Having lost its place on global freedom ranking, India now faces embarrassment from international media with CNN top host Fareed Zakaria saying that the country had fallen short of democratic ideals before Modi but “rarely has it fallen so far and so fast.”
The Indian American journalist said in “What in the world” segment of his CNN show “Fareed Zakaria GPS that India could lose his distinction of biggest democracy if the slide continues which would have catastrophic consequences not only for India but also for the world.
In its recent report, the pro-democracy non-profit Freedom House downgraded India from “free” to “partly free” ranking for the first time in 30 years.
“India’s illiberal slide had been steady and swift under PM Narendra Modi and his BJP,” the host said.
He said over the past few years, Indian had clamped down tightly on freedom of speech and police had filed criminal charges against activists, journalists and opposition politicians for merely criticizing the government.
Today's What in the World segment: how freedom is eroding in the world's largest democracy pic.twitter.com/tdsIguRzbG
— Fareed Zakaria (@FareedZakaria) March 7, 2021
Even, he said, a climate activist Disha Ravi, in her 20s, was arrested on sedition charges for just drafting and sharing a document in support of the ongoing farmers protest which was later tweeted by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. The police accused Ravi for attempting to spread disaffection against the Indian state.
Zakaria also quoted an article saying that more than 7136 people faced sedition charges since Modi was elected as prime minister in 2014. The press had been under relentless attack and intimidation, he added.
He also referred to The New York Times report saying that during the pandemic, Modi also pressured media to publish “inspiring and positive stories” about the government efforts. His government had pressured the outlets to fire journalists who criticized the prime minister and also suspended the features that embarrassed Modi’s party.
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) February 3, 2021
He said the Indian illiberalism related to its efforts to promote Hindu nationalism and singling out the Indian Muslim minority. In December 2019, the government passed the citizenship amendment act which allowed the path to citizenship for migrants from six countries of different religions, excluding the Muslims.
There are hints of more discriminatory policies to come, Fareed Zakaria said and mentioned the instituting of a national citizen register for every Indian to give proof of their place of birth which would be difficult for many to find such a proof in India.
The Freedom House opined that such a step would disproportionately affect the Muslims.
“Then there is Kashmir which “was” the only Muslim majority state of India. In August 2019, the central government hurriedly passed a legislation that striped Kashmir its stated and special autonomous status under the Indian constitution,” he remarked.
He said thousands of the people were preventively detained. Even the Freedom House tallies Kashmir separately than rest of India.
In 2020, Kashmir score plummeted to 28 from 51 in 2016, 50 in 2017 and 49 in 2019. Currently, he said the territory was rated as “not free” on par with dictatorship and police states.
The CNN host also quoted an Indian historian Ramachandra Guha saying that the “beauty and the radicalism of the nationalism of India’s founding fathers is that it was not tied to any single faith or language. It exalted in India’s diversity.”