EIU declined India's offer to use govt data for Democracy Index
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) declined an offer from the Indian government to provide official data for its “Democracy Index” rankings, according to documents accessed by HT and officials aware of the development.
According to documents prepared by an inter-ministerial group for Niti Aayog’s plan to create a dashboard for monitoring global indices, the Principal Economist (Asia) of EIU informed Indian government officials that the scoring for the index was done on the basis of monitoring developments through information available in the public domain.
This, the documents suggested, include political opposition to certain new laws, and mentioned issues such as the Land Report Bill, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and the state-backed blackout of the internet in Jammu & Kashmir that may have led to a downgrade.
The response came after government officials reached out to EIU to seek clarifications regarding the Democracy Index, which put India in the 53rd spot and classified it as a “flawed democracy”. Indian officials sought details on the sample size; the other aspects of the methodology; the details of agencies/authors or contributor; and consultations with government agencies, if any.
According to documents reviewed by HT, the Union government asked the High Commission of India (HC) in London to understand from the EIU based in London, “the assessment mechanism of the Democracy Index (DI)” and the “methodology, sample size, details of authors and agencies that were used to curate this index”.
Other documents note that the government made several attempts to reach out to EIU’s Principal Economist Asia & Client Engagement Officer, Fung Siu, and finally interacted with her in September 2020 via Zoom.
HT reached out to EIU with a detailed questionnaire but received no response. HT also reached out to Fung Siu separately but got no response.
It isn’t clear when the Zoom interactions took place but the documents put down details of the interaction.
“EIU relies on the annual reports of US based think-tanks like Freedom House and Pew Research, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders). For example, the action of JSF to recently downgrade India from completely free to partially free in terms of press freedom will definitely resonate in EU country forecasts,” they noted her as saying.
According to the documents, on being asked on whether there were any consultations with government or official agencies during the preparation of the index, the EIU officer asserted that at no point does EIU consult governmental agencies, as their work is independent of any external interference. Concerned entities are informed and sent a copy of their report. “On the qualitative side, Ms Siu emphasised that India was a very strong country, and even if some quantitative elements looking dismal, she would have the final say on the forecast, and asserted that barring extreme scenarios of India going to war and suffering a terrible monsoon, the net report for India will still be positive.”
Her team generates data for various forecasts, including monthly forecasts and the annual Democracy Index, the documents added. They also mentioned that there are 100 employees in the EU’s Gurugram office.
HT on August 16 reported that Union government tried to engage with EIU headquartered in London, according to documents accessed by HT and officials familiar with the development. This admission was made in a letter, reviewed by HT, written by the Union law ministry to the Rajya Sabha secretariat on July 15 seeking to disallow a question by an MP on “Indian Position in Democracy Index,” that was due for answer on July 22. The ministry said the question was sensitive in nature.
The EIU released the Democracy Index in 2008 (with updates in 2008, 2010 and every year since), which is an index compiled by examining the state of democracy in 167 countries (of which 166 are sovereign states and 164 are UN member states), attempting to quantify this with an Index of Democracy focusing on five general categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; political participation; functioning of government; and political culture.
“The scoring is done on the basis of monitoring developments through information available on the open source. When asked about the sources of data used by EIU, Ms Siu was empathic in asserting that government data is never a primary source. While they look at RBI announcements, finance ministry, and other departmental announcements, these are only supplementary sources,” the documents said.
“Ms Siu politely but firmly declined the offer from the Mission to supply data, research or similar inputs. Policy implementation is evaluated both in terms of the intention of the GOI to implement policies, and also in terms of political backing (for example, Ms Siu mentioned that when the government did not have majority in the Rajya Sabha, any proposed scheme would be analysed in the light of the possibility of opposition in the RS,” they added.
The documents noted that, according to the economist, EIU would look not just at “the government’s projected intention and will, but also political backing”.
“Ms Sui gave the example of the Land Reform Bill, which she suggested will be almost impossible for GOI to implement even with full majority. This deduction is based on her team’s historical perspective on this issue, as they have surmised that land reform has always been a thorny issue for any Government attempt over the decades. The First Secretary (Eco, Press & Info) responded by saying that Land Reform in India is not a new process, and it was successfully implemented earlier also. This is in continuation of the same. Many states have also implemented land reforms,” the documents said.
EIU also stated that the nine months of State-backed internet blackout in Jammu & Kashmir from 2019 was logged in their system as a perceived threat to civil liberties, resulting in a consequent downgrade.
“She (Ms Sui) also referenced the CAA and the subsequent protests leading to the alleged muzzling of civil liberties, as also being a likely factor in India being marked down in the index,” the documents said.
HT on April 17 reported that the law ministry’s legislative department wrote to several ministries and departments on April 1 seeking details on the parameters used in the rankings of the EIU’s Democracy Index, as part of a larger exercise under the aegis of Niti Aayog to monitor parameters used in key global indices including Ease of Doing Business, World Press Freedom, Human Development, Global Innovation, and Global Climate Risk.
The legislative department had been assigned to monitor India’s performance on the Democracy Index. Niti Aayog’s Development Monitoring & Evaluation Office (DMEO) was tasked with monitoring all the indices and facilitating the measurement and monitoring of India’s performance on these indices through a single dashboard.