U.S.-based human rights watchdog Freedom House has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of “driving India toward authoritarianism” with a “hamfisted lockdown”, scapegoating of Muslims, and a crackdown on critics, and downgraded India’s status from ‘Free’ to ‘Partly Free’, in its annual report.
“Under Modi, India appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader, elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all,” said Freedom in the World 2021, which was released on Wednesday.
India’s freedom score, calculated using indicators of political rights and civil liberties, dropped four points to 67 this year, pulling the country down into the ‘Partly Free’ category. In a year when social media censorship has been hotly seated, while the government shut down Internet connectivity in Kashmir as well as on Delhi’s borders, India’s Internet freedom score dropped to just 51.
“The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its State-level allies continued to crack down on critics during the year, and their response to COVID-19 included a hamfisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers,” said the report. It added that Muslims were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs.
Crackdown on protesters
The report traced a deterioration in political rights and civil liberties since Mr. Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, adding that the decline only accelerated after his re-election in 2019. “Last year, the government intensified its crackdown on protesters opposed to a discriminatory citizenship law and arrested dozens of journalists who aired criticism of the official pandemic response,” said the report.
It noted that judicial independence had also come under strain, pointing to the case of a Delhi High Court judge who was transferred immediately after reprimanding the police for taking no action during riots in the capital that left over 50 people dead. Uttar Pradesh’s law prohibiting forced religious conversion through interfaith marriage was also listed as a concern.
“Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence from countries such as China, Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism,” the report stated.
Freedom House, which is largely funded through U.S. government grants, has been tracking the course of democracy since 1941. Pointing to a decline in global democracy over the last 15 years, it said that nearly 75 percent of the world’s population lived in a country that faced deterioration over the last year.