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Secularism in India: Disparity in theory and practice

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Authors: Areeja Syed and Kinza Shaheen*

Secularism is adopted by most of the contemporary states. The three intrinsic principles of secularism are  freedom of belief, that every person living in that particular state has his own belief system and he can believe and worship any God, second is the institutional separation and third is the ‘no discrimination’ on the basis of religion. The largest democracy of the world, India claims to be a secular state. There were various reasons to declare a state as a secular, in which one was domestic reasons and other was global. If we talk about the internal reason, we know that most of the people in India follow the religion of Hinduism, but apart from Hinduism there are many religions such as the Islam, Sikhism and Buddhism etc. The state of India declares itself as a secular to get the support of the heterogeneous population. As far as the global reason is concerned, India proclaims itself as a secular state to portray a positive image in the world.

Secular means equality, so in western states it depicts a positive image that these particular states have equality for every individual. For that reason, India following the notion of the western states declared itself as a secular state. However, the record of India in religious bigotry is quite disappointing. Minorities are not enjoying equal rights as enjoyed by the Hindus in India. It is adopting the policies of ‘Hindutva’ which shows the dominance of Hindus in every walk of life. On one hand it portrays a secular image to the world and on the other hand minorities like Muslims are beaten and even killed to eat the beef.  Beef is one of the favourite hilal meals of Muslims. Moreover, most of the Muslims have businesses that are directly and indirectly related to the livestock. They slaughter the cows and make a living. Ironically, Muslims are being beaten by the Hindus either on the slaughter of cow and eating of beef.  A lot of beef shops had been burned by the radical Hindus. They generate limitations on the Muslims to slaughter cows. How India could claims to be a secular state if a minority individual could not practice his own religion. The Indian media also added fuel to the fire by just giving biased and one sided stories in favour of extremist Hindus.

The ruling government of BJP is also silent over that biasness for the cause that there is Hindu majority in India and if they do anything to protect the rights of minorities, it will make Hindu fanatics discontented and they will lose their vote banks, they think rational too in terms of political gains. Francis Schaeffer says that just showcasing secularism is a more dangerous than the clear-cut discrimination. There are exceptionally stumpy numbers of political representations of Muslims in the politics.

Question arises that being the 2nd highest population of India, why much Muslims are not representing the Indian government? Kashmir is one of the major examples of human rights violation. Each day Muslims have been targeted by the radical Hindus. Indian military is killing the Kashmiri youth on daily basis. Most of the time, Kashmiris have to live under the curfew. However, curfew is the element of a dictator and an authoritative regime. The democratic and secular states view curfew as a violation of human rights. Since 1947, India remained unsuccessful to establish it writ over the Jammu & Kashmir. And so, India is adopting barbaric tactics to get hold of Jammu &Kashmir. Indian forces are making use of Pallet guns against the civilians. Incidents of braid chopping and rape of Muslim girls by the extremist Hindus and Indian forces are rising up. But the world has closed its eyes over the human rights violation in Jammu & Kashmir because India is emerging as an economic giant in the international forum. The International community is quiet interested in India due to its growing economy, its geopolitical location and a number of other elements. That is why; states are silent over the atrocities of India in Jammu & Kashmir.

The human rights violation in Kashmir gives an incentive to the freedom fighters to take up weapons to defend their rights. One can analyze this from two dissimilar perceptions. One is the discriminative behaviour of the state with that individual (who became freedom fighter later) which compel him to be a freedom fighter and fight for himself and his family, and second refers to the historical background of that individual, from how much sufferings he sees in his childhood on him n his family, that psychologically disturbed him and he had that thinking from his childhood that he will take the revenge when he grew up. In both of situations, India is solely accountable and responsible for creating Freedom Fighters in the Region.

