On October 14, Home Minister Amit Shah addressed BJP members at a Karyakarta Sammelan in Goa. One of the claims Shah made during the address was that the strength of the Indian passport has increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He said, “Perception towards the country has changed. Those who travel abroad… this [Goa] is the state of sailors. Ask now, when the passport of India was shown in past and now… the moment Indian passport is shown… the face lights up with a smile… on the face of foreign staff and they enquire “You are from Modi Ji’s country?” The task of increasing the Indian passport’s value was done by PM Modi. This happened because [we form] a majoritarian government.”

Several media outlets, including The Indian Express, The Times of India, OneIndia and Newsd, reported this without verifying the veracity of the statement.

Change in India’s passport strength not significant, HPI rank at all time low

Based on Home Minister Shah’s statement, one cannot ascertain which source he is referring to measure the strength of the Indian passport. The strength of a passport means the number of countries one can access without a visa. The most commonly used index is Henley Passport Index (HPI). While there are other passport indexes, HPI has been cited by the Government of India. Two years ago, Alt News debunked a similar claim when it was made by PM Modi on Times Now. As of 2021, India’s rank is 90 which is 16 spots lower than the rank in 2013 under the leadership of former PM Manmohan Singh.

What is Henley Passport Index?

HPI ranks all passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa. The ranking is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). As per their website, “For each travel destination, if no visa is required for passport holders from a country or territory, then a score with a value = 1 is created for that passport.” To learn more about the methodology, visit their website.

In 2019, Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs V Muraleedharan cited Henley Passport Index data to respond to queries regarding Indian passport in the Lok Sabha. Responding to the question on passport strength, V Muraleedharan wrote, “These initiatives are expected to encourage other countries to reciprocate and facilitate the travel of Indian passport holders to their countries. As more countries permit Indian passport holders to visit Visa-Free or grant them Visa on Arrival facility, the rank of the Indian passport on the Henley Passport Index is expected to improve.”

India’s HPI rank during UPA vs BJP government

Henley Passport Index’s data is available from 2006 onwards. Thus, the index isn’t available for Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s term (1998-2004) and two years of Manmohan Singh’s term (2004-2005). The following table lists HPI rank and access to countries based on Indian passport from 2006 to 2021. PM Modi was elected in 2014.

YearGovtHPI RankAccess to countriesChange in access
2006UPA7125NA
2007UPA73Not listedNA
2008UPA7537Plus 12
2009UPA75Not listedNA
2010UPA7750Plus 13
2011UPA7853Plus 3
2012UPA8251Minus 2
2013UPA7452Plus 1
2014BJP7652No change
2015BJP8851Minus 1
2016BJP8552Plus 1
2017BJP8749Minus 3
2018BJP8160Plus 11
2019BJP8259Minus 1
2020BJP8258Minus 1
2021BJP9058No change

[Dislcaimer: The lastest HPI ranks for India in 2015 (84) and 2018 (86) have been revised since our report in 2019. Alt News wrote to Sarah Nicklin, Group Head of Public Relations at Henley & Partners. She said, “The reason they differ slightly is that we do quarterly updates of the index so the ranking shifts over the course of the year as visa policies change. However, for the historic ranking and scores, we always go with what it was in the last quarter of any particular year.”]

Time and again it has been claimed that PM Modi has increased the strength of the Indian passport. However, our passport has not seen a significant increase in access to countries. Under former PM Singh, the Indian passport’s highest access to countries was 52 countries in 2013, while under PM Modi it was 60 in 2018.

As of today, in 2021, an Indian passport can access 58 countries. This is more than the countries we could access in 2013. So why is India’s 2021 HPI rank (90) lower when compared with 2013 (74)? The reason is simple, it’s because the HPI rank is dependent on the performance of other countries.

We asked Nicklin the following question, “Based on HPI, is it accurate to say that India’s passport has strengthened since 2013? If yes, would you say that the change is significant?” She replied, “No, the strength of the Indian passport relative to the other 198 passports on the Henley Passport Index has not strengthened since 2013. Overall, there has been a decline in its ranking from 74th on the index in 2013 to 90th position in 2021 (a fall of 16 places over the past 8 years).” The following chart, shared by Nicklin, shows the change in India’s HPI rank over the years.

To conclude, the Indian passport can access more countries without VISA under the BJP government when compared to the UPA government. However, since 2013, Indian passports can access only six more countries when compared to 2021. Furthermore, the Indian passport’s strength has decreased globally as India’s HPI rank has dropped to 90. Thus, Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement that PM Modi has enhanced the value of the Indian passport is misleading and not worth boasting as an achievement.

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About the Author

Archit is a fact-checking journalist at Alt News since November 2019. Previously, he has worked as a producer at a TV news channel and as a reporter at a leading English-language daily. In addition to work experience in media, he has also worked as a fundraising and communication manager at an NGO.