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Demonizing a Democracy: Hindus of Georgia PAC hosts talk with Dr. Salvatore Babones

Atlanta, GA, July 25, 2023: Hindus of Georgia PAC organized an event named “Demonizing a Democracy …A Factual analysis by Dr. Salvatore Babones” on July 14, 2023, in Atlanta. The purpose of the program was to conduct an analysis of various rankings on India, based on facts and research, said a press release issued by the PAC. 

Dr. Salvatore Babones is a quantitative comparative sociologist whose current research focuses on the political sociology of democracy. He has also published papers on economic development in post-socialist transition economies and quantitative methods for cross-national comparisons. He is the author/editor of fourteen books and several dozen academic research articles. He earned his MS (statistics) and Ph.D. (sociology) from Johns Hopkins University. His 2018 book The New Authoritarianism was named among the ‘Best on Politics’ by the Wall Street Journal. Salvatore is currently researching a book on Indian democracy. 

Dr. Salvatore Babones

The event was attended by more than 200 members of the Indian American diaspora at Gokuldham Haveli, Atlanta. Well organized and engaging, the event was led by Rajeev Menon, moderated by Suresh Krishnamurthy along with Shobha Swamy as an emcee. Amongst the prominent community leaders attending the lecture were Prof. Jagdish Sheth, Dr. Bharat Barai, Pravin Patel, Subhash Patel, Ashok Patel, Ketan Goswamy, Dhiru Shah & Veena Katdare. 

Rajeev Menon.

The event began with Jugal Malapani and Ketan Goswamy giving a brief introduction of Hindus of Georgia PAC and urged the attendees to join it and get actively involved in the mainstream American political arena and get their voice heard on several social and political issues affecting them. 

The main part of the event began by Rajeev Menon introducing Dr. Salvatore Babones who had flown to Atlanta to address the Indian American community on his research on the projection of India by some of the prominent international agencies including The United States Commission on international religious freedom, an independent bipartisan agency created by US Congress in 1998 and Sweden’s Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem).  

Dr. Babones started his hour long talk by stating that the international democracy evaluations rating of India is very poor as per the above sited agencies. He also stated that Press Freedom surveys rate India amongst the worst countries in the world. PM Modi and BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) are criticized for violating the rights of India’s 200 million Muslims (roughly 15% of India’s population). Mr. Modi has been accused of complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots in which about 700 Muslims and 250 Hindus were killed even though the Supreme Court of India has absolved him from such involvement. 

He stated that President Biden’s current ambassador to India and ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom have accused Mr. Modi and BJP for anti-Muslim bias. He also referred to the statement by Congress Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar (Democrat) that unless the US takes action to stop it, “There is going to be a genocide of over 200 million Muslims in India. The USCIR (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) considers India an ‘egregious violator of religious freedom’ for its treatment of Muslims. Challenging these accusations, Dr. Babones stated that such democracy and freedom of press evaluations are highly contentious, and the ratings are in the eyes of the beholder.  

He cited the 2019-2020 Pew Research Center’s Nationally- representative survey on the Indian Muslims. The survey was conducted amongst 29,999 Indian households focusing on freedom of religion. It was conducted in 17 languages with a response of 86%, one of the most comprehensive surveys ever conducted on religion in India. Nearly 85% of Muslims responded that they were happy to live in India without any prejudice from the majority Hindus. Only 15% of Muslims sited prejudice against them. He stated that such accusations by these agencies are cherry-picking from a population of 1.3 billion people. 

Moving forward his analysis of defending Indian democracy, he talked at length about the V-Dem (Sweden’s Varieties of Democracy Institute). In 2022 report (based on 2021 data), V-Dem gave India the ranking of 100th in the world of electoral democracy, down from 65th in 2014. Though The V-Dem democracy rankings are highly appreciated and widely cited, they suffer from serious flows. Its score is based on an analysis of Elected officials and Universal Suffrage.  

The V-Dem’s index on Universal Suffrage gave 131 countries perfect score for ‘Elected Officials’ among which included are Belarus, Cuba, Libya, Palestine (West Bank), Russia, Syria, and Vietnam. The V-Dem documentation notes that for this sub-index “a popular election is minimally defined and also includes Sham elections with limited Suffrage and no competition. 

He further commented that as per the V-Dam’s sub-index ‘a popular election is minimally defined and includes sham elections with limited suffrage and no competition. Among the 174 countries given perfect scores for ‘Universal Suffrage’ include China, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, Venezuela and Palestine (Gaza).  

Commenting on the V-Dem’s documentation, he stated that the agency notes that in their documentation this sub-index considers only “Legal de jure” restrictions, not restrictions that may be operative in practice. “ 

Finally winding up his talk, Dr. Babones advised the American Indians as well as the Indian government to refute publicly such malicious & agenda driven Indian democracy and government surveys and propaganda of these so-called ‘Human Rights’ advocates. While it may not be possible to win the battle against these well-trenched agencies, it is incumbent for all Indians to fight back such negative publicity.  

He stated that he has formed a think tank named Indian Century Roundtable consisting of Australian academics and politicians who are dedicated to providing detailed, objective research on India and its liberal democratic institutions that is free from political leanings or ideological interference.  

The event was concluded with the Vote of Thanks by Rajeev Menon. He thanked Dr. Babones for accepting the invitation and making a special trip to Atlanta sacrificing his family time and giving a speech based on research and facts. He also thanked Mr. Pravin Patel & Mr. Subash Patel for their ardent financial and logistical support to make the event successful. He also thanked all the sponsors, supporters and volunteers who made this event a grant success.  

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