Indices are mathematical tools that are used to measure certain changes of a variable over a period of time. They have their own limitations; still we do use them as they indicate a trend. In that perspective, India's poor rank, i.e., 41 out of 165 countries, in the well-known Economist Intelligence Unit's 'Democracy Index 2018' does indicate a trend.
The Economist divides the countries into four groups based on their scores, i.e., full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime and authoritarian regime. They included India in 'flawed democracy' status along with United States, which was ranked 25. It used the term flawed democracy to indicate a country with free elections but weighted down by weak governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.
The Economist's team observed that "rise of conservative religious ideologies and increase in vigilantism and violence against minorities as well as other dissenting voices" are seen in the flawed democracies.
We do have differences of opinion, especially when we compare with the rest of the countries. Those who don't accept this comparison can compare ourselves with our own past data and history. India was in 'flawed democracy' category for a long period, and our rank in 2016 was 32, which was slipped into 42 in 2017, and improved to 41 in 2018. Why was India then rated as a 'flawed democracy'? Let's examine certain key aspects.
Functioning of parliament
Functioning of parliament indicates the quality of governance in a democracy. The 16th Lok Sabha (2014-2019) sat only 331 days during its whole term against a 468-day average for all previous full-term Lok Sabhas. It was reflected in the working hours also: it lost 16 per cent of its time to disruptions. This Lok Sabha also saw the government tricking the people by changing conventional practices and constitutional norms when it got the Aaadhar bill passed as a money bill though Aadhar is no way related with money, or when it refused to table the Economic Survey in Parliament before the Union budget that was presented on February 1. Opposition parties blamed the Prime Minister for his absence in the house; unfortunately we don't have data, as he is not supposed to sign in parliament register.
Transparency and accountability of data
One of the most important reforms, as claimed by the BJP, is demonetisation. The NDA government deviated from its stated objectives of demonetisation several times even after unnecessarily inconveniencing the common man; some innocent people even lost their lives as a result of the wrong decisions. The gains achieved through demonetisation are too little to compare with the pain of the people and the loss of the country at large.
Transparency is the best asset of a democratic government and here also our government has compromised its position. Fact checker sites have clearly pointed out that only 1.26 crores housing projects have been completed under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana as against the claim of 1.58 crore made by minister Piyush Goyal in his budget speech. Many such examples can be pointed out. The government changed the base year for manipulating figures in the very first year itself and hid the data on farmer suicide since 2015 and data on unemployment and poverty. The same government, however, spent Rs 4,343.26 crore on publicity after it came to power in May 2014! (This was revealed in the reply given by the Bureau of Outreach Communi-cation under the ministry of information to an application filed under the Right to Information Act by Mumabi-based activist Anil Galgali). If the government is confident on the nation's progress, then why is it reluctant to publish the actual figures? On the one hand it hides facts and data, and on the other, it presents rosy pictures.
All that glitters is not gold
The rationale behind the sudden declaration of 10 per cent quota for economically backward people and the introduction of Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana (KSNY) is dubious, as we are heading to a Lok Sabha election. The hard working farmers must get good remuneration for their products in the market instead of unhealthy free packages. Neither Mr Modi nor his predecessors were able to provide such a facility to them. The better ranking in the Ease of Doing Business Index and overall performances of our stock indices including Sensex are appreciable; however, the immediate beneficiaries are too less in number.
There were many who say inequality has worsened under the NDA regime. The wealthiest in India have accumulated a huge part of the wealth created in the country through crony capitalism and inheritance and it was reflected in the country's Gini coefficient, which has worsened from 81.4 per cent in 2014 to 85.4 per cent in 2018. (The Gini coefficient or Gini index is a statistical measure of distribution developed by the Italian statistician Corrado Gini in 1912. It ranges from 0 per cent to 100 per cent, with 0 representing perfect equality and 100 representing perfect inequality.) As per the Oxfam Survey, the richest 1 per cent in India cornered 73 per cent of the wealth generated in the country. According to them, the wealth of India's richest 1 per cent increased by over Rs 20.9 trillion during 2017, whereas 67 crore Indians comprising the population's poorest half saw their wealth rise by just 1 per cent.
Role of religion
It has been 28 years since the Babri Masjid has been demolished but the Ayodhya issue is yet to be resolved; it, however, pops up unfailingly during the election time. Such sensitive issues, including Sabarimala verdict, are being discussed in many states during election time and the purpose is nothing other than aggregating votes on communal basis. It is pathetic to note that we have given priority to the religious issues than economic ones. The majority of Indians are poor and illiterate and therefore it is easy to misguide them in the name of religion. That the direct and indirect influence of religion on the government in India and the United States has been increasing is visible in many of their policies, whereas religion's influence is barely visible in Scandinavian countries, which occupied the key ranks and were rated as "full democracies".
Attack on vulnerable people
Prime facie, the government has brought out a number of affirmative actions for the benefit of the marginalised sections, including the 123rd Constitutional Amend-ment which conferred constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes. However, the attacks against Muslims, Dalits and other vulnerable sections grew sharply in India during the NDA regime. As per the details in Deccan Chronicle on 3rd March, 2019, in Kashmir alone, under Mr Modi's period, the number of deaths has gone from 189 in 2014 to 267 in 2016 to 357 in 2017 and then 451 in 2018. The big tragedy is that the common man lost the basic confidence to lead a normal life. People fear for their future; they are afraid of wearing dresses they like or eating what they prefer. They are not as confident as they used to be while interacting and sharing their opinions. If the government can't ensure peace and confidence among its own people, then there is no point in blaming the indices.
The flaws are there for everyone to see. And the choice is ours whether e should aim at cultivating a governance and political culture that would ensure inclusive growth and substantive democracy.
(The writer is assistant professor, dept. of economics, St. Aloysius College, Elthuruth, Thrissur)...