Sunday 21 July 2024

News Analysed, Opinions Expressed

A steep fall into mediocrity


Last year Economist dubbed the world's democracy to be a flawed democracy. This year freedom house says it is no longer free. What a fall!

freedom house annual report



Anuragh Kashyap and Taapsee Pannu were always known for strong views against the esablishmnent. Kashyap has been critic of the present regime. He visited JNU, Shaheen Bagh   and other anti CAA protests sites. Pannu questioned the Chief Justice of India over his “will you marry the woman” remark. They were both sympathetic to the farmers’ cause. As the Income Tax authorities did what they do to  the critics of the regime – raided Anuragh Kashyap and Taapsee Pannu ,came the reputed Washington based  democracy watchdog NGO’ s annual report on democracy and freedom round the globe. Freedom House which studies political freedom   since 1941.  The 2021 Freedom House report titled   ‘democracy under siege’ shows a  decline of democratic traditions and rise of authoritarian tendencies  across countries and a  steep fall by the world’s largest democracy.  What a shame to be told after 73 years of Independence and 71 years of modern constitution, that  the world’s largest democracy is no  longer a ‘free’ country. But what better can be expected when the state incarcerates a 22 years old environmental activist   over a twitter post of another international   climate change activist or a standup comedian   looses his freedom almost for a month for a joke he never cracked. If facebook post, a twitter comment, a satirical statement or a cartoon could land a citizen  in jail, then Freedom House must be looking at us in the correctly.   

To monitor  freedom and democracy round the world, Freedom house was founded   on the ‘core conviction’ that freedom flourishes in democratic nations, where governments are accountable to the people and rule of law, where  freedom of speech & expression prevails  human rights are protected and rights of minorities, women and other marginalized sections are guaranteed. Their core conviction is  also what the Constitution of India stands for. With the type of superstructure created by the founding fathers, our country ought to have championed the cause of democracy and become a world leader of democracy and as Freedom House puts it acted as counterweight against authoritarian influences is Asian countries.

 Our Ministry of External affairs has dubbed the report as misleading, incorrect and misplaced. But only last year the World’s leading resource for economic and business organization, the Economist intelligence unit dubbed us a ‘flawed democracy in  it’s 2020 democracy  Index global ranking as the Indian state cracked down  on civil liberties of countrywide protesters  against the discriminatory Citizenship law. What went against us then was introduction of religious element into the citizenship law which undermined the secular basis of the Indian state. The Economist   report observed democratic principles and values had been under pressure  ever since PM Modi came to power in 2014. It was a fall by two places over 2019 ranking.

Last year again Paris based ‘Reporters without Borders’ which evaluates level of freedom available to the media in 180 countries ranked the world’s largest democracy at 142 a steep fall from 131 in 2012. The report claimed ever since the general elections in 2019, the media is under pressure to toe the hindu nationalist line. If Rajdeep sardessai and Mrinal Pande our best known journalists could be booked under colonial era law of sedition for a false twitter post regarding death of a farmer, the Paris based body cannot be faulted for placing us there.

After the reports of 2020 damned us, we  ought to have course corrected. The ruling party had a   massive majority in parliament and stability of the government at the center was never in doubt. The pandemic provided an opportunity   to show case our unity and    democratic ideals. But Freedom house records public intellectuals facing ham handed state against anti CAA movement and the ruthless lock down displacing millions of low paid laborers for want of basic supplies. Academic freedom is   significantly reduced due to intimidation of professors, students and institutions as the fringe outfits engage in violence. If the state interferes with what you eat and whom you love or marry, then  it is mediocrity governance.

We were always proud of our robust judiciary. American President Andrew Jackson had said “All the rights secured to the citizens under the Constitution are worth nothing, and a mere bubble, except guaranteed to them by an independent and virtuous Judiciary.” In 1973 when the Supreme Court stood up to the Parliament, we believed the Courts would stand up to any excesses of the executive or the legislature. the Freedom house also downgrades us on that count. It  records that several supreme court rulings favouring the ruling side. The appointment of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi to the Rajya Sabha  and transfer of a chief justice ( not named, possibly Justice Murlidhar) has tilted the judicial score downwards.

Despite the opacity in electoral bonds and while questioning the election commission over the timing and phasing of the 2019  national election and selective enforcement of the model code,  the freedom house still  gives thumbs up for our electoral system. The land of tigers is now a land of elections! The ruling party is always electoral battle ready. The Prime Minister is certainly   the most popular leader. We live in times where we have started mixing up elections with democracy. The Freedom House   places our fall at the feet of the Prime Minister, “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.” From 2014   there is a steady decline in our core democratic values, however the 2019 seem to have accelerated the authoritarian and the majoritarian march. The niceties of constitutional safeguards and citizens’ rights and liberties are bound to fall by the wayside.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.


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