Dissatisfied with the curfew and killing India is taking the territory of Jammu and Kashmir under the legal pretext to maintain its image as a democratic and secular state. On August 5, the President of India Ram Nath Kovind issued a presidential order to make applicable the provision of the constitution in the Jammu & Kashmir. The presidential order was approved by the parliament in a resolution. On August 6, 2019 the president nullify the article 370 of the Indian constitution that provides special status to the Jammu& Kashmir territory. With the nullification of the article 370, non-Kashmiris will be allowed to purchase land in the disputed territory which is likely to change the demographic of the Jammu Kashmir. India is targeting the minorities through such kinds of tactics to serve the interests of the Hindus.  Democracy and Secularism gives equal rights to the citizens without creating discrimination on the basis of religion, colour and creed. If India continued the policies of persecution against the minorities than it will create further security problems for it. More and more people will take up weapons against the state when they see that state is backing the atrocities.  It will lead India at the brink of collapse. If India treat everyone equally then it will also diminish the anger of freedom fighter and there will be no reason for unequally treated people to struggle against government. Hence Indian government need to look into this state of affairs in a quiet serious method or else in the Indian government will be responsible for the disputes and which will deteriorate their international image too.

*Kinza Shaheenhas done M.phil in International Relations from Comsats University Islamabad.

Author is pursuing MPhil in International Relations from COMSATS University Islamabad. Her area of research focuses on International Security, Strategic issues and Public Diplomacy.

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Pakistan: How Khanism is Fighting Monkeyism

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PTI Chairman Imran Khan gestures at the march participants as his convoy arrives in Gujranwala on November 1, 2022. — Instagram

Nations must demonstrate some level of global age competency; the regime change problems of Pakistan simply didn’t start by overthrowing Imran Khan a year ago; it all started many decades ago and continuously kept chipping away the visible wealth and crushing untapped and hidden wealth of talents while so many other nations went straight up in productivity, performances, and profitability, creating far greater opportunities over simple looting and stealing.

Socio-politically, Pakistan is more like a graveyard, haunted by ghosts of corruption; the most noticeable is the silence and lack of bold and straightforward narrative; the solo warrior Imran Khan has already failed as his 1001 narratives laced with justice, integrity, and corrupt free dialogues have only fallen flat on the establishment and majority of muted populace. So narrow in vision and mental reach, unable to decipher 1000 times greater opportunities, supporting the broken systems further destroyed the nation’s future.

Pakistani Diaspora is a tragic scene; the largest, most highly qualified, most productive, well-rewarded single, most educated, globally exposed, and well-trained professional group was always treated like garbage. No government was ever capable of adequately communicating and creating bridges of prosperity between Pakistan of the day with global input from this talented group.

The stupidity of the corresponding ministries and the national leadership only proves the broken and corrupt shortsightedness, hurting the long-term vision of Pakistan. Their investment is never safe in Pakistan, and their efforts on any long-term development are continuously thrown out of the window as lingering bureaucracies need to be qualified more to appreciate the global age of competitiveness matters. No further proof is required. Incompetency is widely visible, office-by-office, floor-by-floor, and institution-by-institution; the top Cabinet can only scratch its head as the pillars of corruption have already built tax-free crime-proof lush paradises.

There is no recovery system right now; neither was it there decades ago nor even since the starting gates of independence. Today, in the hands of broken leadership, massively incompetent, and citizenry into slavery is a textbook case of how prolonged diseases of lawlessness finally kill the host. Atlas may help when searching for long-gone nation over previous centuries.

Khanism is now a well-defined nationalism; it has all the qualities and ingredients to lead, advance, and form a legit law-abiding, just society with a fair election. Breaking PTI by tyranny is just on the physical side of things, but not on the national mindshare of the populace and not on the state of mind on the election pulse. This aspect is the hidden feature, an invisible factor, like the nation’s bloodstream. This aspect is also the nightmarish reason why the establishment is still so frightened to call elections and still has no single leader to stand up to a solo warrior in national elections. The borderline and for-sale media has already declared PTI as a lost party. They still need to remember the new rise of the power of transformation of the national citizenry toward better awareness of having a just society. They have also missed the fall of the establishment where they chose barbaric tyrannical procedures, torture, and killings and buried themselves in self-created dust storms. No one can comprehend the powers of real and honest elections.

Monkeyism is a visible layer in a deep state of panic. It is a mixture of fake politicians, undecided swinging tribes, and for-sale institutions in their sing-songs labeled as traditional guardians of the nations. Deep uncertainty and constant chaos, although represented as the most extensive populous, protected by cultural divides, economic inequalities, where wealthy elites with multiple passports, and grossly incompetent institutions all combined, sucking the nation in their Draculian fashion in a frenzy without any consideration when and how the host will die. Who will win or loses, so long their beliefs of self-success, no matter how short-sighted and stupid, are not disturbed? Many other nations would have solved such chaos within 100 days. The apparent failure of multiple groups and regional tribes unable to form one message, one blood, one country often fails nations. After 70 years, tribalism must become a single nation. This is the message of the Captain.

