Democracy in Danger – UPSC GS2

  • Increasing attacks on the press and the erosion of judicial autonomy are threatening India’s global image as a democracy.
  • It has been said that Democracy is on retreat worldwide. Many democracies in the 21st century continue to disregard the principles of democracies.
  • Principles such as the freedom of press, independence of the other public institutions of the state are often violated.
  • For instance, many world leaders such as Vladimir Putin (Russia), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey), Trump (USA) had initiated a sustained, attack on these very institutions to sustain power.
  • Western academic institutions, the Freedom House (US) and the Varieties of Democracy project (Sweden) downgraded India’s democratic ratings.
  • However, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar dismissed these ratings as irrelevant.
Evolution of Democracy:
  • The first-ever institutional check on sovereign power was provided through the Glorious Revolution in England. It led to the establishment of Parliament and England shifted from absolute monarchy to Constitutional monarchy.
  • Later, the French Revolution and the American revolution assured inalienable rights to its citizens.
  • However, in the era of colonialism, exclusion of women, as well as racial and religious minorities continued till the 1950s.
  • After the 1950s, democracy got strengthened due to the following measures.
    • Institutionalization of universal suffrage elections
    • Constitutional check on the powers of the government
    • Independent judiciary empowered with judicial review
    • Empowered press to scrutinize government actions
  • Finally, after the end of the Cold War, due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, many authoritarian countries were forced to conduct elections. This led to the establishment of liberal democracy rule in most of the world’s countries.
Why India’s democratic ratings were downgraded?
  • Both Freedom House and V-Dem multi-dimensional framework give considerable weightage to the freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary.
  • Concerns about the undermining of these institutional checks-and-balances led both institutions to reduce India’s score on their index.
  • Weakening democracy in India can negatively impact India’s ambitions to become a full-fledged member of the Quad or the D-10. It will also undermine India’s claim to become a Permanent Member of the UN security council.
What needs to be done?
  • First, Government should hear criticism rather than rejecting it outrightly. Suggestions on eroding democratic values need a thoughtful, and respectful response.
  • Second, the press and the judiciary which are considered as the pillars of democracy, require to be independent of any executive interference.
  • Third, strong democracy requires strong opposition. Without an alternative choice, the very objective of election to provide a check on arbitrary power gets defeated.
Democratic Values and Principles are core to India’s identity. We need to safeguard our democracy by strengthening its pillars- the Legislature, Executive, Judiciary, and the Media.

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