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MEASURING DEMOCRACY: MAPPING THE RELEVANCE OF DEMOCRACY INDICES

Author: Neelanjana Bandyopadhyay Ishu Gupta


Why read Democracy Indices?

EIU’s latest Democracy Index of the year 2020, marked a sharp decline in India’s rating, thereby posing serious inhibitions regarding India’s democracy standards. India’s global ranking has historically witnessed democratic down sliding during times of eventful changes. The index categorizes the countries into full (scores above 8), flawed (scores greater than 6, upto 8), hybrid (scores greater than 4, upto 6), and authoritarian (scores less than equal to 4) regimes. While countries like Norway, Sweden, Iceland etc, have scored incredibly well, India acquired the 53rd position among 167 countries, thereby placing India before a possible autocracy. Several ministries and think-tanks under the current government realized the need to address the fall in India’s ranking, resulting in careful observation of the nation’s performance. The article tries to give an account of the various indices and the debates encompassing democracy index and finally narrows down the scope to the Indian state’s position in the global democracy index.


Democracy indices act as tools of self-monitoring. Every country gains an unbiased knowledge of their political, economic and social performance based on these parameters. As such, it provides a scope for rectification and reform in the existing system of governance. Besides this, the data presented via such a global index, tends to give an exact account of the country’s democratic capacity. While they have been challenged and frowned upon time and again, the data is nevertheless configured with great precision, expertise and utmost transparency. Thus, the details provided by the indices, should be acknowledged by states as something similar to constructive criticism and improvise as per the protocols.


Understanding Democracy

Democracy or demokrati (Greek) is etymologically defined as the people’s rule which further translates into ‘popular’ government. Democracy has undergone multifarious changes, since its inception, both in theory and practice. What began as a small community oriented form of direct democracy, gradually transcended into broader representative governments to represent nation states. This change highlighted the scope of people’ political participation in the form of suffrage and occupance of political institutions. The historical presence of rule of people may not exactly signify a democracy as per the contemporary definitions. Despite being considered as one of the most efficient forms of government, democracy has often been contentiously screened. Ancient scholars, Plato and Aristotle bore their reservations against democracy as a form of mob rule that tends to cater to citizen’s whims and impulses over common good. Democracy can lead to chaos and lack of internal unity, hence aristocratic rule was preferred. However, democracy has been persistently reified in the form of waves. Political scientist Samuel P. Huntington defines the first wave of democracy as the grant of suffrage (19th century), where developed democracies fell prey to fascist regimes during World Wars. The second wave of numerical democratic rise began with the victory of allied powers (20the century). The post cold war third wave of democratization witnessed a rise in electoral democracy among third world countries.


A polity can be recognized as a democracy, provided there exists a certain degree of self governance. It is this degree of democratization that requires a democracy index or a measure which may not necessarily be definite or standardized. Global development in the present era is essentially linked to the presence, pertinence and sustenance of democracy. While classical indices tend to showcase regime variability between democracy and autocracy, contemporary indices engage in multiple conditional variables to democracy. A democracy is considered to be of a higher qualitative degree, if the indices are reliable as per the practical findings, thereby screening democracy from a measurable perspective. Thus, there may not be good or bad democracies, rather there exists highly or slightly democratic nations.


Recognizing the Indices

The V-Dem index of democracy lists 6 major indices of measuring democracy. To begin with, (A) the Liberal Democracy index encompasses a pluralistic premise representing limited authoritative intervention in individual liberties, systematic inter-institutional checks and balances and transparency. The liberal component (LCI) is also indicative of protecting individuals against state arbitrariness, and the observance of rule of law. (B) The Electoral Index (EDI) is more contestational and realist, with provisions for free and fair procedural elections and the associated freedom of expression and association. It also measures the responsiveness of the citizen’s representative, multiple access to information, unbiased media and independent judiciary, as secondary factors. Electoral democracy is ensured by regular fair competition among leadership groups. (C) The Egalitarian index oversees the presence and recognition of political liberties across social groups, to ensure equal participation of individuals and groups in political processes. This index secures prominence under the light of existing social inequalities and political marginalization based on multiple ascriptive identities. (D) Deliberative index is indicative of informed decision making capacities through deliberations and discussions. Democracies cannot function effectively based on inter-personal biases or parochia preferences. Logical deliberations and persuasions act as tools to consider and reconsider the essence of ‘common good’. (E) The Participatory index tends to encourage maximum political engagement of citizens, thereby reifying the direct democratic rule of the people, along with civil society engagements, social movements, referendums and political representation. It reduces the absolute transfer of power in the hands of representative authority (v-dem index). (F) Majoritarian Index tends to measure the will of the sovereign many instead of an aristocratic few. However, it relies on centralized political institutions and unitarianism, with a plurality of electoral laws instead of proportionality.


Democracy is neither uniform nor static in its theory or practice. Quality democracy indices include necessary institutional facilities to promote and ensure popular participation and contestation to attain self-governance. Freedom House lays emphasis on civil liberty indices to measure democracy. Diamond and Morlino enlist state effectiveness/capacity, observance of rule of law, horizontal accountability and responsiveness as key political measures of democracy. Collier and Levitsky emphasize on interest groups, vertical accountability and marginal/representation as a necessary democracy index that links citizens to their representatives. In a broader sense, democracy’s sustainability is also likely to be measured via its performative output. Social standards that may narrowly envisage economic distribution, and broadly indicate recognition of social relations, along with citizen inclusivity as individual sources of perspectives, also help measure democracy. Individual input being subjective, tends to aid the existing objective knowledge of democracy.



