In January this year the Economist Intelligence Unit published Democracy Index wherein India’s democracy was classified as a ‘flawed democracy’.
“Democracy is the worst form of government”, said Winston Churchill to a stunned House of Commons on 11 November 1947, before adding “except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time”. And that’s the point. Democracy is not perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got.
A few months later Churchill clarified his thoughts on democracy (bear with me because it’s well worth it). “How is that word ‘democracy’ to be interpreted? My idea of it is that the plain, humble common man who keeps a wife and family, who goes off to fight for his country when it is in trouble, goes to the poll at the appropriate time and puts his cross on the ballot paper showing the candidate he wishes to be elected to Parliament—that’s the foundation of democracy. It’s also essential to this foundation that this man or woman should do this without fear and without any form of intimidation or victimisation, marking his ballot paper in strict secrecy. If that is democracy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.” And so would I!
Many of us who are fortunate to live in democratic countries, such as India and the UK, tend to take democracy for granted. But how do we measure up in an objective way? The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) could help answer this question. In January this year it published its latest “Democracy Index”, something that’s done every two years since 2006. Countries were measured on five factors: the electoral process, how a government functions, the amount of political participation, the political culture of a country and finally the quality of civil liberties. The results may surprise you.
Twenty countries (12%) were described as “full democracies”, with only limited problems in democratic functioning. Fifty five countries (33%) were listed as “flawed democracies”, described as nations where elections are free and fair and basic civil liberties are honoured, but may have issues such as media freedom infringement, underdeveloped political culture, low levels of participation in politics, or slight problems in the functioning of government. Thirty eight countries (23%) were described as “hybrid regimes”, which had the same issues of “flawed democracies”, but where governments also applied pressure on political opponents, had non-independent judiciaries and where there was widespread corruption. Finally, 52 countries (32%) were listed as “authoritarian”. So where was India in this list?
India scored highly on “electoral processes and pluralism”, gaining 9.17 out of 10. Under the heading “functioning of government” it scored a modest 6.79, with its lowest mark of 5.63 on “political culture”. The latter is, perhaps, not surprising considering a huge population and only 71 years of self-government. It took the relatively small population of Britain 700 years to get to the same position. The overall average mark of 7.23 puts India in 41st place, classified as a “flawed democracy”.
In case you’re disappointed about this ranking, the EIU also categorises the United States as a “flawed democracy”, placing it 25th on the list with an average of 7.96. The downgrade this year is largely due to the antics of the President. The US fails on “functioning of government”, which will not surprise White House watchers, as presidential tweets frequently and chaotically contradict earlier government announcements!
Ask any citizen and you’re probably find that their most important concern is what democracy is doing for them, not the overall state of democracy in their country. Helpfully, only last week a report on this question was published by the respected Pew Research Centre, based on huge samples in 27 countries. The results are both surprising and enlightening.
Take the ability to improve standards of living, a key factor in a citizen’s perception of democracy in their country. In India, 56% of participants agreed that most people have a good chance to improve their standard of living. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will find this a very satisfactory outcome, especially when he looks at the results for France, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Greece, where those disagreeing far exceed those agreeing. In Greece, only 24% believe that their democracy can improve their standard of living.
Another important factor in a democracy is the fairness of the judicial system. In India, about half consider that the court system treats everyone fairly. Again, this is better than the five countries above, all of which have negative results. In Spain, for instance, a staggering 77% do not consider their judicial system being fair to them.
What about corruption? Here the result for India may not appear impressive, with 64% considering that “most politicians are corrupt”. For Greece, however, this figure is an astonishing 89%, ahead even of Russia, where the result was 82%. Corruption is the bête noire of many politicians. In the United States no less than 69% of those surveyed believe their politicians are corrupt, which might be reassuring to Indian politicians!
Overall, an impressive 54% of Indians questioned by Pew are satisfied with the state of their democracy. Compare this with the United States (40%) and the UK (42%). Globally, the average figure is 45%. With a week to go before the end of voting in the current Lok Sabha elections, democracy in India is clearly working well for its citizens.