Politics and governance in contemporary India : the paradox of democratic deepening

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


On 15 Aug 1997, India celebrated 50 years as an independent nation. Except for a brief 18 months between 1975-1977, India has remained a democracy. What explains the resilience of democracy in India in the face of a low-income economy, widespread poverty, illiteracy, and immense religious and ethnic diversity? How have democratic governance shaped political and socioeconomic change? What is the future of Indian democracy? This paper argues that the "deepening of democracy" has tended to exacerbate the problems of governance. Specifically, the progressive empowerment of popular sectors has created new sets of problems. India's civil society and associational life, divided along narrow caste, ethnic, regional, and religious divisions, lack "social capital" and "civicness" necessary for the articulation and aggregation of interests, effective political collaboration, and good governance. Compounding these problems, the high levels of political mobilization in the absence of strong and responsive state institutions and political parties have served to fragment rather than unite society. Thus, instead of responding to the demands of an increasingly mobilized population, the country's weak and overburdened political institutions have reinforced, if not exacerbated, socioeconomic and political cleavage. Not surprisingly, despite India's resilient democratic institutions and relatively long experience with constitutionalism, effective governance remains a major challenge. Given these challenges, what India needs is the resuscitation of its public institutions and the renegotiation of state-society relations. This paper concludes by illustrating that India's democracy is potentially self-correcting along these lines. 34 References.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-101
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of International and Area Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Democracy
  • Indian politics
  • Civil society
  • Governance


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