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Modi 'threatening' India's democracy, long seen as potential for freedom in Asia, world

Counterview Desk
Rating 210 countries and territories in its new Freedom in the World 2020 report, apart from 65 countries to assess their Freedom on the Net, the top nonpartisan Washington-based organisation Freedom House has scored India 71 on a scale of 100, down from 75 in its previous report, released last year.
Even as continuing to put it in the category of "free" countries as against all its neighbours in the "partly free" or "not free" category, Freedom House, founded in 1941, underlines, "Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s discriminatory moves against the political rights of Muslims during the year followed the BJP’s general election victories in the spring, contributing to a four-point decline."
Claiming to uphold the "core conviction" that freedom flourishes in democratic nations where governments are accountable to their people, the report categorises all of India's immediate neighbours as "partly free" -- giving Pakistan a poor score of 38, down from 39, Bangladesh also a poor 39, down from 41, Sri Lanka 56, without any change over the previous year, and Nepal 56, improving upon its precious score of 54.
Two other neighbours -- China and Myanmar -- have been categorised as "not free" with a score of 11 and 30, respectively.

Excerpts on India:

Democracy and pluralism are under assault. Dictators are toiling to stamp out the last vestiges of domestic dissent and spread their harmful influence to new corners of the world. At the same time, many freely elected leaders are dramatically narrowing their concerns to a blinkered interpretation of the national interest.
In fact, such leaders -- including the chief executives of the United States and India, the world’s two largest democracies -- are increasingly willing to break down institutional safeguards and disregard the rights of critics and minorities as they pursue their populist agendas. Ethnic, religious, and other minority groups have borne the brunt of government abuses in both democracies and authoritarian states. 
The Indian government has taken its Hindu nationalist agenda to a new level with a succession of policies that abrogate the rights of different segments of its Muslim population, threatening the democratic future of a country long seen as a potential bulwark of freedom in Asia and the world.

Indian Kashmir

Indian Kashmir’s status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to the Indian government’s abrupt revocation of the territory’s autonomy, the dissolution of its local elected institutions, and a security crackdown that sharply curtailed civil liberties and included mass arrests of local politicians and activists.

Division and dysfunction in democracies

India and the United States are not alone in their drift from the ideals of liberal democracy. They are part of a global phenomenon in which freely elected leaders distance themselves from traditional elites and political norms, claim to speak for a more authentic popular base, and use the ensuing confrontations to justify extreme policies -- against minorities and pluralism in particular.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s discriminatory moves against the political rights of Muslims during the year followed the BJP’s general election victories in the spring, contributing to a four-point decline.

India’s turn toward Hindu nationalism

Almost since the turn of the century, the United States and its allies have courted India as a potential strategic partner and democratic counterweight to China in the Indo-Pacific region. However, the Indian government’s alarming departures from democratic norms under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could blur the values-based distinction between Beijing and New Delhi.
While India continues to earn a Free rating and held successful elections last spring, the BJP has distanced itself from the country’s founding commitment to pluralism and individual rights, without which democracy cannot long survive.
Several of India’s neighbours have persecuted religious minorities for many years. But instead of stressing the contrast with its own traditions and seeking to propagate them abroad, India is moving toward the lower standards of its region.
Just as Chinese officials vocally defended acts of state repression against Uighurs and other Muslim groups before international audiences in 2019, Modi firmly rejected criticism of his Hindu nationalist policies, which included a series of new measures that affected India’s Muslim populations from one end of the country to the other.
The first major step was the central government’s unilateral annulment of the semiautonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. Federal authorities replaced the state’s elected institutions with appointees and abruptly stripped residents of basic political rights.
The sweeping reorganization, which opponents criticized as unconstitutional, was accompanied by a massive deployment of troops and arbitrary arrests of hundreds of Kashmiri leaders and activists.
Restrictions on freedom of movement and a shutdown of mobile and internet service made ordinary activities a major challenge for residents. As a result, Indian Kashmir experienced one of the five largest single-year score declines of the past 10 years in Freedom in the World, and its freedom status dropped to Not Free.
The government’s second move came on August 31, when it published a new citizens’ register in the northeastern state of Assam that left nearly two million residents without citizenship in any country. The deeply flawed process was widely understood as an effort to exclude Muslims, many of whom were descended from Bengalis who arrived in Assam during the colonial era.
Those found to be undocumented immigrants were expected to be placed in detention camps. However, the Bengali population that was rendered stateless included a significant number of Hindus, necessitating a remedy that would please supporters of the ruling BJP.
That remedy was provided by the third major action of the year, the December passage of the Citizenship Amendment Law, which expedites citizenship for adherents of six non-Muslim religions from three neighboring Muslim-majority countries. In effect, India will grant Hindus and other non-Muslims special protection from persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, but Muslims -- including those from vulnerable minority sects or from other neighboring states like China and Sri Lanka -- will receive no such advantage.
Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah has pledged to repeat the Assam citizens’ register process nationwide, raising fears of a broader effort to render Indian Muslims stateless and ensure citizenship for non-Muslims.
These three actions have shaken the rule of law in India and threatened the secular and inclusive nature of its political system. They also caused the country to receive the largest score decline among the world’s 25 largest democracies in Freedom in the World 2020.
Tens of thousands of Indians from all religious backgrounds have taken to the streets to protest this jarring attack on their country’s character, but they have faced police violence in return, and it remains to be seen whether such demonstrations will persuade the government to change course.
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Click HERE to read report

Comments

Anonymous said…
Given that the ruling party in India has lost a series of free and fair elections and graciously accepted defeat, how can anyone argue that democracy is under assault. In fact, it is vibrant and thriving.

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