Questions have been raised earlier on the credibility of perception-based indices that rank countries along various parameters based solely on subjective opinions. New insights on the methodology of V-Dem, the Variety of Democracy Indices have come up to the surface once again.
The Variety of Democracies (V-Dem) Indices employs a set of six indices to assess the state of democracy and measure their descent into autocracy. In this regard, these indices include- Liberal Democracy Index (LDI), Electoral Democracy Index (EDI), Liberal Component Index (LCI), Egalitarian Component Index (ECI), Participatory Component Index (PCI) and Deliberative Component Index (DCI).
It was in the 2021 report that India was considered as the “top 10 decliner” countries. This meant that according to their methodology India had declined to become an ‘electoral autocracy’.
Source: V-Dem Report 2021. Retrieved from: https://www.v-dem.net/documents/12/dr_2021.pdf
The case of India was categorically mentioned in the report which traced India’s alleged descent in the democracy scale as per the findings of the Liberal Democracy Index. It was interesting to note the bold assertions in the report. These reports claimed that India has become ‘as autocratic as Pakistan.’ Another curious aspect to note was the ascent of Myanmar into the category of ‘advancing democracy’ back in 2021 when the country was, and still is, grappling with the aftermath of a military coup that overthrew a democratically elected government.
The latest V-Dem report indicates India’s further decline in the Liberal Democracy Index (LDI), Electoral Democracy Index (EDI) as well as the Deliberative Component Index (DCI) but continues to categorise India as an ‘electoral democracy’.
The V-Dem 2022 labelled India as an “Electoral Autocracy”.
Source: V-Dem report 2022. Retrieved from: https://v-dem.net/media/publications/dr_2022.pdf
Additionally, Pakistan ranks at about 79 in the Deliberative Component Index (DCI) while India’s rank is reported to be 102. The Deliberative Component Index is said to measure the deliberative aspect of democracy which includes the decision making process and assesses the extent to which the political decisions are based on respectful dialogues and public reasoning. The 2021 report recorded India’s rank as 126 in the said index, however, the latest edition still reported a decline in India’s position despite an improvement in the ranking.
It could also be noted that there could be inconsistencies in between the various indices that are together used to create a holistic picture as a part of this report. India’s position is said to slide down along the Liberal Democracy Index, Electoral Democracy Index and the Deliberative Component Index however, there is no recorded decline in the positions accorded in the other indices- the Liberal Component Index, the Egalitarian Component Index and the Participatory Component Index.
This is important because this aspect clearly captures the anomalies that exist in the methodology of the indices that make them mutually inconsistent. The Liberal Component Index (LCI) measures the protection of individual and minority rights in a country and India has not seen a major decline in its LCI position as per the report however, its Liberal Democracy Index sees a sharp decline. Same is the case with measuring the position in the Egalitarian Component Index, something which assesses public participation including civil society in political processes. While India’s position remains consistent in this regard, the decline in the other indices paints a perplexing picture.
The evident inconsistencies makes it pertinent to question the methodology employed by the indices and the implications it will have for the country in the long run.
The ‘innovative’ methods mentioned in the final output of the report are nothing but arbitrary ‘expert’ judgements. The mere assumption at the outset of building this report seems to be questionable, i.e. the key features of democracy are not directly observable. This assumption further gives way to basing the results on subjective interpretations of a small number of experts. The index employs merely five experts per country to decode the information and provide an assessment on the situation of democracy along the relevant parameters. No information on the background of these experts, what field they specialise in and what is the basis of their observation as well as ‘expert judgement’ is available in the published reports.
The subjective assessments of such reports have been put to question before as well. However, this is not the only problem with the Variety of Democracy (V-Dem) Indices.
The Pakistan Connection
Apart from all the problems that exist with V-Dem, the one significant aspect in question is regarding the people associated with the creation of the reports. The explicit connection to Pakistan and their involvement in the politics of the country as well as sympathies with the Pakistani Army, are at the base of this assertion. The country coordinator from Pakistan, Noor Sitara has worked intensively with the Pakistan Foreign Ministry affiliated Foreign Services Academy and the Information Services Academy.
The member of the International Advisory Board for the V-Dem, Mr Aitraz Ahsan was the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of the country and also served as the Minister of Interior and Law under Benazir Bhutto’s tenure as the Prime Minister. The Regional Research Consultant from South-Central Asia, Asma Shakir Khwaja has been an Associate Professor in the National Defence University which is directly affiliated with the Pakistani Army. Apart from having close ties with the army, she has also been the Executive Director of the Centre for Strategic Studies (CISS) which is based in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
V-Dem’s director, Professor Staffan I. Lindenberg also appeared to have ties with Pakistan in some capacity. It was in 2019 that Lindenber was seen promoting Khwaja’s book which focuses on the pro-Pakistan narrative on the question of Kashmir. 2019 saw the development of direct engagement of Professor Lindenberg with the Pakistani establishment and the institutes affiliated with the Pakistani Army. It was also since 2019 that India is witnessing a sharp decline in its ranking on the indices. One could presume a nuanced relation between the two seemingly unrelated occurrences.
The purpose of highlighting the connection of these affiliated individuals to the Pakistani state is to expose the extent to which the report could be biased. It has been noted before that there exists a plethora of problems in the ‘subjective perceptions’ that are used as the basis for making assumptions within this report. However, the political affiliations of the people involved also indicates another layer to the questionable credibility of this report.
Irrespective of how inaccurate the procedure for these indices might be, there is still no denying the fact that these results have a tangible effect. India’s image has been tarnished globally due to these indices. The country rankings on the global perception based indices have a long term effect in determining a country’s economic and social engagements internationally as well. Therefore it becomes important to question the veracity of the methodology of their approach, that as it is clear now is based on just a handful of ‘subjective perceptions’.