Paradox of Indian Democracy

Democracy in India has to be understood on its own terms, and not on theories built on the experiences elsewhere, masquerading as universal scientific theories.  It rightly ‘defies theories.’  Therefore, democracy in India has been characterized as ‘a riddle’ and ‘a paradox’. Some intellectuals consider it as ‘the only game in town’.   After independence India is ‘ruled and shaped by the steel frame of democracy.’  The sense of democracy is determined by an electoral system. The polity is shaped by ‘democracy’s insistence on regular elections, by its rhetoric of voter supremacy and elected leaders as servants, by imperfections and chaotic processes, and of decision making by protest and compromise.’ Thus ‘people today are well accustomed to the ‘rituals’ of elections, to the cut-outs, the loudspeakers, the election meetings, the wall-paintings, slogans, flags and posters, and the line up to vote.’ On the other hand, popularity of democracy could be seen ‘as hollow and support for democracy as fundamentally flawed and brittle.’  In a wider sense, democracy includes respect for institutions, equal opportunity and tolerance. The main riddle in Indian democracy is contemporarily the high voter turnout and where voters think politicians as a class.

From the report of State of Democracy in South Asia (2009), it was found that nearly ‘half of the Indian population (45%) has little or no trust in political parties.’ ‘Among all state institutions, political parties fare the worst – worse even than the police. Only 36 percent express some or high trust in political parties. And yet, 60 percent vote’ and more.

Therefore, paradox of Indian democracy is ‘that the very high voter turnout and high support for democracy is not reflected in what may be considered to be democracy’s twin brother, namely, equity.’ After seven decades of democracy, Indian population (society) is  ‘still grossly unequal, with mass poverty that strengthens deeply entrenched social hierarchies.’ People are equal as citizens as voters.  ‘In terms of social standing, ownership, entitlements and even before the law, they are unequal.’  We see that the middle class and the rich influence the state and bureaucrats differently. They have been able to purchase the system because of corruption at very all level of political and bureaucracy. It is different for poor because ‘voting is often a question of pride, of being able to vote in the first place.’

Therefore, it is important why the poor have squeezed a political system.  Why does this situation persist after seven decades of Independence? ‘Why do poor voters not vote for more effective pro-poor politics?’

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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