India World’s Largest Democracy


Perception • Very crowded (over 3 times the population

of the U.S. in 1/3 the space)

• Majority of population in small villages

• Agrarian economy (3/4 of the people tied to agriculture)

• Rampant poverty (per capita GDP $500)

The Other Side

• The world’s largest democracy

– Multi-party system

• Own nuclear and space programs

• Expanding economy & growing middle class

• High-tech sector

Population (July 2005 estimate)









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Complex Culture

• Predominantly rural (over 70%)

• 36 languages with at least a million speakers each

• Official languages English & Hindi

• Religion regularly spills over into politics – 80% Hindu

– 11% Muslim

– 2.5% Christian

– 2% Sikh, Buddhist

• Assassinations of Mahatma Gandhi & Indira Gandhi results of religious disputes

Caste System

• Social class based originally on family and occupation

• Jobs and social relationships (including marriages) were restricted to caste level

• No climbing above your station

• Thousands of castes & subcastes in 4 categories – Brahmins

– Kshatriyas (warriors)

– Vaisyas (traders& merchants)

– Sudras (menial laborers) • Dalits (untouchables)

• Still exists to some extent, but with less overall influence

190 years of British colonial rule • Economic impact

– trade structure

• Colonial institutions

– state structure

• Informal rule (1750s-


• Formal colonial rule after

the Mutiny Rebellion of



• British ruled India for 200 years

– Today’s India, Pakistan, Burma, Bangladesh & Sri Lanka

• Independence movement began in 1919

– Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi

– Ignited by gov’t killing of 300+ demonstrators

• Movement hampered by Hindu/Muslim divisions

• 1947 independence: British partitioned area into India & Pakistan

Independence & partition

• East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971


• Located between India & Pakistan • Majority of population is Muslim • Gained independence in 1947 under a Hindu

leader – Refused to become aligned with either neighbor

• Impending invasion by Muslims caused Kashmir to merge with India

• Two wars fought by Pakistan and India • Both sides now have nuclear weapons • Ownership is still at issue

India Today

• Potential to be a world economic power

• But major problems stand in the way

– Too many political parties

– Hindu nationalism

– Heavy government involvement in the economy

– Kashmir

Political Culture

• Politics are unpredictable

• A dominate state system has emerged

– Promotes pan-Indian middle class consciousness

– Traditional cultures de-emphasized

• Elections similar to American style – based largely on the individual candidate

• Middle class has become impatient with slow economic progress

– Gap between expectations and performance

Political System

• Federal republic

• Free political parties & competitive elections

• Elections often accompanied by violence

• PMs have more powers than those of liberal democracies

• Individual rights not fully protected

– Caste system & some minorities

• Many Indians still live in pre-industrial poverty


• Calls for a parliamentary system

• Guaranteed civil rights

• Goes into finite detail about many issues

• One of the longest constitutions in the world – 395 articles

– 40+ amendments

– Less than 60 years old

• Some gaps between provisions and enforcement


• Head of state

• Elected by members of parliament and the state legislatures

• 5 year renewable terms

• Duties mainly symbolic

• Similar to those of the British monarch

• President elected in 1997 was a Dalit

President: Shri Pranab Mukherjee


• Prime Minister is head of government

• In theory, PM is head of majority party

• In reality, sometimes compromise candidate is recruited

– Few parties can attain even near majority status

• Strong personalities made PM a very powerful position

• Power of office declining in recent years

Dominant Leaders

• Mahatma Gandhi

– Independence leader

• Jawaharlal Nehru

• Indira Gandhi

• Rajiv Gandhi

Prime Minister

• Current PM –Outgoing: Manmohan


• Congress Party (Sikh)

– Incoming: Narendra Modi

• Janata Party (Hindu)


Parliament • Two houses; both are important

• Upper house (Rajya Sabha) – Fixed terms; cannot be dissolved

– Number of reps determined by population

– 250 members; 12 appointed by PM

• Lower House (Lok Sabha) – More power than House of States

– 545 members; single-member districts

• Bills must pass both houses – If not, president can call a joint meeting of


Supreme Court

• Interprets the constitution

• Arbitrates disputes between the states & federal government

• 26 Justices

• Higher turn-over than U.S. Supreme Court

– Must retire at age 65

• Power of judicial review

– Power not as broad as in U.S. (detailed in the constitution)

– Played major role in ending national bribery scandal in 1990s

Subnational Government

• Divided powers and responsibilities

• 25 states and 7 territories

• State governments are mirrors of national gov’t

• Governors are appointed by the president – Usually from a different state for objectivity

• Chief Ministers are the real political leaders – Leader of state’s majority

• National government by far more powerful – State power has increased in recent years


• Generally free & fair elections

• Vote intimidation & vote rigging an occasional problem

– National election results reflect preferences

– Voter awareness makes manipulation difficult

• Political activity/literacy high among urban middle class


• Similar to British model

• Election for lower house at least every 5 years – Single-member districts

• PM calls elections

• Regular outbreaks of violence during elections

• Turn-out rate 60-65%

• Ballots require party symbols

• Campaigns are limited to 3 weeks

• Appeals often made on basis of class, caste, etc.

