US think-tank report downgrades India to 'partly free'
The report by US-based Freedom House said that India's "fall from the upper ranks of free nations" could have a more damaging effect on the world's democratic standards, as a whole.
India’s status as a democratic nation was downgraded to “partly free” in the latest annual report on global watchdog Freedom House, a US government-funded think-tank and NGO that studies political freedom around the world. In 2020, India was ranked "free".
The report titled “Freedom in the World 2021 - Democracy under Siege” said, “Political rights and civil liberties in the country have deteriorated since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, with increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims...The decline only accelerated after Modi’s reelection in 2019.”
"Under Modi, India appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader, elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all," the report went on to state.
India was rated as “free” in Freedom House’s reports for 2018, 2019 and 2020. However, there has been a consistent fall in the scores -- on a scale of 100-- from 77 to 71, in the aforementioned period. In the latest report, India has scored only 67 out of 100.
The report also said that India “appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader”, adding that India’s fall “from the upper ranks of free nations could have a particularly damaging impact on global democratic standards”.
"Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence from countries such as China, Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism," it added.
Training its lens on the rising number of cases being filed against journalists, the report said: "Authorities filed criminal charges against journalists, students, and private citizens under colonial-era sedition laws as well as the 2000 Information Technology (IT) Act in response to speech perceived as critical of the government, notably including expressions of opposition to the new citizenship legislation and discussion of the official response to the COVID-19 pandemic."
Touching upon the migrant exodus that was initiated due to the sudden lockdown, the report observed: " India’s internal migrant population endured significant hardships as a result of the government’s pandemic-related lockdown, which was imposed in March and gradually eased beginning in May. Many migrant laborers were unable to access basic supplies and services in cities, forcing millions to travel hundreds of miles—often on foot—to their home villages."
It also pointed towards the targeting of Muslims and said: "Harsh restrictions on movement were violently enforced by police and citizen vigilantes, with Muslims often scapegoated as potential spreaders of the virus."