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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wields ever-growing power due to an increasingly lame legislature.   © Reuters
Datawatch

In Modi's India, bright mood masks danger to democracy

Citizens are happy with nation's direction but data shows troubling trajectory

LONDON -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is riding broad support from a populace that is happy with the country's direction. Despite the optimism, however, new data shows the nation is veering dangerously away from democracy.  

India was coming off 6.4% growth in 2013 when Modi rose to power the following year, hailed as an economic reformer. In 2016, the growth rate touched a high of 7.9%. But since Modi's election, an index that tracks countries' liberal democratic qualities has dropped sharply.

The index is compiled by the V-Dem Institute, run by professor Staffan I. Lindberg of the University of Gothenburg's Department of Political Science. Though "democracy" means different things to different people, Lindberg views it as "an intrinsic good" and says humans have a right to self-government and "to live under conditions of one's own choosing."

V-Dem's definition reads: "The liberal principle of democracy emphasizes the importance of protecting individual and minority rights against the tyranny of the state and the tyranny of the majority."

Now, the professor and other experts fear India is beginning to lose the only system that provides such freedom.

Why has India's index declined? The main reason is that the legislature is increasingly lame, unable to check the power of Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition enjoys a big majority in the lower house and nearly controls the upper chamber. 

Since the index spans 0 to 100, 50 could be considered a natural threshold, and India dropped below that line in 2015 for the first time in 40 years. Could this be a bitter foretaste of a second "Emergency" -- a sequel to the period of rule by decree and restricted civil liberties in the 1970s?   

Lindberg noted that V-Dem uses almost 400 indicators, including legal transparency and predictable enforcement, respect for private property rights, and access to the justice system for regular citizens. Most of the 48 indicators measuring liberal democracy are worsening for India, while the corruption index surged to a level never measured before.

The professor warned that this shift could trigger a chain reaction, prompting other countries with close ties to India to follow its lead away from democracy.

Datawatch is a series jointly produced by the Nikkei Asian Review and FT Confidential Research.

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