Sydney: A Sydney-based academic said that all objective indicators show Indian democracy is in good health, in much better shape than those of peer countries with similar levels of education and income. In an article for The Australia Today, Salvatore Babones, an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, has said that the world should be looking to India as a model, not of democratic backsliding, but of democratic success.
He further noted that in several specific incidences, the data presented by international critics as evidence of the declining quality of Indian democracy ‘shows signs of intentional deception’. ‘At 75 years old, it might reasonably be said that Indian democracy is healthier than ever’, he said. Babones, whose academic specialty includes international rankings, said that some recent international evaluations are ‘suffused with wanton speculation, misleading statistics, and uncritical reproductions of activist accusations’ against the BJP-led government.
He said India seems to have uniquely solved the problem of how to run a liberal democracy in a relatively poor country. ‘It is often said that India is the world’s largest democracy. It is less well understood that India is by far the world’s poorest country to possess a well-institutionalised democratic system and to have maintained its democratic institutions throughout its entire history as an independent country’, he said. ‘Many of the criticisms levelled at Indian democracy are actually criticisms of poverty, and Indian democracy should be admired for its persistence in the face of deprivation, not discounted for the shortcomings of the Indian economy. Other criticisms of Indian democracy are actually criticisms of outdated (often British colonial) institutions, and again Indian democracy should be admired for its longevity, not discounted for its age’.
The author, a comparative social scientist, said in his article in The Australia Today that the most egregiously misplaced criticisms of Indian democracy are actually no more than criticisms of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), often criticisms that are levelled at it by its domestic political opponents. ‘These are then amplified and broadcast by academics, international organisations, and overseas Indian intellectuals’. ‘In research published this month by Quadrant magazine (‘Indian Democracy at 75: Who Are the Barbarians at the Gate?’), I have shown how the three major international evaluations of Indian democracy are ‘suffused with wanton speculation, misleading statistics, and uncritical reproductions of activist accusations’ against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. In several specific incidences, the data presented by international critics as evidence of the declining quality of Indian democracy shows signs of intentional deception’, he added.
The article notes that one example of data misrepresentation is the claim that in 2021, more journalists were killed in India than in any other country outside China. ‘Even taking the underlying data at face value, they show that India’s rate of deadly violence against journalists was 3.5 per billion people. The rate for the rest of the world outside China was 6.3 per billion people. A fair appraisal would conclude that journalists are actually safer in India than in the rest of the world. But by failing to adjust for India’s extraordinarily large population (and accordingly a large number of journalists), the data are made to tell a different story’.
It says that another misrepresentation is the claim that the BJP uses sedition laws to silence critics. ‘When carefully examined, the data adduced in support of this claim actually show no trend in the filing of sedition accusations. Moreover, those who make the claim routinely fail to note that in the Indian justice system, virtually anyone can file a First Indication (information) Report for sedition (or any other crime). Thus of the thousands of sedition accusations filed during the period of the BJP government, very few have actually resulted in prosecution (there are no data on prosecutions under the previous Congress-led government)’, it said.
The article says that organisations doing democracy rankings have a responsibility to be critical in their use of evidence and sceptical of highly politicised views. ‘However, these organisations have themselves become politicised and are losing the credibility that made them prestigious in the first place by justifying these views’. ‘Whatever individual Indians may think of Narendra Modi and the government he leads, all of the objective indicators show Indian democracy to be in good health. In fact, India’s democracy is in much better health than that of peer countries with similar levels of education and income. Almost uniquely, India seems to have solved the problem of how to run a liberal democracy in a relatively poor country. The world should be looking to India as a model, not of democratic backsliding, but of democratic success’.
In the interview with The Australia Today, Babones said he wrote the research-based paper that unpacks the rankings. ‘I found a lot of inaccuracies, politicisation, actions of previous UPA government attributed to NDA, all sorts of inaccuracies in rankings…’ He said when he saw headlines adversely talking about India’s democracy, these clashed with the reality of ‘what I was seeing when I follow India in the press, when I watch YouTube videos coming out of India, news coming out of India’. He said the digging about the rankings was fascinating. ‘The more I dig, the more politics I find. People seem to want to use these sorts of authoritative-sounding international organisations to score their political points, so whether it is western NGOs or people engaged in Indian politics or Indian intellectuals who live abroad, they are using the ranking system as a way to express their own political views through what is supposed to be a dispassionate scientific research project’.