India’s Democracy: A Decaying Infrastructure?

For the first time since the 1990s, the nonprofit organization Freedom House downgraded India’s status from ‘Free’ to ‘Partly Free’. In addition, India no longer qualifies as an ‘Electoral Democracy’ but as an ‘Electoral Autocracy’. India’s downgrade is not due to the nature of elections, which are free and fair. However, it has to do mainly with the malfunctioning of the parliament and excessive concentration of power within the executive.

Key Judgement 1: It is highly unlikely that India’s Parliament will function as an effective check on the executive over the next 12 months.

  • On paper, India’s parliament is the greatest organ of democracy, being directly elected by 1.3 billion people. However, in reality India’s parliament is not fulfilling its function as a check of the executive. [source]

  • The number of days that the parliament actually meets has fallen from more than 100 in the 1950s, to 66 in the period between 2014 and 2019. As a comparison, the US House of Representatives met 163 days in 2020, and the UK House of Commons 147. In addition, states assemblies meet for merely 30 days a year. [source]

  • Laws do get approved, but they receive hardly any scrutiny. The proportion of bills referred to standing committees for scrutiny has dropped from 60-70% under the previous government to 27% in Mr. Modi’s first term. The figure stands at 13% presently. [source]

  • Data from the PRS Legislative Research shows that on average it takes the parliament approximately 34 minutes to pass a bill. Some bills are passed in significantly shorter periods of time; for example, it took 5 minutes to pass the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code Bill, 2021. [source]

  • In addition, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms, 43% of MPs who won seats in the 2019 general elections had been charged with a crime. 29% of them were charged with grave offences, such as murder and rape. [source]

Key Judgement 2: It is unlikely that the electoral bonds scheme will be suppressed over the next 12 months. 

  • Electoral bonds are instruments used to donate money anonymously to political parties. The process ensures that the name of the donor remains anonymous. Before the introduction of the electoral bonds in 2018, all political parties had to disclose details of all its donors who have donated more than INR 20,000. The anonymity applies only to citizens and opposing parties, as the government can always access the donor details by demanding the data from the State Bank of India.  [source]

  • The central criticism of the electoral bonds mechanism is that it makes it impossible to ensure transparency of election funding. According to critics, this mechanism allows the government to extort money from company or victimise them from not funding the ruling party. This seems to be supported by the fact that 75% of all electoral bonds have gone to Modi’s party BJP, which is the incumbent party. [source]

  • The Supreme Court is currently deciding whether the electoral bonds scheme facilitates anonymous corporate funding to political parties. However, India’s Supreme Court is yet to rule definitively on the issue. [source]

Key Judgement 3: It is likely that India’s democratic deficit will continue to be reflected in its diplomacy over the next 12 months. 

  • In recent months, India has failed to join other democracies on various issues. 

  • For instance, since the military coup in Myanmar on February 2021, India has failed to impose sanctions on the junta. In addition, the country closed its borders to prevent refugees from entering India despite the then ongoing bloodshed. The Modi government has also sold military weapons to Myanmar since the coup. [source]

  • In addition, since Russia invaded Ukraine, India has repeatedly failed to condemn Russia’s aggression. Moreover, India has not joined other democracies in imposing sanctions on Russia [source].

Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 19th of June 2022

Arianna Sparviero
Arianna Sparviero
Arianna Sparviero is a graduate student at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. She is currently enrolled in the first year of the master course in International Affairs.

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