Jaskaran Sandhu: India Is Now The World’s Largest Electoral Autocracy 

Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), an independent research institute based out of the University of Gothenburg, released its new dataset and report on the state of democracy in the world.

Jaskaran Sandhu
March 11, 2021 | 3 min. read

Congratulations India, you are now the World’s Largest Electoral Autocracy. While it does not roll off the tongue quite like the old slogan - “the World’s Largest Democracy” - it is a much better reflection of reality. 

Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), an independent research institute based out of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, released its new comprehensive dataset and report on the state of democracies around the globe. The report is widely respected as one of the most robust democracy indexes in the world. 

India is one of the top 10 “decliners” in the world thanks in part to restrictions on free speech and civil society. This decline in democratic values is directly attributed to Modi’s Hindu Nationalist agenda and government. The escalating deterioration of the freedom of expression, media, and civil society in India is alarming by global standards.

Government censorship and abuse of sedition, defamation, and terrorism laws have reached historic highs under the BJP - aligning it more closely to the actions of autocratic regimes than a full democracy. 

V-Dem also notes India’s increasing polarization through government sponsored disinformation campaigns - something the BJP is particularly astute at via its world (in)famous IT Cells. This is coupled with the BJP’s anti-pluralism stance it is already well known for, including the demonization of, and attacks on, Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and Sikhs. 

The draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) also receives a special shoutout from V-Dem.  Sikhs and other minorities are well aware of how the UAPA has been consistently used by the Indian state to silence and criminalize all forms of dissent - including basic criticisms of the government in activist, political, media, and academic circles.

Attacks on civil society organizations and the policing of which organizations may exist are highlighted by the index as a sign of “severe deterioration” of the kind of environment one would normally associate with democracies. The recent infamous example of India removing Amnesty International is only one of many - which was also specifically discussed in the recent UK Parliament debate on India’s human rights record in light of the farmers’ protest. 

This all stands in stark contrast to the way in which pro-BJP and Hindu Nationalist organizations and actors have been treated. The violent double standards in which the Indian state operates and treats minorities is stark, and one that many have been raising alarm bells over for years now. 

Now, we always knew India was a falling democracy - and has been for a while. However, it is worth noting that the rest of the world is now waking up to it as well.

It has been a rough few months for Team Modi as this global awakening occurs. 

The farmers’ protest has put India’s human rights abuses, attacks on basic civil liberties, and crumbling democratic pillars on full international display. 

However, it was never a secret who Modi is or what the stated goals of the BJP are. His history with the RSS and his aspirations to build a Hindu Rashtra were all well known before he became Prime Minister. The sad reality is that he is in power because of these things. Enough Indians agree with his Hindu nationalist dreams to have the BJP elected in two back-to-back majorities. 

What is also terrible is the way in which many western democracies and leaders have aided and abetted Modi’s rise - continuing to help push Indian state propaganda of it being a robust democracy with shared democratic values as the opposite becomes more clearly true. 

Reports and international scrutiny from institutes such as V-Dem are critical. If we are to ensure our loved ones in India stay safe, like those sitting outside Delhi in what has become one of the largest protests in history, then it will need the help of all of us around the world. We cannot trust Modi’s India, and its “democratic” institutions, to uphold the rights of its citizens on its own.  


Jaskaran Sandhu hails from Brampton, Canada, and is the co-founder of Baaz. He is a Senior Consultant at the public affairs agency Crestview Strategy. Jaskaran also previously served as Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada and as a Senior Advisor to Brampton’s Office of the Mayor. You can find Jaskaran on Twitter at @JaskaranSandhu_

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