In football, India is ranked 169th in the world. That's fine for we really can't play football when it comes to the big stage. But when the country gets a rank of 131 (out of 179) in the latest Press Freedom Index (PFI), then one must understand that not everything is right for India proudly calls itself to be the largest democracy on earth. The largest democracy with its press freedom standard stuck between countries like Angola and Burundi. Even Nepal, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are ranked ahead of India! In the Internet freedom category, India has been declared to be 'partly free'.
What is more alarming that India has been slipping every year in terms of press freedom. In 2009, its ranking was 105, which slipped further to 122 next year. If freedom of the media works as an indicator to strengths of a democracy, then are we in a danger of seeing the bubble burst?
In a way, yes we are. No matter what the numbers of the index actually say and the extent of satisfaction that one can accumulate from the fact that India still fares better than Pakistan and China, there can be no denying the fact that the word 'liberty' is somehow losing its shine, albeit slowly.
Is Indian democracy a flawed political model?
The paradox of liberty repeatedly coming under attack in the world's largest democracy can be explained if we look at the nation's tryst with democracy. The Indian democracy is primarily a political model of governance. India travelled a road different from many of the primitive societies of Africa, for example, for it was fortunate to have a set of enlightened leaders at the helm. The leadership was secular and liberal and hence borrowed the western practices that had also affected the country as a formal colony.
A hybrid was reached through a marriage of western principles and indigenous aspirations and a democratic model was built from the top, assuming that it would encompass the distant corners of the society in due time. The founding leadership, because it had an elitist background, did not take into account that a truly democratic and pro-liberal society grow from the bottom and spreads on the side.
Content with a functional political democracy, the fathers of the nation had overlooked both the vertical and horizontal growth of a democratic national mind. The social and economic aspects were not given the importance they had deserved to make the democratic nation-building process a successful mission. The consequences were waiting to unfold once the enlightened leadership departed and gave way to ruthless agents of the only democracy that the former had nurtured, i.e., the political variant.
Spirits democracy have failed both vertically or horizontally
Since the Indian leaders in the formative years did not emphasise on the importance of basic issues in the society in terms of primary education and other welfare measures even though they had talked about an elusive socialistic growth, the capacity of the democratic state did not sustain much longer under the weight of a highly fragmented and undemocratic society. This lack of a vertical growth from below has been a bane for the Indian nation and works against its well-being till this day.
In terms of horizontal growth of the democracy, the possibility was nailed as soon as we had decided to reorganise the provinces on linguistic lines rather than administrative viability. In a tragic repeat of history, we continued to divide ourselves internally in the post-independence era. Jawaharlal Nehru's bowing before the parochial demands and blackmailing was symbolic of what India's future (and now present) would emerge into. We have failed to grow a uniform India and it is a big failure.
Today, when we see regional satraps going overboard with their respective loyalists and smash anything that comes on their way, the real nature of our democracy gets exposed. There can be no democracy if we really don't have a socio-economic democracy. Even the facade of political democracy that makes us a 'self-proclaimed world beater' can not be guaranteed a safe future. The slipping rankings in the PFI just reflect India's grassroot woes.