[Editorial Analysis] Assessing India’s counter to ‘diminishing democracy

Mains Paper 4: Ethics
Prelims level: World Democracy Report
Mains level: Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators; role of family society and educational institutions in inculcating values.

Context:

• The ministry of external affairs is mulling a “world democracy report” as well as a “global press freedom index” to be brought out by an independent Indian think tank, according to people familiar with the matter and government documents.

• The discussions to do this were going on before recent reports by Freedom House and V-Dem Institute downgraded India’s democratic rankings.

India MEA Stand:

• India may encourage one of the Indian independent think tanks to bring out its own annual world democracy report based on comprehensive parameters as well as an annual global freedom of press index.

• The Sweden-based V-Dem Institute downgraded and redesignated Indian democracy. And farmers’ safety and curbs to press freedom in the context of the ongoing protests by farmers were debated in the British Parliament.

• The report had said that India “has continued on a path of steep decline to the extent it has almost lost its status as a democracy”.

Response Consider three elements:

Aggressive, fine-tuned:

• First, there is decidedly a new approach. Something more layered is replacing the reliance on hard sovereignty. While the establishment continues to underline the internal nature of the issues raised, it is also beginning to counter the criticisms aggressively.

• The strongest evidence of this yet came from a discussion in the Rajya Sabha, on March 15, 2021, on racism in the United Kingdom. It appeared to implicate everyone, from the royals to society at large, in systemic racism.

• India’s External Affairs Minister noted the concern on behalf of the government and made the assurance that it would be taken up with the U.K. even as India would ‘monitor these developments very, very closely’.

• Earlier, on March 9, 2021, in response to the debate in the U.K. Parliament on the ‘safety of farmers’ and ‘press freedom’ in India, the Indian High Commission in London had noted the ‘need to set the record straight’ regardless of claims of ‘friendship and love for India’ professed by anyone.

• The response is also becoming fine-tuned. The London statement called India ‘the largest functioning democracy in the world’. The key word here was ‘functioning’.

• It has sought to narrow down the scope of the issue and belittle its opponents. A statement by the Ministry of External Affairs on February 3, 2021, arguably put out in response to the celebrity tweets, claimed that a ‘very small section of farmers in parts of India’ had ‘some’ reservations about the farm reforms.

• It also referred to international critics as ‘fringe elements’ and linked them to desecration of Gandhi statues.

2. A favourable global situation:

• Second, the assertiveness in the establishment’s response is partly because India currently enjoys a favourable international constellation.

• India has attempted transference of latitude, leveraging the goodwill generated by ‘Vaccine Maitri’ to counter the criticisms.

• The fact that the western countries have struggled to cope effectively with the pandemic and remain inconsistent as well as, as in Europe, divided in their governmental and medical responses, also makes India look coherent and ‘functional’.

• Further, the contemporary crisis within western democracies is deep rooted. While it eludes resolution, the fact is that it has robbed western governments of the reputational privilege and the moral right to criticise what they view as assaults on liberal democratic values.

• Finally, the conservative allies in western countries that India has likely cultivated have also helped it undercut international criticism.

• Recall the October 2019 visit to Kashmir of about two dozen largely right-wing Members of European Parliament. Further, a quick review of the remarks of Conservative UK MPs Bob Blackman and Theresa Villiers on contentious issues concerning India over the past nearly two years will be revealing.

3. Key question unanswered:
• Third, the question of the effectiveness of its response. it has questioned the practice of western institutions and civil society of judging and criticising those political processes in non-western democracies that do not match up to western standards.

• The objection is useful insofar as it checks sorry remnants of western cultural arrogance as well as ‘knowledge imperialism’.

• But it does not address the fundamental point of the critics, which is that human dignity and freedoms are universal and an assault on them anywhere is an assault on them everywhere.

• India was well within its rights to offer the sovereignty shrug and say it did not care. But it has engaged the critics, not on facts but on values. And now it must make its position clear.

• If it does not believe that these values apply to all human beings everywhere, regardless of the society and culture in which they find themselves, then it can state it unambiguously. This would deprive its critics of the moral basis for their criticism.

Conclusion:

• The Indian government take instance and talk about the values on democracy that we are trying to prove.’ This is an approach worth considering. For in order to effectively counter its critics, the establishment must first confront itself.

• Also, most rankings do not impose a single definition of democracy – experts agree that an “electoral democracy” is really the bare minimum. And Differences of opinion among experts are transformed into a single measure using statistical models that help forecast outcomes more reliably.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the National Capital Territory of Delhi, consider the following statements:
1. The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 proposes to amend Sections 21, 24, 33 and 44 of the 1991 Act.
2. The Bill gives discretionary powers to the L-G even in matters where the Legislative Assembly of Delhi is empowered to make laws.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: C

Mains Questions:

Q.1) To what extent world democracy report has justified the position of India to maintaining India’s democracy. Comment.

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