Monkeys, once again, need some more pea-nuts to scratch their heads and sell more of their consciousness; corruption steals all remaining talents except lying, deception, and thievery; fears surmount as confidence disappears, greed becomes the only hope, stealing the singular art, and tyranny the only doctrine. Pakistan is not alone, as other significant nations are in the same soups but at different catwalks of economic performance.

Monkeys have no narratives, political wisdom, or economic solution, just simple thievery and open-day freedom from big or small crimes. A grave tragedy exists for the masses, still unable to correctly decipher and throw out the wrong leadership. The fakery is being enforced. Therefore, a sign of enormous failure is lingering and imploding the nation. 

Khanism is in a series of sacrifices, Imran Khan with his life in constant danger, his party crushed, and his team in trouble. Khanism, with its traditional and logical support, is already strong enough to win. Still, the lawless and broken but super organized on the corruption fronts, the elite may never allow such transformation. It will deploy all its illegal powers to destroy Khan and Khanism. Killing is the final objective of opposition and the possible risk of all-out anarchy. 

Fact: Only Imran Khan decided to fix the cancer of corruption and started eliminating the already sold-out national leadership; he, like all others, had the option to go along and accept the old game but preferred death over corruption. Every century such people are born to change the destiny of a nation, and he is one of them.

No matter what happens and who in power gets the mandate. No parties are competent enough to save the nation, the economic crisis, global affairs, and the general management of a progressive country. Pakistan is already a lost country in financial performance, education, and global age expertise.

Historically nations die and rise to new transformation, typically after massive destruction, civil wars, and intense occupation, the blood and tears under accepted narratives and strange justice systems.

Pakistan may be entering the first phase of collapse where under Khanism, it may rise again as a livable, just society under law and order. Without law and order, a nation can have a downward meltdown and chip away into disorganized tribes. After such do-or-die processes, a country can select a North Korean-style model of extreme power and regiment, reforming a nation but never becoming a Scandinavian-style society.

Pakistan is a colorful nation of multiple cultures and groups all bonded within their religious belief of various degrees pursuing their lives. Still, Imran Khan and his Khanism are completely unmatched by the narratives of dozens of other leaders and their sing-songs. Will Pashtun influence a different kind of stamina and fight the resistance, will Imran Khan, as a Pashtun, set a worldwide example against the fake economy and fascist tyranny in the name of Islamic civil democracy? Will other cultural groups within the nation follow or remain on the sidelines?

If Imran Khan survives and wins the election; only a meritocratic bureaucracy will save the just future, PTI needs a new birth and new talent, with special skills, as there is no political power without economic power, furthermore, without entrepreneurial power there is no economic power. Let the economic intelligentsia of the nation be able to pass exam. Henceforth,  failing to understand the ‘mindset hypothesis’ the difference between the job seeker and job creator mindsets is the first step to getting eliminated from any serious dialogue on the subject of SME economic recovery. Failing to articulate the ‘national mobilization of entrepreneurialism’ is the second step to getting eliminated from any economic development activity as a whole.  Long live Imran Khan, Long live Pakistan…The rest is easy.

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The Relevance of Religion in India’s Act East Policy

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A key pillar of India’s Act East Policy, India’s latest foreign policy doctrine is culture. It is in this sector, that India is able to build upon the legacy of the Indus Valley Civilisation in tangible terms. Added to this, India’s core characteristic of being a secular nation which guarantees every individual the right to preserve his/her cultural heritage, has allowed the country a renowned reputation of secular rising power with a multicultural historical legacy. Indian soil is considered holy ground from where Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism originated and spread. The country also boasts of a number of sacred Christian, Islamic and Zoroastrian sacred sites. Thus, India’s rich and diverse cultural heritage safeguarded by the Indian Constitution became the foundation for its soft power and diplomatic initiatives.

