Indian democracy not a failed experiment

By Binod Singh (
Updated: 2010-11-23 08:37
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In recent articles published in the opinion section of China Daily's website, we have seen much criticism (including that of mine on "Indian Bureaucracy") about Indian democracy and its laggard functioning. But unfortunately it has generated a negative debate based on the subjective opinions of the commentators.

We find many of those comments are undesirable or out of context. The space for debate has been mainly used for venting their personal vendettas against India, whether it is about Indian English or the Indian caste system. The negativity of some of the comments has already crossed the limit of any civilized debate permitted on the Web.

We need to remember here that the global community has shown much more appreciation for the progress of Indian society and its democratic politics in the last six decades. The opinions published on the China Daily website should not be the only parameter to judge the success of a democracy with such a complex society and diverse history as India.

The Indian experiment of a representative government of more than 1.1 billion people is one of the most unique in the world. Even inside China, there are very positive opinions about the Indian experience of peaceful coexistence among different ethnic groups. Leaders as well as scholars speak out about learning from India.

Let there be no doubt that the Indian brand of democracy is sustained by strong criticism inside and outside the country on the issues of governance and public goods provision. And we do acknowledge that India's human rights record is far from perfect, and there have been way too many incidents of communal, sectarian and ethnic violence for a successful democracy to live with.

However, India's development as a democracy since its independence six decades ago has been largely peaceful, considering that many successful democracies were established after revolutions, wars, or even the slaughter of native populations. One can see what has happened in Africa, where the experiment of democracy has a very different track record.

But, there are people inside India who think that democracy is unsuited to India and will continue to be so in the future and therefore the country should re-think her route to modernization. But these people are just a small, extremely dissatisfied section of Indian society.

In a developing country like India, where the old and new structures, norms, and values are coexisting and only gradually integrating with modern liberal democracy as practiced by Western countries, it is too early to conclude whether democracy has failed India or India has failed democracy.

There is no doubt that the degeneration of politics in India and the values it has engendered have infected the country's public institutions and also tarnished the country's hope to be a model for Third World countries. But the recent performance of the Indian economy has signaled a very positive trend and it is never too late to correct the mistakes of the past.

We know that few Western critics of Indian democracy believed from the very beginning that democracy could ever succeed in India because India was and continues to be a feudal society. But they must not forget that when the democracy project was launched in the West, European society was also more or less a feudal society before it transformed itself into a capitalist one.

Contemporary Indian society is still striving to promote social justice, economic progress and widespread political participation by adopting necessary reforms to modernize its social, political and administrative institutions.