Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Dec 06, 2022 Updated 27 Days ago
After the implosion of Doing Business rankings, irresponsible and opinionated ‘methodologies’ being mainstreamed by World Bank is hurting the global South; the G20 needs to end this manipulation
G20 needs to push rankings reforms at the World Bank Anywhere you look, a White West narrative supremacy is running amok. Part of that ‘supremacy’ lies in real numbers—high per capita income, invention of technology and innovation, a powerful military-industrial complex, development that is an aspiration, and consumption that doesn’t need to bother about earnings. But a large and increasingly vocal expression of that supremacy is accentuated by manipulated narratives. So, while an impression is created that global rankings and short-listing of countries on parameters from democracy to hunger are based on objective facts and merit, an analytical dissection shows its enfeebled innards and indefensible outputs. We are thankful to a new Working Paper from India’s Economic Advisory Council to Prime Minister (EAC-PM), which explores and exposes this manoeuvring of the West, by the West, and for the West against rising nations such as India.

While an impression is created that global rankings and short-listing of countries on parameters from democracy to hunger are based on objective facts and merit, an analytical dissection shows its enfeebled innards and indefensible outputs.

Authored by Sanjeev Sanyal and Aakanksha Arora, both of whom work with EAC-PM, Why India Does Poorly on Global Perception Indices brings a critical and fresh approach to such rankings that, sadly, lay bare the subjective and manipulated narratives we have been swallowing whole for decades. Rather than being robust, objective, and methodology-based indices that can withstand the scrutiny of questions and the test of rigour, these rankings are little more than the opinions of a few opaque voices, whose selection process is shrouded in secrecy. Today, it’s easy for anyone to cobble together indices on freedom and democracy—basic facts are available at the click of a mouse. Easier still if they are based on perceptions—opinions and agendas over facts. Even easier, when echo chambers of ideology resonate and dance to their tune. In the process, narrative building turns academia, think tanks and media into accomplices that celebrate the fall of India’s rankings. The intellectual facts-base of narratives thus created, these indices infiltrate the otherwise robust datasets of the World Bank, lend an air of credibility and, through it, impact real actions. These include—but are not restricted to—influencing credit rating decisions (another global institution that needs guidance from India’s capital markets regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) that has tightened its regulatory rope on rating agencies); direct investments by large corporations; and indirect investments by institutional investors such as pension funds. On their own, these rankings can be given the place of deserved honour in the dustbins of irrelevance. But once they enter 1818 H Street in Washington DC, they become weapons of (investment) destruction. The Sanyal-Arora paper interrogates three such weaponised indices.

First, the Freedom in the World Index

Constructed by the US-based Freedom House, this index claims to track and rank countries in political rights and civil liberties for almost 50 years and is “used on a regular basis by policymakers, journalists, academics, activists, and many others.” The 2022 report has been put together by 128 analysts and 50 advisors for 195 countries and 15 territories. Funded by Google Inc., the Hurford Foundation, Jyllands-Posten Foundation, Lilly Endowment Inc., Meta Platforms Inc., and the National Endowment for Democracy, this index sees Jammu and Kashmir as a separate territory and labels it ‘not free’; while India is labelled ‘partially free’.

The 10 questions on which the India downgrades have happened are hilarious and have turned data masquerading as scholarship into a joke.

The last time India was downgraded to ‘partially free’ was during the Emergency years (1975-76) and the early liberalisation years (1991-96). The 10 questions on which the India downgrades have happened are hilarious and have turned data masquerading as scholarship into a joke. “Our analysis of the annual reports show that they use some media reports and cherry pick some issues to make the judgements,” the Sanyal-Arora paper states, using sharp numbers to cut the dark underbelly of these rankings. In the urge to splurge narratives, it seems none of the 128 analysts and 50 advisors of Freedom House cared to read these numbers to support their arguments. Perhaps, they use narrativistics, not statistics, to prove a point. But even in the subjective understanding of democracy and freedom, the Freedom House falters and exposes itself. North Cyprus is considered to be a ‘free territory’ and scores higher than India. This is a Turkish-controlled area recognised only by Turkey, and one that has “ethnically cleansed its indigenous Greek population”. Worse, there are recently independent countries that do not have a track record of developed democratic institutions but score higher than India. Timor Leste became independent in 2002, Montenegro in 2006, and both score higher than India. Mongolia’s one-party system ended in 1990 and scores higher than India.