Geopolitical circumstances made India orient its foreign policy to pay attention to the west and Russia during the Cold War era. With the Look East Policy’s introduction to India’s foreign policy, India began reviving its obstructed ties with East Asia. This became increasingly important to deal with the challenges that came with its economic growth. The increasing population of India desperately needed foreign investment to boost the employment rate, this was facilitated post the 1991 liberalisation reforms. India also provided foreign firms and investors with a large customer base, with only ever grew with India’s growing numbers. Thus, now, a number of foreign firms seek to establish business in India, and India too, looks for opportunities to diversify and grow its economy. As a result of the policy advocating to look to the east to cater to India’s  developmental needs,  East Asian firms such as Panasonic, Hyundai, LG, Toyota etc, made a huge impact on the Indian economy, providing not only goods and services but also employment. The decision to deepen ties with East Asia has also been motivated by a desire to counter China’s rising influence especially in the Indo-Pacific. While the Look East and subsequent Act East Policy focus on deepening ties with the East, it does not ignore its relations with the West. Thus, rather than a complete reinvention of India’s foreign policy, India’s Act East Policy merely expands on India’s foreign policy, giving it a truly global approach while looking after its self interests. What sets India apart from China in its diplomatic endeavours, is that initiatives and projects involving are not in the sole interest of the country, both parties have something to gain from these deals, making it mutually beneficial.

Speeches by government representatives on international platforms in Asia  from 2014 onwards, when the Act East Policy was first flagged off, have a pattern of commencing with highlighting shared cultural links between the partner country and India, to build a sense of solidarity, influencing foreign investment into India. Through the medium of this paper I argue that India’s Look East Policy which later evolved into the Look East policy rests heavily on its cultural pillar of which religion and its associated culture is a part. These are an indispensible part of India’s soft power as they are not only instruments of coercion, but also bring in tangible monetary returns and create foreign investment in the country.

Similarities

East Asia has been greatly influenced by Buddhism and Sanatana Dharma, which have profound roots in the region’s history. India’s earliest civilisational network with Southeast Asia, facilitated maritime trade between the eastern Roman Empire, the Han dynasty in China with stopovers on the sea routes in Thai peninsula, Mekong Delta and Indonesian islands thus, allowing for some common elements of culture, religion and society to emerge. In early South East Asia, states and societies were shaped by the fusion of the two religions. Buddhism remains widely practiced in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, while countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia, and Malaysia have a well established Hindu legacy.

Integration of Hindu and Buddhist traditions into East Asian cultures are not isolated additions to replace traditions or fill in cultural voids, instead these new cultures assimilate into local society. Such an effect is often described as “Hinduization,” “Indianization,” or “Greater India” in reference to India’s cultural impact. Vladimir Braginsky describes India’s influence as so widely pervasive in these regions, that it left a mark not only in the cultural but also in the political and social realms. This is reflected in the legacy of the Mons of modern Burma and Thailand, the Malays, the Khmers of Cambodia,  and Javanese of Malaysia and Indonesia. Early forms of written script in East Asia are owed to India. In the early centuries CE, written inscriptions were brought from India to adorn the Grand Temples of Borobudur and Prambanan in Java, Angkor-Wat in Cambodia, among others. The official emblems of India and Thailand represent two thriving and tolerant cultures with a majority-Hindu population. Ashoka the Great established the “Lion Capital” in India, and the Buddhist majority in Thailand adopted the bird-like creature  “Garuda,” which is associated with Hinduism. The association between India and Vietnam extends back over 2,000 years, and the 60,000 Balamon Cham Hindu population in the Southeast Asian country retains their customs of their elders. The 9th-century Prambanan Compound, a 240-temple compound devoted to Lord Shiva and host to images depicting the Ramayana, dominates the panorama of the Yogyakarta-Central Java boundary region in Indonesia.

The line separating Buddhism and Hinduism is unambiguous from Angkor Wat in Cambodia to Taipei in Taiwan, and from Ayutthaya in Thailand to Quang Nam in Vietnam. There exists a popular perception of Lord Buddha and Lord Rama as being incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Similarly, a pantheon of Hindu deities are revered, and epics are recited in Buddhist dominant  mainland Southeast Asia, as well as in Shinto-majority Japan and Muslim-majority Indonesia.

The earliest tangible evidence of the presence of Hinduism in South East Asia was discovered in Borneo ,dated to the 4th century was written in Sanskrit, which describes Brahmans performing Vedic sacrifices at the command of local chiefs. Ayodhya, Lavapuri, Kanchanaburi, Chandrapuri, and Vishnulok, named in line with Hindu tradition are names of South East Asian cities. Other examples include Bandar Seri Bagawan “Bandar Shri Bhagwan”, the capital of Brunei, Singapore, the city of lions, “Jayakarta” or Jakarta, the city of victory, and Laos, which is named after Lav, the son of Ram.

