BANGALORE - The Indian government is working on a massive publicity exercise to correct its international image by challenging India's low rankings in 29 global indices, including those of press freedom, terrorism, hunger and business innovation.
Before every global index is released, the government plans to organise public information campaigns highlighting the state's best practices and reforms.
After the index is released, it will ensure discussions on the government's outstanding achievements through wide media coverage, and encourage TV and radio stations, as well as the civil society to publicise them at the community level.
Unnamed state officials revealed these plans to Indian news website The Print. Other news outlets have published responses from leaders of the opposition, critiquing these plans.
This plan for broad image correction comes after the Indian government's strong reactions to several global rankings recently.
It questioned the data and methods used in the Global Terrorism Index released by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace. The 2019 index put India as the seventh-worst terrorism-affected country among 163 countries, after Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan and Somalia. India fared worse than conflict-ridden South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine and Lebanon. In the 2018 index, the country was ranked eighth.
The Indian government think tank Niti Aayog called the ranking "surprising" and in an April report, questioned the index's analysis methodology and lack of expertise on South Asia.
The Niti Aayog demands that the terrorism index rely less on media reports and engage more with governments.
In the World Press Freedom Index 2020 released by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, India ranked 142nd among 180 countries, slipping two steps each year from 2018 (138 in 2018, 140 in 2019).
In May this year, the central government said it had already set up a committee before the press freedom index was released, to work on improving India's ranking on future rankings.
Called the Index Monitoring Cell, the committee will work under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Most members are government officials, but there are two media representatives as well: Mr P. Sainath, fierce media critic and editor of People's Archive of Rural India, and Mr Rajat Sharma, editor of Hindi news channel India TV and anchor of a popular interview-based talk show.
India also contested its 102nd ranking among 117 nations in the Global Hunger Index 2019, compiled by the International Food Policy Research Institute. Niti Aayog members said that the data used was outdated, and the index did not adopt standardised approaches. The country ranked 103rd in the 2018 index.
In a paper published in October 2019, members from the state think tank's nutrition division argued that the global hunger index did not do "justice in capturing significant improvements" in stunting and under-five child mortality.
In March this year, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown to battle Covid-19, media reports captured millions of jobless and stranded migrants walking hundreds of kilometres back to their villages, children in tow.
Amid stories of economic chaos and debilitating hunger, the government launched a booklet to highlight its efforts that benefited the poor, women, farmers and migrants, officials told Indian news channel NDTV.
India also protested its 52nd ranking among 129 countries on the 2019 Global Innovation Index (GII), which measures business innovation. The government said the index used "wrong indicators". It is published by Cornell University, business school Insead and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a specialised agency of the United Nations.
Mr Rahul Gandhi, a member of the Indian National Congress, the main opposition of Mr Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, tweeted: "Economic slump, unemployment, Chinese aggression ail our country. (Government of India) GOI: Let's spend taxpayers' money on 'image correction'."