• Primary means of contact: leaflets, speeches & personal contact

Current composition

• 43 parties in the 13th Lok Sabha (1999)

• 39 parties in the 14th Lok Sabha (2004)

• Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 184 138

• Indian National Congress (INC) 109 145

• Communist Party of India (M) 34 43

• other political parties 218 217

• total 545 543

Political Parties

• No party has ever won a majority of votes • After 1999 general election

– 39 parties represented in parliament – Ruling coalition included 24 parties

• Congress party dominant 1947-1967 – Usually 4 times as many votes as other parties – Used patronage and political favors – Split in two shortly after Nehru died

• Currently part of The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition

Figure 9.1

Election Symbols of

Indian Political


BJP Party

• Indian People’s Party

• A Hindu nationalist party

• Became much more moderate after 1992

– Destruction of a mosque led to rioting

• Party of the previous PM: Vajpayee

• Formerly lead the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)

Figure 9.2 Legislative

Electoral Trends in India

Interest Groups

• Weaker than those in North America & Europe

• Tend to be narrowly focused

• Many represent class, religious or regional issues

• Some formed around economic issues

• Sometimes call for strikes & civil disobedience

• Among largest is one representing the Dalits

– Have their own political party (BSP)


• Among the most active & respected in the world

• Extensive newspapers, radio & TV stations

• Government tries to control TV/radio

– Highest impact due to high illiteracy rate

• Alternative sources (satellite news) lessens the effect

• Bollywood

Policy Making

• India is a federal republic

• But in practice until recently – Power centralized with PM

– Nehru-Gandhi dynasty

• Balance is shifting – Larger coalitions

– States have more power

– Competition among classes, religions, ethnicities, etc.

• Broader policy development


• Enormous human resources

• Several rapidly growing economic sectors

• Modest GDP

– $500 billion

– $2.5 trillion if purchasing power parity (PPP) is used

• Still, a poor country

– 450 million poor people

– World’s “poor people” live on less than $1 a day

Quality of Life

• Life expectance up since independence (1947)

– From 32 to nearly 63 years

• Men’s literacy up from 15 to 63%

– Women’s literacy at 34%

• Number of children in school up

– Ages 6-11 doubled

– Higher grades quadrupled

Economic Progress

• Lackluster economy compared to other NICs

– Indians become rich in other countries

• Long reliance on Soviet style 5-year plans

• Nehru nationalized 17 industries

– Short-term economic growth

– Long-term uncompetitive and inefficient public sector

• Liberalization in the 1990s

– Transforming to a market economy

Today’s Economy

• Industry’s contribution to GDP up from 5 to 27%

– Since 1950

• Attracting foreign investment

• Inflation currently under control (2003: 3.4%)

• GDP growth at 6% (2002-2003)

• Growing middle class and consumer market

Economic Challenges

• Population growth (2%)

– 20 million per year

• Children are the welfare program of the poor

• Increased wealth and urbanization lowers birth rates

– Provides better education and opportunities

– Women marry & have children later in life

– Children become more expensive to raise & educate

– Parents choose to have fewer

Foreign Policy

• World’s second largest population

• Second largest army

• Used influence in UN for decolonization

• Was nonaligned during Cold War

– But a friend of the Soviet Union

• Arms supplies

• Trading partners

• Provided troops for peace keeping operations multiple times


• Kashmir


• Kashmir – After independence (1947)

• Three wars

• Repeated terrorist activities – Most recent: Mumbai

– Muslim group claiming responsibility

• Both countries are nuclear powers

• Bangladesh civil war – Formerly East Pakistan


• Border dispute in India’s north

• Chinese invasion in 1962

– Soviet mediation helped end the crisis

– Area is still tense


• Economic liberalization is improving the economy

• A growing middle class

• Still, there is tremendous poverty

• Economic expansion could help ease social tensions somewhat

• Too many political parties will continue to foster tensions

• Future is uncertain

INDIAN POLITICS IN TRANSITION India’s trials and tribulations:

 It has come through territorial wars with its neighbors,  secessionist struggles by religious minorities,

 frequent communal violence,

 a dangerous reliance for leadership on a single family,

 and attempts by some of its leaders to subvert the democratic process.

 It still has religious tensions.

 Its population growth is outpacing its ability to meet basic needs for most of its people.

 Its economy still suffers from the burden of a long history of state intervention.



5. Which is more appropriate to the needs of a divided society such as India: coalition governments or strong leaders with legislative majorities?

6. Compare and contrast the roles of the prime minister in Britain, Japan, and India.

7. Do dynastic traditions help or hinder the development of emerging democracies such as India?

8. What reforms (if any) would you make to the Indian electoral system to produce stronger governments?


9. Does India have the potential to become a superpower in the 21st century?

10. What does the BRIC thesis suggest about the changing balance of economic power in the world?