Ashutosh Varshney in his paper ‘why democracy survives’ says that India is theoretically counter-intuitive because it defies the odds against which democracy is supposed to stand. In his idea poverty, widespread illiteracy, and a deeply hierarchical social structure are inhospitable conditions for functioning of democracy.
Yet in spite of it all India has maintained its democratic institution (almost infallibly) since past 67 years. Till date we have had 12 parliamentary elections, 7 federal elections and several state assembly elections. Election turnout keeps rising every year with increasing participation by once-marginal groups. The question however is why has the prediction of an imminent collapse of Indian democracy not come true? The answer shall be given in no less complicated terms than the question itself, borrowing from the works of eminent scholars such as Bashiruddin Ahmed, Rajni Kothari, James Manor, Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph and Myron Weiner.

If we see from an historical perspective, there would be no debate in the fact that Democracy was fought for by the Indians, not just given on a platter by the British. Although, there is no doubt that the world’s largest democracy has adopted from a British-style institution and our leaders have had their fare-share of exposure during the colonial era; the nation building moment and every martyr’s death for the country was a step to the ladder of India’s freedom. So, there should be no qualm that India and its people will not let go of its hard-earned democratic status so easily.

According to Barrington Moore from an Economic perspective, various Asian and European countries achieved industrialization much before India could; mostly through commercialisation of agriculture and by using the surplus (of labour, food, savings) achieved from it for industrial development. Nehru on the other hand chooses democracy over development and extracted resources for industries from urban savings and foreign aids instead of exploiting poor farmers. In India
democracy has survived even though peasantry has not disappeared.

Ethnic conflict

Ethnic conflict has been the most persistent, visible and virulent source of political violence in the developing world, and has a potential to destruct a country’s democracy. India also has also been hardly spared, having suffered from Hindu-Muslim riots, caste-based strife, insurgencies in Kashmir and the Northeast and Telengana issue and various language based riots. However democracy has been able to survive mostly because almost all conflicts were dispersed or locally specific, they were not central and did not cut across the whole country, thus maintain its unity. India has always maintained the ideology of subcultural pluralism and Hindu majoritarianism is not likely to come to power.

Last but not the least India was privileged that her first generation of post-independence leaders compelled to subject themselves to democratic norms instead of reversing the process and changing norms to suit their own personal preference. Politics and democracy together have a sense of liberal hypocrisy to them and democracy may be seriously threatened if religion would be used as an explicit weapon instead of the usual subtle implicit one.


"MY DINNER WITH ANDRE" is a very famous film where an interesting conversation happens between two friends over an evening meal. The film is directed by Louis Malle, and written by and starring Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn. It has a 7.8 rating in IMDB and 91% in Rotten Tomatoes. I thought I will share an interesting piece of conversation between them.

Comments || >