Second, the EIU Democracy Index

This index comes from the UK-based EIU, the consulting arm of The Economist, a weekly magazine that calls itself a newspaper. Using 60 questions dispersed across five categories—electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties—it has been publishing a Democracy Index since 2006, around four kinds of regimes: Full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime, and authoritarian regime. India comes under ‘flawed democracy’, standing with good neighbours such as the US, France, and Spain. Of the 60 questions, 45 are answered by ‘experts’, whose numbers, nationalities, credentials or fields of expertise are not revealed. The rest are answered by public opinion surveys, mainly the World Values Survey, the last of which was conducted in 2012 for India. Effectively, therefore, India’s score is based “only on expert opinions since 2012 till today,” the Sanyal-Arora paper states. The subjectivity firmly embedded, India’s rank has fallen from 27 in 2014 to 53 in 2020; the subsequent rise to 46 rank in 2021 is because of the repeal of the farm laws, Despite a brutal suppression of voices by Canada, including the declaration of Emergency in February 2022, the country maintains its ‘full democracy’ status—colour and geography matter when evaluating democracies.

Malaysia, that has had a continuing political crisis since 2019, stands at 39. Under ‘political culture’, India’s score is 5.0, less than Lesotho that faced a military coup in 2014 and emergencies declared in 2020 and 2022; Sri Lanka and Hong Kong that have faced and are facing political turmoil have higher scores, the Sanyal-Arora paper states.

The EIU report makes no attempt to hide its ideological and political glee: “In India, year-long protests by farmers eventually forced the government to repeal the farm laws that it had introduced in 2020. The victory of the protesters, as well as some election defeats for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, showed that there are mechanisms and institutions in place to allow government accountability to the electorate between national elections.” India is ranked 46th. But what’s the peer comparison? Malaysia, that has had a continuing political crisis since 2019, stands at 39. Under ‘political culture’, India’s score is 5.0, less than Lesotho that faced a military coup in 2014 and emergencies declared in 2020 and 2022; Sri Lanka and Hong Kong that have faced and are facing political turmoil have higher scores, the Sanyal-Arora paper states. If this is the robustness and the rigour behind EIU’s Democracy Index, executives taking such reports seriously and companies subscribing to its other products of country, risk and industry analyses need to worry about whether they are being manipulated into directing their business decisions based on ideological and subjective considerations. One last question: Why is Mexico geographically situated outside North America—is it to ensure that the colour mix of the continent doesn’t darken?

Third, the V-Dem Indices

Playing with five self-important indices and housed in the University of Gothenburg, the Sweden-based Variety of Democracy (V-Dem) claims to produce “the largest global dataset on democracy with over 30 million data points for 202 countries from 1789 to 2021. Involving over 3,700 scholars and other country experts, V-Dem measures hundreds of different attributes of democracy.” This it does through six indices—Liberal Democracy Index, Electoral Democracy Index, Liberal Component Index, Egalitarian Component Index, Participatory Component Index, and Deliberative Component Index—capturing 473 variables. These are divided into two parts, factual and evaluative. The factual includes data on election type, minimum voting age, percentage of population with suffrage and so on. According to V-Dem, the evaluative indicators are collated from “five experts per country-year observation,” such as senior analysts, editors, judges, of which two-thirds are nationals of and/or residents in the country. The Sanyal-Arora paper questions the questions V-Dem asks to point out anomalies in its methodology, which compromise objectivity and make inaccurate inter-country comparisons. These include questions around freedom from torture, media bias, or centralisation of legislative candidate selection. It asks questions on “direct popular vote” that are irrelevant to a large democracy like India but core for a smaller democracy like Switzerland. Here, India and the US get a Zero, less than Afghanistan, Belarus, or Cuba.