The earliest ambassadors of Buddhism were dispatched to Myanmar and further eastwards by King Ashoka of the Magadh empire in the India subcontinent , which led to the rapid diffusion of Buddhist culture into local traditions . The viability of using Buddhism as a tool for diplomacy today can be accredited to its reach across the globe. Today there are three types of countries who can be beneficiaries and target countries of “Buddhist Diplomacy”- traditionally Buddhist majority countries (Vietnam, Sri Lanka, etc), countries which do not majorly practice Buddhism but share Buddhist heritage (Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc) and states where Buddhism is gaining traction (such as USA, Italy, Austria and Russia).

Religion in foreign policy

Cultural diplomacy as an instrument of foreign policy  entails the mobilisation of physical or abstract cultural assets between two or more countries, which act as the foundation for any country’s foreign policy objectives, including political, economic, and strategic goals. It aims at promoting national goals via collaboration by facilitating cultural activities such as cultural festivals, art exhibitions, and other international cultural exchanges. The cultural pillar of the Act East policy prioritises Buddhism, as a locus of India-Southeast Asian ties. Bodh Gaya, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, is a hallowed site for Southeast Asian Buddhist pilgrims. In 2014,  Nalanda University, the ancient seat of Buddhist learning where Buddha himself visited several times, was revived as a result of collaborative efforts between India and Southeast Asian countries, including Brunei, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, New Zealand, and Singapore. However, there remain a few impediments blocking India from effectively using Buddhism to exert influence to a greater extent. Though Buddhism originated in India,  97 percent of the  those who practise Buddhism are in East and Southeast Asia.  Countries such as Indonesia and Thailand attract more Buddhist pilgrims than India. As a result, under the Look East and Act East Policy, efforts have been undertaken to connect to people from East and Southeast Asia. This is where the importance of the Northeast region as a pivot to India’s Act East Policy comes into play, as it is the interface between Northeastern India and the South East Asia.

Northeast India offers a lot of avenues for religious tourism, especially for attracting Buddhist pilgrims from East and South East Asia. The Tawang Monastery , the world’s second-largest monastery after the Lhasa Monastery in Tibet and  the birthplace of the Sixth Dalai Lama, Sangyang Gyatso, is located in Arunachal Pradesh. Increased footfall at the monastery would also be beneficial to India’s security interests.  Tawang was the first region in Arunachal Pradesh to be attacked by China in 1962, and subsequently remained under Chinese control temporarily. Ever since, China has also been staking claim on the territory , declaring Arunachal Pradesh to belong to South Tibet and not a part of India. Thus, in this case, culture not only ensures economic returns and people to people connectivity through religious tourism, but it is also a way to secure India’s security interests and bolster the country’s territorial sovereignty.

The Archaeological Survey of India has been actively operating in Vietnam, excavating a  monolithic Shiva Linga on the grounds of the My So’n temple complex in 2020. It has taken up similar excavation and preservation projects across Southeast Asia, as it has manpower with the specialised technical knowhow which the host countries lack. Thus, in this way, India’s use of its religion has also resulted in strengthening bonds of technical knowledge overseas.

Recent endeavours to boost foreign interest in India’s religions and spirituality include the tourism ministry of India’s ‘Swadesh Darshan Scheme’. In 2019, the Indian Railways ran its first train covering the Buddhist Circuit over a span of eight days of the city of Lord Buddha’s birth (Lumbini in Nepal), to over a dozen sites of importance including the place where he achieved enlightenment (Bodh Gaya), gave his first sermon (Sarnath, near Varanasi), and attained Nirvana (Kushinagar). The Indian government has incurred an expenditure of roughly USD 1.5 billion in infrastructure building. This also provides increasing opportunities to local hospitality  firms as well as titans such as the Oberoi Group. The project has also seen investment from Japan and the World Bank.  

 The Ramayana circuit begins in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama and traverses through 15 significant sites spread over nine states, and concluding  at Rameshwaram, from from where the Ramsetu Bridge  extends to Sri Lanka. Infrastructural projects that enhance connectivity have been central to this idea taking off.

