The latest Freedom House democracy report had degraded India from “Free” to “Partly Free”.
The report noted that the government and its state-level allies continued to crack down on critics during the year, and their response to COVID-19 included a ham-fisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers.
The report concluded in a scathing indictment saying, “Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to the authoritarian influence, Modi and his party were tragically driving India towards authoritarianism.”
Indian government dismissed criticism from the United Nations and Amnesty International, which was forced to shut down in the country and rushed to attack the democracy report as “misleading, incorrect and misplaced”.
During a court hearing, a judge while ordering bail for the 22-year-old climate change activist Disha Ravi, declared that the offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the government.
Disha was arrested recently, accused of working with the activist Greta Thunberg to undermine the Indian government’s outrageous fiction. Their only crime was expressing support for farmers.
Under Prime Minister Modi, sedition charges against critics had been deployed as a clear tool of intimidation.
A report showed 96% of sedition cases filed against 405 Indians for criticizing politicians and governments over the last decade were registered after 2014 when Modi led BJP government assumed power, with 149 accused of making critical and derogatory remarks against Modi and 144 against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister.
In another similar report, the V-Dem Institute, based in Sweden, also downgraded India’s classification from World’s largest democracy to “Electoral Autocracy”, in its latest report. With the slide, India had moved from the top 50 % of the 180 countries analyzed by V Dem to the bottom 50%.
Neutralizing “negative influencers”
Indian movies stars and athletes were often deployed to promote government policies and amplify propaganda. So when Thunberg, along with celebrities such as Rihanna and Meena Harris, tweeted in solidarity with farmers protest, the powerful ecosystem of government supporters started attacking them for wanting to “destabilize” India. But many of those high profile supporters have been silent about the freedom house downgrade.
The Freedom House report highlighted what Indian activists and independent journalists had known for a long time. What the citizens of Kashmir, who were vilified in their own land, had known for a long time.
What Muslims who felt orphaned in a country their forefathers helped built with their blood and sweat had known for a long time.
The Indian news magazine Caravan just published an investigation about how Indian ministers actively discussed ways of neutralizing “negative influencers” critical of the government.
Washington Post Journalist Rana Ayyub stated her hopes for India, as a journalist and as a Muslim was being crushed each day. A top Indian movies star told her that his blood boils seeing activists and students being thrown behind bars, but that he feared that expressing support would bring retaliation from the government such as launching fictitious investigations against him.
His fears were not without merit. The same day Freedom House released its report, tax officials raided the home of the filmmaker Anurag Kashyap and the actress Taapsee Pannu.
India once championed itself as the world’s largest democracy. The poverty index and state of minorities while considering India’s democratic index were probably set aside in the past. However, these two latest reports initiated one each from the US and Sweden had exposed the reality behind Indian claims of being the leading democracy.