COVID-19: A Crisis of Rights and Democracy in India

This paper examines the response to the pandemic in India, highlighting four main features: lack of transparency, executive monopoly, suppression of civil liberties and reckless management. The executive in India perpetuated a rule of secrecy by announcing lockdowns belatedly, setting up an opaque relief fund, and promoting misinformation on crucial aspects of the pandemic response. During the crisis period, India witnessed a concentration of powers at the centre, with very little role for the states and other players in decision making. Legislative and judicial accountability suffered patent setbacks. Further, the government succeeded in curtailing human rights, including the right to political mobilisation and speech, through arrests, vilification and propaganda. The paper argues that India needs to revive the principles of transparency, accountability and protection of human rights, to resist the sliding away of democracy and ensure preparedness for future emergencies.