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Insights into Editorial: Is the future of Indian democracy secure?

Insights into Editorial: Is the future of Indian democracy secure?



Over the past few months, in discussions and rhetoric surrounding the parliamentary elections, there had many instances struck by the disjuncture between the concerns expressed.

On the one hand, by the liberal elite who write in the English press and engage in debates on the more serious talk shows and, and on the other, the preoccupation of the majority of Indian voters who will decide the winner of the electoral contest.

This article merely seeks to highlight the disconnectedness between elite and mass concerns and bring out its implications for the future of Indian democracy.

In this article, author explained about two aspects of democracies which are substantial and procedural in nature.


Two aspects of Indian democracy:

Successful democracy is a holistic idea.

It encompasses both procedural aspects – political equality, effective institutions, free and fair elections, legislative assemblies and constitutional governments, and good voter turn outs.

Substantive aspects – socio-economic equality of citizens, tolerance for different opinions, ruler accountability, respect for the rules, and a strong political engagement.

Both aspects are complementary and dependent. They reinforce one another and also interfere with one another.

Socio-economic inequality will interfere with the achievement of political equality.

Thus, successful functioning of procedural aspects of democracy requires some aspects of substantive – tolerance, equality etc.

It is precisely the successful implementation of the procedural aspects (particularly the principle of one man one vote) which has the potential to and led to the achievements in the substantive front, especially by breaking down (even though in a very limited way) rigid hierarchical caste structure and thereby achieving (partial) equality.


Procedural democracy issues: (Elite group worries):

  • Members of the liberal elite are greatly worried about the future of political institutions that the founders of the republic had nurtured with great care.
  • Several of these institutions, including the Supreme Court, the Election Commission of India and the Central Bureau of Investigation.


  • These institutions are constitutionally mandated to be autonomous agencies, but have recently come under a cloud because of their perceived inability to work independently of the political executive or because of the lack of transparency in their performance.


  • The other major apprehension is the threat posed to the “idea of India” as a plural and inclusive polity by the rise of Hindutva and its political instrument.
  • This is why many members of the liberal elite are greatly worried about the visible transformation in the ideology of India’s Grand Old Party.


  • The third major concern is the discernible rise in populist and authoritarian tendencies in the country reminiscent of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency that threaten to reduce India to merely a procedural democracy where elections are held primarily to anoint populist leaders.
  • This outcome, if it occurs, will be antithetical to the democratic ethos enshrined in the Constitution that Mrs. Gandhi had tried to subvert unsuccessfully.


Substantive democracy issues:

Their concerns as they relate to the electoral process are limited to three types of issues:

  • Jobs and livelihood; caste and communal considerations; and demonstration of Indian strength especially vis-à-vis Pakistan.
  • The first is perfectly understandable since a substantial segment of the population lives just above the poverty line and is constantly worried that it may be pushed below that line.


  • Even middle-class Indians feel economically vulnerable in the absence of a social safety net and are incessantly nervous about job insecurity.
  • This explains the attraction of underpaid government jobs that provide life-long security and the fight for and against reservations in the public sector.


  • The economic distress in the agricultural sector makes the rural population even more acutely aware of threats to their financial well-being, indeed to their physical survival.
  • Caste and community continue to play a very important role in Indian politics.


  • Several parties are explicitly based on caste or sub-caste coalitions. All parties choose their candidates based on caste and community calculations within individual constituencies and engage in mobilising caste-based support for their candidates.


  • Voting on caste lines is taken as a given in elections and political pundits frequently base their prognoses of electoral outcomes on the caste arithmetic.
  • At the same time, right-wing parties emphasise the religious divide in order to take advantage of communal consolidation on the basis of religion.


Favoured strategy to gain votes in Substantial democracy issues:

One factor that appears to cut across caste and linguistic divisions is the attraction for many voters to hyper-nationalism, sometimes bordering on jingoism.

Hyper-nationalism has always been the favourite strategy of populist leaders seeking to retain or to attain power.



A combination of the factors outlined above — lack of concern for institutions, preoccupation with livelihood issues, obsession with caste and community benefits, and the propagation of hyper-nationalism taken together facilitate populism, which, as history shows, can easily lead to authoritarianism.

The danger of this occurring is reinforced by the fact that there seems to be an innate desire among many Indians that a “strong leader” should rule the country and that institutions are redundant when it comes to people’s daily concerns.

Liberal intellectuals have been fixated on subjects such as the erosion of institutions, the rise of majoritarianism and the proliferation of populist and authoritarian tendencies, most voters are unconcerned about these issues.

It is true that India has been able to remain as a democratic country for the last seven decades proving many political analysts wrong.

At least, the first four decades of its democratic journey has been in a very inhospitable regional as well as global environment.

In spite of the country’s long commitment to democracy and repeated peaceful transition of power, Indian democracy is still vulnerable with a number of soft spots.

The framers of the Indian Constitution were inspired by principles of social equality and political justice to introduce adult suffrage immediately–a big step forward to protect our Indian Democracy.