PM Modi

India fell four points in the new freedom report released by the US-based think tank Freedom House. The watchdog has demoted India from “free” to “partly free”. “Indians’ political rights and civil liberties have been eroding since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014. His Hindu nationalist government has presided over increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks—including lynchings—aimed at Muslims,” it said in a release.

It said that India’s decline further deepened following Modi’s re-election in 2019 while the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 added to the abuses of fundamental rights.

Now, with India being moved to the latter category, the report contends that less than 20 percent of the world’s population now lives in a ‘free’ nation. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic raged across the world, the last year saw dictatorial takeovers, crackdowns, waves of fake information and more. A report on the Freedom in the World website contends that this time of crisis also saw governments across the democratic spectrum resort to “excessive surveillance” and “discriminatory restrictions on freedoms” and even enforcement of such restrictions by the police and nonstate actors.

“Waves of false and misleading information, generated deliberately by political leaders in some cases, flooded many countries’ communication systems, obscuring reliable data and jeopardizing lives,” the report adds

As per the 2021 scores, India has been given a total global freedom score of 67. The country has been given a score of 34 when it comes to political rights (out of 40) and a score of 33 (out of 60) for civil liberties. Last year India has been ranked as ‘free’ with a total score of 71 out of 100. From the Delhi riots and sanctions against journalists to the migrant crisis caused in the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdown – the report cites several reasons for the change in score. Not only that, the report also alleges that judicial independence has now “come under strain”

“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,” the report alleges.

The report appears to lay the blame squarely with Prime Minister Modi and the BJP led government as well as its state-level allies. “Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence from countries such as China, Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism,” adds an article on the website.

This is however not the only report to suggest a similar decline. Earlier, in February this year, The Economist Intelligence Unit had downgraded India by two places to put it on the 53rd position in the 2020 Democracy Index. According to reports, they cite “democratic backsliding” by authorities and “crackdowns” on civil liberties for the decline.

ndia’s score decreased from 71 to 67 which resulted in the country falling five ranks down to 88 out of 211 countries. Earlier, India’s score was 67, at par with Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.

Freedom House termed India’s downgrading a significant development that reduced the world’s population living in a free country to the lowest since 1995. “In one of the year’s most significant developments, India’s status changed from Free to Partly Free, meaning less than 20 per cent of the world’s people now live in a Free country—the smallest proportion since 1995,” it noted.

On the top of the list- the most free countries in the world are Finland, Norway and Sweden. At the bottom of the list are Tibet and Syria.

The report claimed that the Modi government is tragically driving India toward authoritarianism. “The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its state-level allies continued to crack down on critics during the year, and their response to COVID-19 included a ham-fisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers. The ruling Hindu nationalist movement also encouraged the scapegoating of Muslims, who were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs. Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence from countries such as China, Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism.”

The Freedom House assesses a nation’s score on 25 different indicators.

The reports continued to list Kashmir separately based on its rule of assessing disputed territories separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. It retained “Indian Kashmir’s” status as last year of not free with the valley’s score falling from 28 to 27.

The report said, “In settings as varied as Algeria, Guinea, and India, regimes that protests had taken by surprise in 2019 regained their footing, arresting and prosecuting demonstrators, passing newly restrictive laws, and in some cases resorting to brutal crackdowns, for which they faced few international repercussions.”

The watchdog said that fall of India from the upper ranks of free nations could have a particularly damaging impact on global democratic standards. The report also cited Northeast Delhi violence, anti-CAA protests and Love-Jihad law in Uttar Pradesh. “Last year, the government intensified its crackdown on protesters opposed to a discriminatory citizenship law and arrested dozens of journalists who aired criticism of the official pandemic response. Judicial independence has also come under strain; in one case, a judge was transferred immediately after reprimanding the police for taking no action during riots in New Delhi that left over 50 people, mostly Muslims, dead. In December, Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, approved a law that prohibits forced religious conversion through interfaith marriage, which critics fear will effectively restrict interfaith marriage in general; authorities have already arrested a number of Muslim men for allegedly forcing Hindu women to convert to Islam,” it said.

The report said that ‘India appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader’ under the Modi government. It added that the country is elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all.

In 2020, India has also dropped a few rungs on the World Press Freedom Index.