While India was known as “the world’s largest democracy”, its credentials on that front are increasingly challenged, as evident – for instance – from three different reports released over the last three years. The 2018 report published by the Varieties of Democracy Institute described India as an “electoral democracy” (and not as a “liberal democracy”) because of an “autocratization-process” that found expression in “a partial closing of the space for civil society,” including NGOs and the media, and in a decline of political transparency. The 2019 “Democracy Index” of The Economist Intelligence Unit showed that India had slipped 10 places in the 2019 global ranking, to 51st place, behind South Africa, Malaysia, Colombia and Argentina. In this index, India was now part of the “flawed democracies,” because of “an erosion of civil liberties in the country” – including Jammu and Kashmir. In 2020, Freedom House pointed out that India earned “the largest score decline among the world’s 25 most populous democracies” in its yearly report. As a result, India has now been placed by the organization among “countries in the spotlight’’ along with Haiti, Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, Hong Kong and Ukraine.
The Observatory of India’s democracy will help to measure this multifaceted process of “de-democratisation”, that has found expression in different domains like the rule of law (including independence of the judiciary and other key institutions of the state), the reduction of political pluralism (including role of the opposition), disregard for freedom of expression (as evident from the media’s attitude and frequent suspensions of internet), decline of freedom of religion in the name of Hindu majoritarianism (at the expense of the rights of minorities), the unleashing of political violence (against individual dissenters or parties), attacks on civil society organisations, centralization of power at the expense of federalism and steady erosion of academic freedom (even in respect of private universities). While elections continue to take place, the electoral competition is no longer held on an even playing field. In fact it has given birth to a form of competitive authoritarianism, not least caused by the compromised Election Commission as well as the role of electoral bonds in making electoral finance opaque.
The Observatory of Indian democracy will document some of these dimensions of India’s democratic decline by providing a repository of curated data (statistics or indexes), reports (by academic institutions, NGOs, Human Rights Commissions etc.), articles (by academics, journalists, and commentators) and testimonies of people on the ground. It also intends to make accessible in English information published in other Indian languages.
This Observatory relies on a network of scholars who commit themselves to offer contributions on a regular and sustained manner. The academics involved will contribute as volunteers. However, funds need to be raised to support the post of the secretary of the observatory who will be responsible for maintaining the website.