Democracies On The Slide
According to the latest report from the V-Dem Institute at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, the level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2021 is down to 1989 levels, with the democratic gains of the post-Cold War period eroding rapidly in the last few years. The study, titled ‘Democracy Report 2022: Autocratisation Changing Nature?’ states that more than twice as many countries (32) are undergoing autocratisation as are witnessing democratisation (15). Noting that India is one of the top ten ‘autocratisers’ in the world, the V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) report classifies India as an autocracy (‘electoral autocracy’) rather than a democracy, ranking it 93rd on the liberal democracy index, out of 179 countries.
While Sweden topped the Liberal Democratic Index (LDI), other Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Norway, along with Costa Rica and New Zealand make up the top five in liberal democracy rankings. Autocratisation is spreading rapidly, with a record of 33 countries autocratising. Signaling a sharp break from an average of 1.2 coups per year, 2021 saw a record 6 coups, resulting in 4 new autocracies: Chad, Guinea, Mali and Myanmar. While the number of liberal democracies stood at 42 in 2012, their number has shrunk to their lowest level in over 25 years, with just 34 countries and 13% of the world population living in liberal democracies. Closed autocracies, or dictatorships, rose from 25 to 30 between 2020 and 2021. While the world today has 89 democracies and 90 autocracies, electoral autocracy remains the most common regime type, accounting for 60 countries and 44% of the world population or 3.4 billion people. Electoral democracies were the second most common regime, accounting for 55 countries and 16% of the world population.
V-Dem is for Varieties of Democracy, and the Institution was created in 2014 by Professor Staffan I. Lindberg as an independent research organization. It promises to be a new way of thinking and assessing democracy. It provides a variety of studies that rate the countries on a variety of topics. The Democracy Report is one among the reports published by V-Dem. V-Dem claims to be able to measure hundreds of distinct aspects of democracy and to open up new avenues for research into the nature, causes, and outcomes of democracy in all of its facets. They also produced a report last year in which they branded India as an electoral autocracy. According to V-Dem, India had ‘lost’ its status as an electoral democracy and had devolved into an electoral autocracy.
The Democracy Report by V-Dem is not the first of its kind. There have been repeated reports coming in the past that have portrayed India in a bad light. The V-Dem itself labelled India as an “electoral autocracy” in the last year’s Democracy Report. Similarly, last year in March, Freedom House, a human rights “watchdog” based in the United States, degraded India from “Free” to “Partly Free.” According to the study, more than 50 people, largely Muslims, were murdered in communal violence that followed protests relating to the Citizenship Amendment Act in February 2020, which contributed to India’s “downgrading.”
The watchdog claimed that “India’s status declined from Free to Partly Free due to a multiyear pattern in which the Hindu nationalist government and its allies have presided over rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting the Muslim population and pursued a crackdown on expressions of dissent by the media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters”. Though the report’s bias was obvious, as it was US-based produce, the organization’s history makes the Freedom House’s attitude towards India much more problematic. The report published by the V-Dem institute during the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine finds no logical justification. When two nations are fighting a war and the west is clandestinely involved making the situation more complex, a report that rates countries for their democracy makes no sense.