Contesting Assumptions around Democracy

The post cold war democratization process tries to offer heuristic debates surrounding democracy, with little coherent understanding and greater competing points. World systems incorporate a hybridization of identities, political processes and governability. Indices that are highly aggregated measures of democracy, tend to be influenced by multiple perceptions of development and efficiency. For instance, while the 20th century US may be viewed as an ideal democracy by some, the realities of non-suffrage to women and blacks till a very recent phase, goes unaccounted for. Thus, indices are seldom uniformly reliable and are subjective to interpretations. Democratic rights, resonating individual freedom and autonomy, requires the effective implementation of maximum rule of law, to attain a greater and effective democracy index. Democracy as per Political Rights index may refer to greater civilian emancipation and control over authoritative forces and greater access to state’s profit distribution. The Economist Intelligence Unit index chooses lesser electorate participation to ensure quality representation.


As undemocratic and rudimentary as it may seem in prioritizing elite voting patterns, quality representation for better governance steals the show. The degree of democratization may also be affected by the positioning of nation-states as either core or peripheral countries. While there is no fixed pattern of a historical development of democracy, the phenomena of democratization is rather open-ended. Democracies are differentially democratic.


The historically persistent democratic indices relied on concretized coding of institutional presence of normative governance like perseverance of democratic principles. Indices may be aggregated to form a singular index that produces consequentialist output. The contemporary EIU index disaggregates existing indices and compartmentalizes into civil liberties, political rights to participation, political culture and pluralism.


Locating India’s Democracy Quotient

Narrowing down our study to nation-state specific cases, we can think of India’s democracy degree. Going by the existing indices of democracy, India posits a fully democratic system of governance, irrespective of its diverse demography and socio-cultural multiplicity. Democracy in India since independence, has not only sustained but also widened and deepened in realizing institutional developmental goals, while factors like political participation and political culture (EIU) remains partially developed. Herein lies the test to democracy and its contending allegiance to either exclusivity or inclusivity. While the vision of Indian modernity relied on greater socio-economic inclusion of the under-represented in a multicultural set-up, the reality unfolds into power-mongering conflicts, capital redistributive inconsistency and institutional decay. Extensive reliance on coercive means rather than deliberations has resulted in the creation of distrust and exclusionary sentiments among several communities. Mere political participation does not guarantee inclusivity or a higher degree of democratization. India’s social development seems to have become dependent on her political representativeness, which creates a stagnancy and monotony in its redressal mechanism. The morals of liberal welfarism seems to follow the burgeoning neo-liberal path, thereby distanciating the masses from their representatives and development. Indian democracy ought to encourage popular political mobilization over the existing system of responsive institutional representation and checks and balances.


The global pandemic hit of late 2019 can be marked as an important event for mapping the democratizing degree of all nation-states. State effectiveness has been thoroughly put to question in analyzing the ways in which the novel virus has been tackled with. India is said to have undergone a ‘democratic backsliding’ as per EIU’s Democracy Index (2020). Though India is said to have a higher democracy rate vis-a-vis its neighbors of the global south, its recent downfall has been largely due to the failure in recognizing civil-political liberties, religious bigotry and the impending challenge to secularism and freedom of expression under the right wing government. One is reminded of the year as a period of extensive mass movements against the authoritarian forces, especially the abrogation of Art 370 and 35A, CAA-NRC protests, the Indian Farmers Protest against the draconian farm laws, etc. Hence, the Indian democracy can be categorized as one that strives to maintain archaic institutional indices of democratization, while dynamism in the practical accomplishment of inclusivity, remains compromised.

The uneven graph of India’s score as per EIU has been within the range of 7.0 -8.0 for the past fifteen years. Prior to the current drop in its score, the democracy rating of India had miserably fallen during the Indira Gandhi regime of emergency. The nation’s scores are marked on the basis of electoral pluralism (8.67), political participation (6.67), governance (6.79), civil liberties (6.76) and political culture (5.63), making the avg score of India as 6.90 in the year 2019. The scores are indicative of the prevalence of greater institutional democratization than contemporary participation and egalitarianism. The electoral index being higher indicates a consistency in the institutionalization of election processes that make way for political representatives. While the lower scores of political culture, governance and civil liberties indicate flaws and discrepancies in the guarantee of freedoms, and lack of shared opinions towards the government, resulting in lower political participation from below.




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1- https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/govt-seeks-details-of-parameters-to-improve-india-s-ranking-on-global-democracy-index-101618608140311.html

2- https://www.britannica.com/topic/democracy

3- Lindberg, Staffan I. "Ordinal versions of V-Dem’s indices: when interval measures are not useful for classification, description, and sequencing analysis purposes." Geopolitics, History, and International Relations 8, no. 2 (2016): 76-111.

4-Geissel, Brigitte, Marianne Kneuer, and Hans-Joachim Lauth. "Measuring the quality of democracy: Introduction." International Political Science Review 37, no. 5 (2016): 571-579.

5-Coppedge, Michael, John Gerring, David Altman, Michael Bernhard, Steven Fish, Allen Hicken, Matthew Kroenig et al. "Conceptualizing and measuring democracy: A new approach." Perspectives on Politics 9, no. 2 (2011): 247-267.

6-Alexander, Amy C., Ronald Inglehart, and Christian Welzel. "Measuring effective democracy: A defense." International Political Science Review 33, no. 1 (2012): 41-62.

7-https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-falls-to-53rd-position-in-eius-democracy-index-dubbed-as-flawed-democracy/articleshow/80665859.cms

8-https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/telling-numbers-in-economists-democracy-index-india-at-its-lowest-ranking-ever-6230773/

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