No method in the madness – A new critique of the V-Dem democracy rankings highlights where the problem lies

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Source: The post is based on an article No method in the madness – A new critique of the V-Dem democracy rankings highlights where the problem lies” published in Business Standard on 1st March 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Governance

Relevance: Issues associated with ranking of India in V-Dem Report.

News: Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) releases Democracy Report every year. It has consistently degraded India’s ranking for the past few years in its report.

What are the reasons behind downgrading the rank of India by V-Dem?

India was ranked 93 out of 140 countries in the Democracy Report, 2022.

V-Dem rankings are based on five sub-indices, namely, 1) elected officials, 2) universal suffrage, 3) clean elections, 4) freedom of association, and 5) freedom of expression.

The first two criteria (elected officials and universal suffrage) are scored on the basis of an analysis of the constitutions of the countries being ranked. Hence, if the constitution of a country claims it “elects” its officials, it gets a perfect score.

India falls short of a perfect score because till 2021 two Lok Sabha MPs were “selected” (two representatives of the Anglo-Indian community) and not elected.

However, this law was repealed in 2021, but still becomes the reason for V-Dem to give India a less than perfect score under this head in 2022.

The remaining three parameters (clean elections, freedom of association, and freedom of expression) are ranked purely with the help of scientific experts.

Political science experts judge a democracy on their own parameters. Therefore, there may be variations about a knowledgeable expert’s views on Indian democracy.

It may be subject to individual political, ideological or personal biases. For example, India’s rating on clean elections has fallen from 3.6 to 2.3 since 2014 despite free and fair elections conducted by the Election Commission.

This shows that there are flaws with the choices of indicators, unexplainable decisions, and vulnerability to expert biases in the V-Dem Report.

What measures can be taken by India to improve its ranking?

First, it should engage with V-Dem to modify its methodology so that it is truly reflective of trends in Indian democracy.

Second, it must evolve its own standards on how democracy must be ranked in a diverse and multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and pluralistic society like India.

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