ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Subsidised Notion of Democracy

The Success of India’s Democracy
edited by Atul Kohli;
Cambridge University Press, 2001;
pp XIII + 298, Rs 695

Working of Indian democracy in the last 50 years has been treated by both politicians and scholars on India as almost another wonder that has happened to the country. This miracle of India as a functioning democracy, however, is judged directly or indirectly against two things. First, the success of democracy in India is judged against the failure of such experiments in third world countries, more particularly in Indias south Asian neighbours. Secondly, the wonder is also sought to be understood in the context of the enormous size of the problems that India has been facing since independence. But this is a more complacent reading of the democratic experience involving mostly subsidised satisfaction with the experience. It is subsidised because it is judged against the failed experience next door and is not evaluated against the democracies that are considered to be relatively more successful in the west. According to some, even the claims of the western democratic experience may not be valid as these democracies also face some serious problems, particularly of a normative nature. In the absence of a valid reference point, it is academically and politically more useful to judge the success or failure of any democratic experience on its own normative terms. This would free scholars, if not politicians, who then would not be compelled to judge success or failure against a negative reference point. To what extent does the book under review offer a fresh perspective on Indian democracy, moving away from the subsidised view of democracy.

Apart from the rather placid introduction by the editor, the book seems to be thematically divided into three major parts. The first part deals with the historical trajectory of the democratic tradition in the country. The second part comprises contributions that try to measure the success of democracy in India, particularly in terms of equitable distribution of power and resources between the centre and the states. Quite a few of the essays try to understand the success or failure of democracy and the deepening of the federal process in the country. Finally, the success of democracy has been understood in terms of equal participation of different social groups in various opportunity structures existing at the grass roots level. To put it differently, the book seeks to address the question of democracy in terms of criteria having a bearing on exclusion and inclusion of particular social groups.

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