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A guide to deepening democracy

Updated: September 18, 2010 11:41 am

At the outset the writer argues that although the nation has done rather poorly as far as the removal of social inequality and backwardness is concerned, as far as the practice of democracy is concerned, there are reasons for satisfaction. 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 Indian experiment of a representative government of more than one billion people is one of the most unique in the world. But 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. 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. Contemporary Indian society is still striving to promote social justice, economic progress and widespread political participation by adopting necessary reforms to modernise its social, political and administrative institution.

The book, which contains 10 chapters, focusses as to how democracy has taken root in India in the face of a low-income economy, widespread poverty, illiteracy, and immense ethnic diversity. The writer brings together some of the worlds leading scholars of Indian politics to consider this intriguing anomaly. They do so by focussing not so much on socioeconomic factors, but rather on the ways in which power is distributed in India. Two processes have guided the negotiation of power conflicts. First, a delicate balance has been struck between the forces of centralisation and decentralisation and, second, the interests of the powerful in society have been served without fully excluding those on the margins. These and related themes are addressed in the book. While the book offers a clear and coherent approach to the subject, individual authors have their particular take on the subject. It is this combination that will entice a wide variety of readers, from students on the one hand, as a guide to one of the worlds largest democracies, to scholars on the other, who are looking for a new approach to this much-debated subject.

I would be remiss in my duties if I did not unequivocally state that this is a very good and a very thought provoking book. Mr Atul Kohli does an excellent job of highlighting India’s multifaceted past, and the book convincingly dispels some common myths about the prior claim of the West to notions such as tolerance, reason, and rationality. Therefore, I unreservedly recommend this book to all readers who wish to learn more about success of India’s democracy.

By Ashok Kumar

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