‘Driving towards authoritarianism’: US think tank ranks India ‘partly free’

Hyderabad: Expressing apprehensions that the country is being driven towards authoritarianism, a United States-based think tank downgraded India from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’ in its report on political rights and civil liberties.

The non-governmental organization Freedom House ranked India 67 points upon 100, compared to last year’s score of 71. The numerical score, however, does not reflect the conditions in Kashmir which are examined in a different report.

“India’s status declined from Free to Partly Free due to a multiyear pattern in which the Hindu nationalist government and its allies have presided over rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting the Muslim population and pursued a crackdown on expressions of dissent by the media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters,” the report said on India’s status change to ‘partly free’.

The report outlined that the condition of political rights and civil liberties in the country has deteriorated since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, with increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims.

“The decline only accelerated after Modi’s reelection in 2019,” it said.

The fall in India’s status from the “upper ranks of free nations” may have a damaging impact on international democratic standards, the Freedom House report said. 

The think tank also talked about scapegoating Muslims as “potential spreaders of the virus”. The report reads, “In 2020, during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s Muslims were widely and speciously blamed for spreading the coronavirus, including by ruling-party officials.”

It also talked about the “ham-fisted” nationwide lockdown imposed to control the spread of coronavirus, which resulted in the country’s internal migrant population enduring significant hardships.