What is striking is that the media has no interest in reporting the background to which they give out the news
India’s most reputable news agency, the Press Trust of India, reported last week that “India ranks 42 in 55 countries on International Intellectual Property Index”. The story praised what was being done on this front in India, but it did not say that India had fallen from 40th place in 2021 and from 25th place (out of 25) in 2014.
If we are doing great things in this space, why is our rank not improving? This the story did not say.
In the Smart City Index, which began to be compiled globally in 2019, India had four cities that were ranked — Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad. The index monitors health and safety, opportunities, mobility and governance.
Bengaluru fell from 79th place to 93rd, Mumbai from 78th to 90th, Delhi from 68th to 89th and Hyderabad from 67th to 92nd.
Of course, our government will not tell you about this, though there will be much talk about how smart our cities have got in New India. Similarly, in The Economist’s Global Liveability Index, two Indian cities made it — Delhi, which fell from 110th to 118th place, and Mumbai, that went down from 115th to 124th.
Mind you, many of these indicators come from those places where we want to be seen in a good light, such as Davos. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Economic Competitiveness Index, India fell from 40th place to 68th place. In its Gender Gap Index, India has fallen from 114th to 135th rank.
We are often told how cheap and great India’s digital network is. What remains unsaid is that India is the world leader in Internet shutdowns and more than half of all government-enforced Internet bans across the world happen in this “mother of democracy”.
In the Rule of Law Index, India has fallen from 66th place to 75th, and when we see what is happening all around us — the constant misuse of the investigative agencies, the frequency of the lynching of minorities, the regularity with which the police from BJP-ruled states attack Opposition leaders (the most recent cases being those of Pawan Khera and Jignesh Mevani) in other states, the indefinite jailing without bail of activists and dissenters — this does not surprise us at all. India and the subcontinent in general have always been a chaotic and anarchic place but things appear to be going from bad to worse. And this is true for any number of places that we look.
For all of the pious words that we are offered on freedom of expression, the number of demands for takedowns and bans that Twitter has received from India have gone from single digits in a year to thousands. This is because any criticism of the government and particularly that of the Prime Minister is now intolerable in the world’s largest democracy.
Have you heard the words “ease of doing business”? Yes, of course you have. But what you may not know is that India has fallen on the Global Economic Freedom Index (monitoring the role of law, government size, regulatory efficiency and open markets) from 120th place to 131st. This is because saying something is easy and doing it is difficult. And when there is no accountability from the media or any other place about what you say and cannot do, you can keep saying it.
In the Fragile States Index (formerly known as the failed states index), India has slid consistently since 2014. Why? Because the index measures social cohesion, along with the economy and the polity, and a strong case can be made out that we have fallen on all of these.
The one index that the government kept harping about was the World Bank’s ease of doing business index. Unfortunately, that index has been discontinued a couple of years ago after it was found that some countries were fudging the data. India was not among the nations that were suspected of doing so, but there was another problem that some media organisations pointed out here. The rating was only for two cities and only for listed companies above a certain size. And further, the rating could easily be gamed if minor changes were made to procedure. With a sharp focus on these minor changes, it was possible to really improve your rating while having no real change on the ground in terms of the “ease of doing business”. So, we rose, till such time as the rating was discontinued.
Now there is nothing left to talk about. The list of things we have fallen behind on is quite long and I have compiled it for one of my books, and it is troublesome that with each new edition, changes need to be made in the data because we continue to slide on so many fronts. I have written about this before, and one reason for that is that the rhetoric that we are fed daily needs to be measured against performance and the facts. That is simply not happening.
Apart from anything else, what is striking is that the media has no interest in reporting the background to which they give out the news. To say that India is ranked somewhere, without giving the necessary background and perspective, is to not cover the real story.