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Millennium Post

Dwindling democracy

Adopting democracy was not by chance but by choice. Striving to raise a liberal society which, for ages to come, would be guided by the principles of Constitution and the will of people who reside here was all envisaged back at the time of independence. Since 1947, India, in pride of its diversity and plurality, has been continuously treading its democratic path. An erstwhile colony, it fought for freedom and liberty and consequently, enshrined those ideals in the Constitution to forever abide by it. A simple polity textbook can apprise one about the definition of a true democracy. Practising it in parts is not comprehensive democracy. Neither is restricting any of its tenets. The largest democracy in the world has repeatedly held its head high on the argument of democratic rights and liberty. Dropping 10 places to 51st place in the recently released Democratic Index 2019 by the Economist Intelligence Unit is not the direction we intended to head towards. Since its inception, this is the first time India has dropped so low. The index report cites that India's score fell from 7.23 out of 10 in 2018 to 6.90 in 2019, retaining its status as a "flawed democracy". It points to "erosion of civil liberties" as the prime reason for the drop. It is important to note that the bold moves to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and NRC in Assam were particular factors in the fall. Both steps attracted a slew of restrictive measures such as the imposition of Section 144 which prohibits assembly and internet shutdown. Jammu and Kashmir has been under internet shutdown for more than 5 months — longest in any democracy. While internet shutdowns and restriction in the assembly were imposed, the same were also challenged in the court. The Supreme Court has asked the government to review all restrictive orders issued in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, and restrictions on the internet are being gradually uplifted. Supreme Court's order does have a bearing on how all the other future restrictions will be seen but the very existence of them in the first place is what contributed to "erosion of civil liberties". With protests spiralling in the country over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, more restrictive orders — in other parts of the country — were issued. The situation in Kashmir might be slowly edging towards severe from critical as long as civil liberties are concerned but protests opposing the citizenship law have only forced the government to arbitrarily disband gatherings and suspend data services. With the elected representatives of this democracy refusing to address concerns of those protesting, India isn't likely to have a great start to the democratic index for 2020 either. One of the parameters — electoral process and pluralism — is where India has not disappointed and behaved like a "full democracy", the top classification (8 and above score). With a score of 8.67, India's electoral process and pluralism are the only positive remark for the country marked on five parameters — electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; functioning of government; political participation; and political culture — in the index. While India dropped places to record low, the global average also fell to its lowest. The index cites that since its inception, the world recorded the worst year for democracies with a score of 5.44. Only 22 countries were classified as "full democracies", while more than a third of the world's population were found to be living under authoritarian rule. Norway held the first position and North Korea was last, naturally. As per reports, 18,225 hours of internet shutdowns around the world in 2019 carried a total economic cost of $8.05 billion. But cost is an economic parameter. Internet shutdown is one of the curbs on the civil right that reflects in the average score.

Title of a flawed democracy does not suit the world's largest one. The index only reflects a year in retrospect. Upholding the tenets of democracy has been paramount for us and yet several instances denote otherwise. But it is these instances that should serve as a reminder of being misdirected. Reviewing our actions is perhaps the best way to forge a better way forward. If there is civil tension, it is better addressed than curbed or ignored. Apart from the political and societal implications, these tensions and consequent restrictive orders only aggravate the situation besides hurting the basic expectation of the democratic values. Democratic ideals cannot be mere words in textbooks for students to memorise. They are to be preached and practised. As a mature democracy, we ought to re-think our situation rather than criticising the index for being biased or flawed. Rubbishing the index might not change anything but pondering might embark us on the path to a full democracy that celebrates each and every tenet of democracy in all its glory.

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