New Delhi (PTI): India may rank well above many other emerging economies in terms of its democratic climate, but it still remains a “flawed democracy”, according to global research organisation Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). In the latest edition of its annual Democracy Index, published today, EIU placed India among the 50 countries found to be “flawed democracies”.
This dubious distinction for the country comes in the midst of India’s democracy being highlighted by preparations for the forthcoming general election, which EIU has also termed as “the world’s largest democratic exercise”.
The index, in which Indian democracy has been ranked at 35th position out of the total 167 countries under review, is based on a collective score of electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation and political culture.
Political culture is still relatively weak
However, India fares much worse in the political participation and political culture categories. The existence of the “argumentative Indian” may facilitate public debate, but this does not necessarily translate into a high level of political participation. Voter turnout in the most recent general election, in May 2004, was 58%, but this figure masks extremely wide interstate variations, ranging from 35% in Jammu and Kashmir to 92% in the small north-eastern state of Nagaland. Within political culture, the increasing reliance on unwieldy and sometimes uncooperative coalitions often hinders rather than advances economic reforms, and this works against the country’s overall score. India’s government functioning score is relatively strong, but it is brought down by lingering issues about corruption and government accountability.
The economic downturn will have a negligible impact on democracy
India is currently experiencing an economic slowdown, but the global economic crisis has had a much smaller effect on India than on most other countries. As a result, there is unlikely to be any direct impact on the functioning of democracy. Given that large swathes of the population, mostly in rural areas, derived relatively little benefit from the economic boom of the past few years, they are now also unlikely to feel much pain as a result of the downturn.
“Other issues, such as consumer price inflation and national security, would have been far more likely to prompt an increase in social unrest than a broad-based cyclical economic downturn,” says Vohra.
A brief note on defining and measuring democracy
There is no consensus on how to measure democracy, and definitions of democracy are contested. Having free and fair competitive elections, and satisfying related aspects of political freedom, are the sine qua non of all definitions. However, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s index is based on the view that measures of democracy that reflect the state of political freedoms and civil liberties are not “thick” enough: they do not encompass sufficiently some crucial features that determine the quality and substance of democracy. Thus, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index also includes measures of political participation, political culture and functioning of government, which are, at best, marginalised by other measures.
The index of democracy covers 167 countries and territories. The index, on a 0-10 scale, is based on the ratings for 60 indicators grouped into five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. The five categories are interrelated, and form a coherent conceptual whole. Each category has a rating on a 0-10 scale, and the overall index of democracy is the simple average of the five category indices.
The report has named 30 countries as full democracies, 50 of them as ‘flawed’ democracies, 36 as hybrid regimes and another 51 as authoritarian regimes.
The ‘full democracies’ list is topped by Sweden, followed by Norway, Iceland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Australia, Canada, Ireland and Germany, among others.
Other full democracies include Japan, the US, the UK, Greece, France, Portugal, Mauritius, South Korea and Italy.