India remains a paradox to those studying politics, for despite overwhelming odds it has remained a democracy since its independence from Britain in 1947. India’s democracy defies the Prezeworski and Lipset ideals that the financial state of a country is an indicator of how likely it is that a democracy will endure (Lipset, 1959) (Prezeworski et. al., 1996). India has overwhelming poverty in parts of the country, a deeply hierarchical society, as well as a large illiterate rural population, all of which should threaten the endurance of democracy. Although imperfect, India has maintained a stable democracy for nearly 70 years (with the exception of a two year “Emergency” under Indira Gandhi) (Kesselman et. al., 2007). India’s democracy has endured for two reasons. The first reason being the way the British colonized and ruled India, and the second reason being rooted in their nationalist movement.
India inherited and retained a well-oiled civil service from the British. The British sought to create coherence through the creation of central government (Kesselman et. al., 2007). This means that the British helped to create a relatively effective state structure and the newly liberated India did not have to go through a trial-and-error period to establish institutions once it gained independence from the British. The British also kept the Indians, although mostly the elite, involved in politics, so when the British left, there was civil servants that remained to ensure a more smooth transition.
The Indian nationalist movement laid the groundwork for democracy in India in that protests took place peacefully and by non-violent means (Kesselman et. al., 2007). Gandhi and the Indian National Congress Party (INC) were well-educated civil servants that led the nationalist movement. This movement mobilized the upper and middle classes against the British and helped to create a national identity.
Although India can be considered an enduring democracy, it has not performed well between elections. There are limited services to the poor, who still make up a large percent of the population. Although India has politically empowered its rural and urban poor through universal suffrage, illiteracy still remains in these populations, making it less likely that they will vote and therefore much less likely that they will get the education and health care services they need. Several scholars have criticized India (and have questioned whether it is, in fact, a democracy) by citing the outrageous corruption and human right’s issues that do not bode well in a democracy. An article in the LA Times states that India, while a democracy, is not complete due to the atrocities of the government onto the civil population (Gill, 2014). According to the author, India still lacks a government that has the credibility to build a lasting legacy of democratic pluralism for it’s billion citizens, 300+ languages, and multitude of religions (Gill, 2014). In a country with the possibility of one billion ballots, author Vinay Sahasrabuddhe states that India’s elections are “more impressive in form than substance.” (Ghosh 2014). He cites the deeply entrenched and unmovable leadership for these problems (Ghosh 2014). Given the corruption in the government, the lack of allocation of good and services to the poor, and disputes over religion, the question becomes not whether India is a democracy, but rather whose voices are being heard.
Gill, R (2014). “India’s Incomplete Democracy”. LA Times. Retrieved From http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-gill-sikh-india-modi-election-20140616-story.html
Ghosh, P (2014) “Is India Really a Democracy?” International Business Times. Retrieved From http://www.ibtimes.com/india-really-democracy-1553441
Kesselman, Mark, Joel Krieger, and William A. Joseph. Introduction to Comparative Politics. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2004.
Lipset, Sermour Martin . 1959. “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” The American Political Science Review, 53(1):69-86. *
Cheibub, Jose Antonio, Adam Przewoprski, Fernando Papaterra Limongi Neto, Micheal Alvarez. 1996. “What Makes Democracies Endure” Journal of Democracy 7(1): 39-55. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/jod/