil liberties and democracy in India deteriorate, and the near future does not bode well.

Categories Multipolar World Opinion