Conclusion                      

India should leverage its shared cultural links, emerging out of religion, on a larger scale in its foreign policy. This would aid foreign investment, which would help the country move towards a robust economy with more participation and better infrastructure. In some cases, religious tourism also helps to strengthen territorial sovereignty by portraying strength in numbers, against the aggressor. The subsequent infrastructural development and connectivity helps to strengthen border security measures. However, much needs to be done to fully realise its potential.

Regional social and income inequality reflects itself in development efforts. While some states such as Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat are the most visible beneficiaries of infrastructure development efforts, the North East states of India lag behind, due to a number of reasons- red tape-ism, challenging terrain, geographical disconnect from the rest of the country, etc. Additionally, India’s strained relations with its immediate neighbours also dampen the effectiveness of endeavours for enhanced connectivity and trade based on religious foundations. Not all hope is lost though, with the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project finally being operationalized from May 9th 2023, more than two decades after it was first approved by the Government of India.

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Measurement of Performance Indices or Misrepresentation of India?

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According to the recently published (May 24, 2023) Global Slavery Index 2023 (GSI), compiled by the Australian human rights organisation Walk Free, six members of the Group of 20 nations have the largest number of people in modern slavery – either in forced labour or forced marriage. India tops the list with 11 million followed by China with 5.8 million, Russia with 1.9 million, Indonesia with 1.8 million, Turkey with 1.3 million and the United States with 1.1 million.

From the appearance of the first sovereign credit ratings in the 1930s, there is now a plethora of rankings for various performance indicators. Rankings of states, for qualities (ex. transparency), activities (ex. press freedom), policies (ex.corruption), are being used to measure everything from ‘happiness’ to ‘democracy.’ Such ‘performance’ indicators have lately proliferated and strive to act as a pervasive sort of social pressure, almost exclusively for developing countries. These rankings tend to simplify a complex reality while attempting to appear objective.

The Walk Free foundation has been coming up with its Global Slavery Index (GSI) for more than a decade now. But its findings are not free of controversy. According to an article  in Social Inclusion ‘The GSI aims to, among other objectives, recognize the forms, size, and scope of slavery worldwide as well as the strengths and weaknesses of individual countries. An analysis of the GSI’s methods exposes significant and critical weaknesses and raises questions into its replicability and validity.’ But what’s more troublesome is that the publicity given to the Index is leading to the ‘use of this poor data not only by popular culture and reputable magazines and news organisations […], but also by academic journals and high level policy makers […], which can lead to inaccurate policy formulation.’

Earlier, the 2023 ‘World Happiness Report’ was released and India was ranked at 126th position out of 137 countries. Published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network to the United Nations (UN) these rankings are based on data from the Gallup World Poll, which measures how happy citizens perceive themselves to be. Webster dictionary defines happiness as a state of well being and contentment so an obvious problem with measuring happiness is that it means something different to different people. Yet Finland, almost always, remains the happiest country in the world, followed by Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Israel. Apparently crisis ridden Sri Lanka and inflation hit Pakistan are happier than India. As is China despite the evidence of rare protests breaking out in multiple cities against the government’s zero-covid policy. And oddly ‘happiness’ even for countries at war, Russia and Ukraine, has been ranked higher than India in the World Happiness Report, with Russia ranked 70th and Ukraine ranked 92nd.  During an event in Bengaluru, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar dismissed the report and said that he “does not understand the method” to find these indexes which are clearly “mind games.”

A similar gloomy picture is painted by other international think tanks. Sweden-based Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem) had said that India has joined the ranks of Afghanistan, Brazil and Myanmar in “witnessing the most dramatic increases” in political polarisation. V-Dem categorises India as one of the “worst autocratisers” of the last decade. The  annual report by Freedom House, the Washington-based pro-democracy think tank and watchdog rated India ‘partially free’ its  report for a third straight year, with a cumulative score of 66 out of 100, on parameters such as political rights and civil liberties. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a division of UK’s Economist Group categorised India as a “flawed democracy” in its ‘Democracy Index.’ Is there robust evidence that democracy is in decline in India? What is the measure of democracy?

