India’s democracy has its flaws but it is still a democracy
India is very proud of her democracy, despite the wheeling and dealing that goes on. But according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy* India is not a full democracy. It’s a flawed democracy. That’s difficult to argue with. It’s not just the electoral process, political culture, political participation, and pluralism which is taken into account while taking the democracy score, but also indicators like voter turnout, civil liberties, the functioning of government and political participation.
The 165 countries and two territories which were measured were categorised under four types of regimes:
Full democracies (30 countries)
Flawed democracies (50)
Hybrid regimes (36)
Authoritarian regimes (51)
Full Democracies: It isn’t surprising to know that countries in Western Europe as well as the U.S.A, Australia, Canada, Japan and the UK are in this group. What may not be so commonly known is that countries like Malta, the Czech Republic, Costa Roca, Slovenia, Uruguay and Mauritius are also full democracies.
Flawed Democracies: India is a flawed democracy and for company we have countries like South Africa, Chile, Taiwan, Poland, Hungary, Israel, Thailand, Mexico, Argentina, Indonesia, Peru and the Philippines.
Hybrid regimes: Singapore, Hong Kong, Ghana, Kenya, Pakistan, Russia, Bhutan and Iraq fall in this category. It’s a little disconcerting to see a successful state like Singapore clubbed alongwith Iraq and Pakistan.
Authoritarian regimes: Countries like Jordan, Egypt, Rwanda, Kuwait, China, Afghanistan, Iran, the UAE, Cuba and Saudi Arabia are in this category.
Overall democracy trends show that there has been a stagnation in the growth of democracy in the world in the past few years. According to The Economist, the democratic ideal has suffered due to the tarnished image of American democracy and also the fact that America supports certain authoritarian regimes while trying to impose democracy on others.
A democracy gene?
But why are countries the way they are? There is no single factor like economic status, size or even geography which explains why some are democracies and some aren’t or never were. The history of the nation seems to be a critical factor and makes me wonder if, like people, countries too have genes, genes developed over hundreds and hundreds of years. But just like in people, environmental factors can override the genes or trigger them. At times the country is a victim of circumstances and is plagued with problems almost beyond its control.
However what seems to be true is that democracy cannot be enforced. It’s like hitting a person over the head and telling him to become something. Democracy, like any human trait, is developed over many years, and it needs the right environment. However, unlike people, countries need never lose hope because they live on indefinitely. But if the country thinks that democracy is useless, there is no point.
Where Russia is concerned this is what the Economist report says:
Most Russians appear unperturbed by the trend towards authoritarianism. During the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, many Russians came to associate the term “democracy” with chaos, and “capitalism” was synonymous with rigged privatisations, the rise of the “oligarchs” and widespread poverty.
Finally, it depends on the people.
The countries in Eastern Europe made efforts to improve their democratic values to get themselves into the EU (this is what the Economist says) but now they are sliding back to their “natural” state. True, there hasn’t been any change in regime type but their democratic scores have decreased over the last couple of years. One cannot say what this portents for the future but it does seem as if it is going to be two steps forward and one step backwards for Eastern Europe.
The Chinese government is resisting pressure to turn itself into a democracy, although there have been people like Lord Chris Patten (the man who was at the helm in Hong Kong when it was handed over to the Chinese), who believe that economic progress will make the Chinese people demand democracy. However the history of China goes against this happening anytime soon, however well it develops economically. And considering what is happening to Hong Kong today it doesn’t seem as if the Chinese government is going to allow democracy in a hurry. In the last couple of years Hong Kong changed from a flawed democracy to hybrid regime. One step backwards. What is the next step? The history of Hong Kong is in its favour, its people are not going to take kindly to any type of authoritarianism…unless it happens so slowly that they don’t even know what happened. If anyone has patience, it’s China.
Another country in Asia, Bangladesh, changed from a flawed democracy to hybrid regime and this was a backward step.
The good news for Asia is that South Korea became a full fledged democracy from a flawed one, and Thailand became a flawed democracy from a hybrid regime. Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan went from from authoritarian to hybrid.
Democratic trends in the developed west are not healthy
Italy is doing well (became a full democracy from a flawed one) but many western countries had lower scores as compared to the previous few years. This is said to be because of the rise of “extreme political parties and anti-immigrant forces” and also because of a curb on civil liberties due to terrorism. There has also been a significant decline in political participation in the UK. In fact the UK has the lowest score on political participation in the developed West and this “includes voting turnout, membership of political parties, willingness to engage in and attitudes to political activity”. If this goes on I think the definition of democracy itself will have to change!
Where India is concerned we have our problems. Weak state institutions, insurgencies, terrorism, illiteracy, poverty…. but the great thing we have the democracy gene and can hope one day to be a full democracy. The good news is that no dictator will be able to get such a huge geographical and diverse area such as India under his/her thumb. No invader has managed it in India’s history.
*Note: The Index provides current state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories (this covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world’s independent states (27 micro states are excluded).
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