The rise of China’s assertions around the world and the fall of liberal values among political stakeholders in the United States and the West had been married to the increasingly divided world caused by the Ukraine War and the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. These worldviews pushed the established democratic country to embrace its allies closer than the democratic values. The promising alliance is getting more and more important than the fate and values of democracy. In June 2023, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the joint session of the United States Congress, and the White House Press Team referred to India as a “vibrant democracy.” In the following weeks, Prime Minister Modi was made the guest of honor for the Bastille Day military parade and received the Legion of Honor, the highest civilian honor in France. The United States and the West had ignored the rise of authoritarianism and nationalist movements threatening the country’s largest religious minority group.
Since Prime Minister Modi came to power in 2014, India has witnessed the contemporary decline of democracy and civil and liberty rights. India’s most recent and this scale of democracy decline was during the 21-month-long Emergency period from June 1975 to March 1977. Since the start of Prime Minister Modi’s second term in 2019, India has moved from “Free” to “Partly Free” on Freedom House’s World Freedom Index. The Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project marks India as an “electoral autocracy,” and the Economic Intelligence Unit moved India to a “Flawed Democracy.” Both Freedom House and V-Dem project have warned that Prime Minister Modi and his Hindu Nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party, have picked up the Hindu nationalist narrative “to preside over discriminatory policies and a rise in persecution affecting the Muslim population.” Political oppositions and civil society organizations that criticize Prime Minister Modi’s and BJP’s policies have been labeled “anti-nationalist” and targeted with administrative harassment and intimidation. Colonial-era sedition laws and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) have been employed to silence the opposition and critics. 96 percent of the cases were filed under Prime Minister Modi’s administration. India’s Muslim-majority state, Kashmir, is separately categorized as “Not Free” by Freedom House.
World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Border marks 161 out of 180 countries regarding press freedom in the country and is highlighted as a particular case among “hybrid regimes.” Indian media and journalists face intimidation, death threats, and targeted hate campaigns on social media that are loosely affiliated with the government. V-Dem also warned of the dramatic increase in the government’s dissemination of false information and political polarization from 2012 to 2022. Oligarchs who enjoy close ties with Prime Minister Modi and the BJP have acquired the media outlets to restrict the free flow of information. Although there is no significant alteration of laws, media and journalists have self-censored themselves to avoid retaliation and harassment. During the G20 summit in New Delhi, India used “Bharat” – India’s other name in its constitution and a word derived from Hindu King in India’s history – to promote “hindunization” in the country under the name of “decolonization efforts.” Maya Tudor said – in the article “Why India’ democracy is Dying” – that “key democratic institutions have remained in place while the norms and practices underpinning democracy have substantially deteriorated.” India’s democratic institutions and processes, such as the electoral process, laws, and legislative body, remained intact. Norms, practices and infrastructure of India’s democracy, such as political pluralism and participation, press freedom, academic freedom, and civil and liberty rights, have deteriorated during the 8 years of Prime Minster Modi’s tenure.
Outside of India, India has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. India’s import from Russia has increased 430 percent since the war in Ukraine. Despite atrocities, killings and bombings against its population in Myanmar, India has chosen to engage and support the State Administrative Council, the perpetrator of the crimes against humanity in its own land, to legitimize the regime and attempted coup. Despite criticisms from relevant stakeholders in Myanmar and against its joint statement with U.S. President Joe Biden during his state visit, India’s technical assistance and cooperation for the regime’s sham elections and population census will only promote the regime’s oppressive surveillance against its population and more violence.
Amid India’s democracy decline, nationalist rise, and cozy relations with murderous regimes, the West and the United States have refrained from publicly raising these concerns with Prime Minister Modi’s BJP-led administration. India’s democracy decline places 1.3 billion population out of 8 billion from a “democratizing regime” to an “autocratizing regime.” Instead, the West and the United States have moved closer to Prime Minister Modi’s administration. India’s role in balancing China is important, and there is significant urgency to counter China. Countering China should not be at the cost of democracy worldwide and compromise of democratic and liberal values.
Tudor, M (2023). Why India’s Democracy is Dying. Journal of Democracy, Vol 14, No.3, July
2023, pp. 121 – 132
Freedom House. (2023). India: Freedom in the World 2023 Country Report. Freedom
RSF. (n.d.). Rsf.org. https://rsf.org/en/classement/2023/asia-pacificDefiance in the Face of Autocratization. (n.d.). https://v-dem.net/documents/29/V-dem_democracyreport2023_lowres.pdf