Sociologist Dr Salvatore Babones of the University of Sydney believes that India is an ‘extraordinarily successful democracy.’ At the India Today Conclave in Mumbai in November 2022, he said that, “India is the world’s biggest democratic success story. It is the only postcolonial well-institutionalised democracy.” He has argued that in a statistical sense, India being the world’s ‘largest’ democracy is irrelevant because democracy is unrelated to country size. The relevant factor for India is that it is the world’s ‘poorest’ democracy. If we take peaceful transfer of power with free and transparent elections, as the most basic measures of democracy then India can be categorised as a well institutionalised democracy. It is the only democracy in the world with a GDP for capital of less than about $10000 per head. Other democracies at these levels of income exist in eastern Europe which became independent only about three decades ago, and had to become democratic in order to join the European union.  Truly, unambiguously indigenously developed democracies then exist in the West. India is also the world’s only post colonial state to remain a democracy throughout its entire 75 years of independence.

Indices have gained favour in the past two decades as indicators of  regional and national growth of a country, and have become widely popular symbols of multidimensional welfare. These indices are built on a set of indicators using the most recent published articles. Data is then usually submitted for an handpicked ‘expert’ consultation to validate the ascribed rankings, but not necessarily alter them. Scandinavian countries Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands Sweden, Norway invariably top the indices. That poor, developing countries tend to be at the bottom of these rankings is no longer surprising. It becomes pertinent to ask whether these indices reflect generalisations based on a small number of widely published but non representative media articles?

Rankings have significant limitations when it comes to recognising the achievements of countries beyond the Anglosphere. For instance, the Global Hunger Index 2022 released by Concern Worldwide and Welt Hunger Hilfe, Non-Government Organisations from Ireland and Germany respectively, has ranked India at 107 among 121 countries. The report chooses to deliberately ignore efforts made by the Government to ensure food Security for the population especially during the Covid Pandemic. Three out of the four indicators used for calculation of the index are related to the health of Children and cannot be representative of the entire population. The fourth indicator estimate of proportion of undernourished population is based on an opinion poll conducted on a very small sample size of 3000, in which respondents were asked questions like ‘During the last 12 months, was there a time when, because of lack of money or other resources: You were worried you would not have enough food to eat? You ate less than you thought you should?’

Another example is the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) 2023 which has ranked India in 8th place. India is the only G20 country in the top ten climate change performers in this index the first three ranks were purposely kept left out as no country performed well enough to be placed as first, second or third,  Denmark And Sweden were placed on fourth and fifth place respectively.  Compare this to the Environment performance index 2022, measured by Yale and Columbia University which has ranked India at the very bottom of the list at 180, after Vietnam (178), Bangladesh (177), and Pakistan (176). The dichotomy in the ratings indicates a clear unscientific bias in the methodology.

Human Development Index for 2021-22 released by the UN developed program UNDP, India was ranked 132nd out of 191 countries. World Press Freedom Index, 2022 released by Reporters Without Borders ranked India at 150th out of 180 countries. Even Hong Kong, where Beijing has led a brutal crackdown to punish critics and silence dissenters, fundamentally altering the life for Hong Kongers, ranks above India at 148.

Organisations that build indexes are reluctant to share the data through which they arrive at their conclusions. The Union government tried to engage with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) which has ranked India on the 53rd spot and as a ‘flawed democracy’  seeking details on the parameters used in the rankings. However, according to a report in the media, the EIU did not share the methodology adopted to deduce the rankings. Most of these rankings can be criticised on methodological ground with the need to improve indicators and the underlying calculative operations. There is a possibility that growth systematically mis-measured or measured less reliability for developing countries. For instance, growth is more volatile in countries where agriculture constitutes a large part of the economy. Numerous index designs have been put forward, yet little is understood about their reliability. Ideally an index construction involves decisions related to indice selection, scale of analysis, measurement errors, data transformation and weighting – each of which is imbued with uncertainty due to decisions made by the index developer.

Rankings hold interest for multiple audiences, and whether we think they should, or not it seems there is an appetite for them. Factors like culture, language and resources strongly influence the rankings and buttress the dominance of the global north. The only remarkable thing about these global rankings is that they are so unremarkable, reinforcing our intuitive expectation that European, especially Scandinavian countries rank high, and countries from the global south figure lower.  Suffice to say that they are neither scientific nor multilaterally validated.

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Nations must demonstrate some level of global age competency; the regime change problems of Pakistan simply didn’t start by overthrowing...

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A key pillar of India’s Act East Policy, India’s latest foreign policy doctrine is culture. It is in this sector,...

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