India mulls new democracy report, freedom index by local think tank
The discussions to do this were going on before recent reports by Freedom House and V-Dem Institute downgraded India’s democratic rankings.
The ministry of external affairs is mulling a “world democracy report” as well as a “global press freedom index” to be brought out by an independent Indian think tank, according to people familiar with the matter and government documents reviewed by HT. The discussions to do this were going on before recent reports by Freedom House and V-Dem Institute downgraded India’s democratic rankings.
“We may encourage one of the Indian independent think tanks to bring out its own annual world democracy report based on comprehensive parameters as well as an annual global freedom of press index,” an internal note prepared by the ministry of external affairs (MEA) earlier this year said.
The ministry of external affairs did not respond to queries seeking a comment on the matter.
To be sure, the matter is still being considered and HT learns that no decision has been taken.
The ministry of external affairs began discussions late last year after the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) forwarded to it a letter written by former Prasar Bharti chairman and current executive member of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML), A Surya Prakash, on November 20, suggesting that India should counter reports such as the report from the Sweden-based V-Dem Institute and the Press Freedom Index by defining its own parameters on democracy, two officials aware of the development confirmed.
HT has reviewed a copy of Prakash’s letter, written on November 20, 2020 – months after V-Dem report of the year 2020 was released. The report had said that India “has continued on a path of steep decline to the extent it has almost lost its status as a democracy”.
Last week, in its 2021 report, the V-Dem Institute classified India as an “electoral autocracy” alongside Hungary and Turkey because of “restrictions on multiple facets of democracy” such as civil society groups and free speech. came close on the heels of the annual report on global political rights and liberties by US-based Freedom House, which downgraded India’s status as a democracy and free society to “partly free”.
In its internal note, MEA also suggested that missions across the world could actively engage with NGO/institutes such as the RSF and V-Dem and provide them with material which will help them put “India at the rightful place on the democracy and press-freedom index, in future reports”.
At India Today’s conclave last week, minister for external affairs S Jaishankar slammed the two reports calling out the outlets for their “hypocrisy” and for acting like “self-appointed custodians of the world who find it very difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval”.
In his letter addressed to the PMO last November, Surya Prakash wrote: “Earlier this year, my attention was drawn to a World Press Freedom Index published by a French NGO with the acronym RSF. This report placed India at a lowly 142, while a number of nations which are theocracies and non-democracies, are way above us. More recently, I saw a report published by a Swedish Institute called V-Dem. This institute places India at number 90 among democracies. Here again, a large number of nations where there is no separation of powers between the state and religion, which do not have a republican form of government, and where the concept of equality before law does not exist, are way ahead of us. In fact, many countries in the top ten nations have different forms of Christianity as their state religion, whereas the secular ideal is embedded in the preamble of our Constitution.”
He added: “This has gone on for many decades and remained uncontested. I feel that as the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy, we must define democracy and judge other nations and not the other way round... I am of the view that a pristine democracy must contain the following eight fundamentals: An inviolable commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of conscience an unambiguous commitment to secularism; separation of religion and states republican form of government; constitutional right to equality before law; gender equality; right to life and personal liberty; and universal adult suffrage. All these eight essentials exist in the Indian Constitution and are part and parcel of our democratic way of life. Therefore, the time has come for us to challenge these western postulates and assert our position at the pinnacle of democracies… I do hope that in this age of Atma Vishwas and Atmanirbharta that you have ushered in, India will begin to assert herself in the field of democracy as well.”
The PMO forwarded the letter to the ministry of external affairs. The MEA note appears to be a listing of possible ways in which Prakash’s suggestions could be implemented.
“I have listed what in my view constitutes a democracy in my article. There are eight elements for a full-fledged democracy to function and we have all of them. Among the most important is the republican form of government. V Dem is from Sweden, look at the constitution of Scandinavian countries. Its constitution says the head of state ‘shall be a king or queen’. More importantly, the Constitution says the king or queen cannot be prosecuted for his or her actions, which means equality before law (Article 14 in our Constitution) has no place in Sweden. Further, the constitution says the king ‘shall always profess the pure evangelical faith’. It also does not allow the prince or princess to marry at will. They have not separated the religion from the state…We can also judge; we are the largest democracy and the most diverse society in the world. We must define democracy and judge democracies across the world. We may not be at the receiving end. We may have a point of view as well,” Prakash said when contacted by HT.