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It is Freedom House that’s only ‘partly’ fair

A lazily applied label in the first paragraph of the Freedom House report gives its motives away. Under the section ‘Status Change’ the American think tank explains why India’s democratic status has declined from Free to Partly Free under the Modi regime. It cites a ‘’multiyear’’ pattern in which the ‘’…Hindu nationalist government and its allies have presided over rising political violence and discriminatory policies affecting the Muslims population…’’. Notice the label ‘’Hindu nationalist government’’.

By deploying this appellation the authors of the Freedom House report are admitting that they began their examination from the pre-conceived stand point that the Modi government is committed to the welfare of only one community – the Hindus.

Even the worst critics of the Modi regime would be hard pressed to establish that the NDA has drawn up policies to advantage one section of the Indian population exclusively over others. Unlike, for example, former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh who gratuitously declared that Muslims must have the first right to India’s natural resources and then pushed the UPA into announcing schemes benefitting the community, the NDA has not mocked secularism.

Other organs of the state, Parliament and the Courts during Prime Minister Modi’s tenure have enacted and reinforced progressive social legislation. Instant triple talaq has been abolished, gay sex decriminalized, right to privacy fire-walled and women have been granted equal rights to pray in thus far male only places of worship. Even when state governments have enacted legislation impinging upon the private lives of two consenting adults the courts have been quick to restrain police who filed cases under the laws. In the not too distant past beleaguered citizens were often left disappointed by one or more institutions of the state. Surely, this is progress towards greater freedom?

It’s not just about the use of a loaded appellation. The Freedom House report is also based, by its own admission, on the opinions of ‘’observers’’ and ‘’external consultants’’. Did they trick Freedom House into concluding that the NDA has launched an assault on the political rights of Muslims through CAA and by selectively prosecuting them for the Delhi Riots? We will never know. But, had the authors of the Freedom House report cared to conduct a basic fact check they would have realized that the CAA law has nothing to do with Indian Muslims.

Drawing upon the civilizational principle of ‘’Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’’ (the world is one family) governments preceding the NDA had flagged the need for a law like the CAA to rescue minority citizens of Pakistan (and other Islamic nations) from zealots. If today, opposition parties have done a summersault on the CAA it says a lot more about their opportunism than the provisions of the law. It is indeed, mystifying that Freedom House has not only not taken this into consideration but has also overlooked that every year India welcomes thousands of Muslim refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. This practice continues.

Second, police records available at the click of a mouse would have revealed to Freedom House that an almost equal number of Hindus and Muslims have been charged with crimes by the police in the context of the 2020 Delhi riots. Of late, there have been instances when the courts have also freed under trials rebuking the police for its over reach. How is any of this indicative of selective discrimination against Muslims?

A methodology relying on ‘’observers’’ and ‘’external sources’’ can never be sound. Who are these so-called ‘’observers’’? What are their antecedents? Can anyone at Freedom House attest to have filtered for bias the observations made by these external consultants? If so, is there any proof to show that this system of basic checks and balances exists?

Globally, Freedom House and its ratings are being called into question. One prominent researcher concludes that the ratings may look scientific but they’re actually subjective. In the 1970s, Freedom House rating reports were produced by one single social scientist called Raymond Gastil who himself later claimed that the reports were based on his ‘’hunches and intuitions’’. While a team of analysts and advisers have since taken over from Gastil the subjectivity in their reporting clearly lingers on.

Recently, an American publication called The National Review concluded that the once “bi-partisan’’ institution had taken a “strong partisan turn to the left” in examining nations led by conservative parties. To justify its findings the publication looked at the Freedom House report from 2018 on five free countries with conservative administrations – The United States, Israel, Great Britain, Poland and Denmark. The National Review observed a pronounced leftist bias in Freedom House rating scores while adjudicating on issues which traditionally divide societies: immigration, refugees, border security, criminal justice, gender equity and labour relations.

If in 2018 the Freedom House report exhibited bias against five nations is it a co-incidence that in its latest report the conservative NDA’s record on upholding freedoms has been rated poorly on more or less exactly the same parameters?

Unsurprisingly, in the face of mounting scrutiny and criticism Freedom House has taken to admitting an “element of unavoidable subjectivity” in its reporting. Given this, the Indian government need not have bothered with putting out a point-by-point rebuttal of speculative conclusions by Freedom House.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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