The factual includes data on election type, minimum voting age, percentage of population with suffrage and so on. According to V-Dem, the evaluative indicators are collated from “five experts per country-year observation,” such as senior analysts, editors, judges, of which two-thirds are nationals of and/or residents in the country.

Predictably, the scores for India have been falling since 2014. Further, India was downgraded to “Electoral Autocracy” in 2021—whatever that means—with the terrorist state Pakistan, failing state Haiti, and the repressive state Iran, as neighbours. This labelling resonates with the Freedom House report, both of whose downgrades coincide with the Emergency years of political repression, suspended elections, and censored press. Apparently, India is an “Autocratiser”. Analysing the V-Dem indices, the Sanyal-Arora paper shows how India has done well on objective parameters but fallen short on opinion-based parameters. India ranks 93, below Lesotho (60), Timor Leste (64), Nepal (71) and Bhutan (65). “This,” the Sanyal-Arora paper says, “is a reflection of the arbitrariness in the way scoring and ranking is done.” The paper also asks an obvious question, a key input to evaluate whether a country is a democracy or not: “Is the head of state democratically elected?” If taken seriously, it would sharply reduce the scores for, and end, the ‘home bias’ narrative of V-Dem for, Sweden, Norway, UK, Denmark, Belgium, and Netherlands, all of which are constitutional monarchies. “Not only is such a question pertinent to a measure of democracy, it can also be answered objectively.”

Why bother—and the way forward

Left to themselves, these indices and their authors can play the elite game, where, as Amish Tripathi writes in War of Lanka, there is an “overproduction of elites,” but with little space to express that elitism. The result is to look outside, and try and create one-God, one-Religion, one-Democracy. Their unipolarity has worked so far. But now, following this paper as well as brutal take downs of other indices by Indian scholars—see how Bibek Debroy has argued how the ‘Hunger Index’ has “trivialised hunger,” for instance—a new interrogation of this White West supremacy will gather momentum.

The World Bank introspects and puts an end to such subjective rankings in its World Governance Indicators or any other indicators that have not yet been put under scrutiny but will.

Further, in a free world, people are free to build castles of self-importance on fundamentals of intellectual drains. The problem comes when such indices are powered by ideological funding and lobbying to influence corporate and institutional money decisions. That too is acceptable: If you have a view, and the money to push it, go ahead. But what is not acceptable is the legitimacy given by multilateral institutions such as the World Bank to such ideologues. Already reeling under the onslaught of wilful manipulation by its executives at the behest of China in its now discarded Doing Business rankings and reports, if this continues, it is only a matter of time that the World Bank itself loses its credibility. By legitimising such ideological fluff into its World Governance Indicators produced by Daniel Kaufmann of Brookings Institution and Aart Kraay of the World Bank, which, according to Sanyal-Arora calculations, inform the credit rating agencies to the extent of 18-20 percent, the institution is looking at another looking at another humiliation ahead. There are two ways to end this series of abominations masquerading as intellectual inputs. First, voluntary: The World Bank introspects and puts an end to such subjective rankings in its World Governance Indicators or any other indicators that have not yet been put under scrutiny but will. It needs to reform and make objective the way it sources inputs for its reports that impact financial flows to and from the global South. And second, coercive: Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushes the G20 under the India Presidency to bring intellectual- and facts-based order into this ideological and bias-laden chaos.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.

Author

Gautam Chikermane

Gautam Chikermane

Gautam Chikermane is a Vice President at ORF. His areas of research are economics, politics and foreign policy. A Jefferson Fellow (Fall 2001) at the East-West ...

Read More +