Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*
Recently, while interacting with the Indian diaspora at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India has ended the politically unstable atmosphere of the last three decades by pressing a button. He also said after 30 years, a full majority government was elected in 2014 and the people of India made the government stronger in 2019.
What is reprehensible is that social disharmony is the order of the day. A socially unstable atmosphere is prevailing today. Society is torn as under with hatred being created against critics and minor communities. People are made greedy, arrogant, and insensitive with hedonism replacing sacrifice. Intellectuals are divided into certain sections defending the wrong deeds of the ruling class. There have been conflicts, and fissures among family members based on political ideology. People are more unhappy than they were before.
But probably he has forgotten that with a brute majority, his government is riding roughshod on the masses and catering to the interest of the rich and corporates so as to sustain power for longer periods. Absolute power makes one insensitive, arrogant and impervious. India is witnessing now the growing oligarchy, despotism with concomitant brutal annihilation of independence of media, and emasculation of intellectuals.
This is reflected in World Press Freedom Index 2022 released by the global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. India’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has fallen down to 150th position from last year’s 142nd rank out of 180 countries. From a rank of 133 in 2016 India’s rank has fallen to 142 in 2021 before slithering to 150th position in 2022.
The organization has been publishing the World Press Freedom Index since 2002. This 20th World Press Freedom Index reveals a two-fold increase in “polarisation” amplified by information chaos, that is, media polarisation fuelling divisions within countries, as well as polarisation between countries at the international level.
The situation is so precarious that on World Press Freedom Day (May 3), Reporters Without Borders and nine other human rights organizations felt necessary to ask Indian authorities to stop targeting journalists and online critics for their work especially stop prosecuting them under counterterrorism and sedition laws.
The Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) said the Indian authorities should respect the right to freedom of expression and release any journalists detained on trumped-up or politically motivated charges for their critical reporting and stop targeting them and muzzling independent media.
Reacting to the RSF 2022 World Press Freedom Index, three Indian journalists bodies said in a joint statement, “While the job insecurities have grown so have the attacks on press freedoms seen an exponential rise.
“Journalists have been incarcerated under draconian laws for flimsy reasons and on some occasions faced threat to their lives as well from self-styled custodians of law in the social media space,” the Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Club of India and Press Association added. Noting that freedom of the press is integral to the functioning of a vibrant democracy, they said the media has to come together “to reclaim its role towards realization of this objective”.
The decline in World Press Index is corroborated by a decline in the democracy index and other related indexes too. The US-based non-profit “Freedom House “downgraded India from a free democracy to a “partially free democracy.
In February 2021, India, described as a “flawed democracy”, slipped two places to 53rd position among 167 countries in the Democracy Index 2021 published by The Economist Intelligence Unit. In Democracy Index 2022, India’s rank marginally improved to 46 due to year-long protests by farmers that eventually forced the government to repeal the farm laws that it had introduced in 2020. But India still continues to be a “flawed democracy “ and during Modi’s regime, India’s global ranking had slipped from 27th to 53rd.
As per the report, the Indian government’s failure to crack down on the persecution of religious and other minorities by Hindu nationalists continues to weigh on the country’s democracy score, which has declined significantly in recent years.
In its report titled “Autocratization Turns Viral.” Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg had demoted India from being a democracy to an “electoral autocracy”. The latest edition of Democracy Report titled ‘Democracy Report 2022: Autocratisation Changing Nature?’ classifies countries into four regime types based on their score in the Liberal Democratic Index (LDI): Liberal Democracy, Electoral Democracy, Electoral Autocracy, and Closed Autocracy.
It classifies India as an electoral autocracy ranking it 93rd on the LDI, out of 179 countries figures in the “bottom 50 percent” of countries. According to a report, India is one of the top ten ‘autocratisers’ in the world and a part of a broader global trend of an anti-plural political party driving a country’s autocratisation. India has slipped further down in the Electoral Democracy Index, to 100, and even lower in the Deliberative Component Index, at 102. In South Asia, India is ranked below Sri Lanka (88), Nepal (71), and Bhutan (65), and above Pakistan (117) in the LDI.
Prime Minister also told that today India is moving forward in all fields including quality of life, quality of education, and others. But the recorded death that occurred in absence of medical care increased from 10 percent in 2011 to 45 percent in 2020. India’s health sector is one of the most privatized ones and health expenditure as a percentage of GDP is one of the lowest in the world. India’s Covid death toll highest in the world, at around 47 lakh which is ten times more than the official figure of 481,486 between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021. Indians have not forgotten how many people died due to a lack of oxygen and hospital bed during a pandemic.
Prime Minister also talked about the capabilities of crores of Indians and sing their praises. But his anti-people policies have devastated the economy in such a way that the unemployment rate has reached a record high and consumer spending is declining for the first time after independence. The situation is so pessimistic that India’s job creation problem is morphing into a greater threat: a growing number of people are no longer even looking for work. According to the CMIE, now, more than half of the 90 crores Indians of legal working age — roughly the population of the U.S. and Russia combined — don’t want a job,
Probably Prime Minister has forgotten that Bangladesh, has overtaken India in GDP per capita. Bangladesh’s per capita GDP was merely half of India’s in 2007, just before the global financial crisis. It was roughly 70 percent of India’s in 2014 and this gap closed rapidly in the last few years. India is placed abysmally at 144 (i.e., behind 143 countries) in terms of per capita GDP. India is not only placed awfully in all indexes, but also it has the ignominy of having the highest number of poor and hungry people in the world.
The Prime Minister has talked about minimum government and maximum governance. He also said that the country, bureaucracy, govt offices are the same but now we are getting better results. Actually, India worsened under Modi across a spectrum of governance, in ways that are noticeable and objectively measurable.
In December 2021, Akar Patel has cited 53 indices to measure India’s performance. According to him on 49 of them, India has declined; its performance has only improved on four. The record leaves little room for debate or dispute. The scale and rapidity of decline in governance after 2014 are manifested. India was struggling to keep up with the world and sinking on several fronts. The bureaucrats have been shown the door who have opposed anti people’s policies of the government.
Contrary to his arguments, the coalition government is more successful and more pro-poor in approach., India had performed marvellously in the UPA-1 coalition government when the Left had some influences. India had witnessed the highest ever growth rate and crossed 9 percent thrice. Savings and investment rates had touched a record high. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, Right to Information Act, 2005, Right to Fores Act 2007, and National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 were enacted which have an enormous positive impact and saved the Modi government from the cataclysmic impact of Covid-19.
Addressing a Washington audience on September 27, 2017, former RBI governor Yaga Venugopal Reddy had also said, coalition governments in India have produced better economic growth rates in the last three decades (from 1990 to 2014) than a strong majority government. Mr. Reddy, who was the RBI Governor from 2003 to 2008, said “The remarkable thing was that despite an unstable political situation, they managed a political consensus for whatever needs to be taken to manage it successfully.”
Hence, India does not need a government having a brute majority but a government that is pro-people and sensitive to people’s opinions, and cares for the suffering of the masses.
The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.