First there needs to be a brief discussion as to what democracy is in
India and other parts of Asia. Comparing the "democracies" of India
and the US are apples and oranges. Democratic republics developed in
the West in economically developed regions. Even the US Revolutionary
War pitted "affluent" colonies against the Motherland. As India's
Shekhar Gupta said: "The argument, I believe, is not about whether
democracy is good, for it is inevitable."
If Shekhar Gupta is right, then whether India is going to be (or is) a
democracy is a moot point. The question then becomes "when should a
democracy be introduced? When should this evolution toward a
democracy be given rein? Should it be before the country's economic
takeoff or after economic takeoff? That question is a major key
toward the answer of your question.
In Asia, Western liberal democracy is not the only standard to go by.
In Asia, they are experimenting. Western style democracy has too many
problems. So they quite simply don't accept all of it and why should
they? Singapore is trying one way, Korea and Japan others. Someday
China eventually will have its own form of democracy, and we are
starting to see some evidence of that.
At issue is when to introduce it, before or after economic take off,
and what its final form will be. What history demonstrates is that
democracies should be introduced or developed only after economic take
off. The early American Nation had strong leadership and was already
active in world markets from the start. Strong leadership can be the
active form such as in Japan and Singapore, or passive as in Taiwan
and Hong Kong. Any economy has to get up and running before much of
anything alse can be done. Active leadership means that the
government takes an active role in directing and not just "creating
opportunity" for economic activity. The passive form, is where the
government ensures that impediments to economic developments such as
bureaucracy and corruption, are effectively removed. But when an
economy has reached a high level in Asia since the middle of the
century, democracy is the norm that sets in ( though there have been
exceptions) and is indeed good for the preservation of new and
established wealth. In return, there will be sacrifice of economic
Asians seem to understand the need to balance individual freedom with
the good of the country. Individual greed and selfishness must, to a
certain extent, be balanced by national community needs and this has
been demonstrated different ways in different parts of Asia.
Perhaps if we compare India to Japan? Democracy works in Japan
because it is not really democracy. As someone once observed, "Japan
practises bureaucracy, not democracy. Bureaucrats provide the
necessary leadership for economic development. The fact that Japanese
culture makes the people very submissive to power also makes the
exercise of leadership a lot easier." However, whatever form
democracy takes in Japan, there was a productive economic foundation
preceeding it. The source of the quote in the preceeding paragraph is
However, India has true democracy, and it received its democracy
'before' it had developed a strong economic base, and because of that
it can hardly take off economically. Democracy didn't have to be
inevitable in 1947. Why didn't a "strong man" type of of government
arise in India as it was doing in so much of the world in that era?
- "So why did you need democracy when the British retreated? They
wanted you to have it so that they could say that they gave it to you.
If I am more cynical, then I will say that they gave it to you knowing
that you will be mired in social and economic turmoil." - Quote from
Ronnie C. Chan, "Democracy? India needs a Deng" - Indian Express
Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd, Monday, August 18 1997.
So the first major point could very well be that democracy came to
India at the wrong time. The financial support of the infrastructure
of democracy in a First World Industrialized Nation is daunting,
however to maintain the infrastructure of a democracy in an already
poor nation is an economic crisis. That financial drain includes
everything from "party" support to campaign expenses. While all of
that money is in circulation, its use adds nothing to the GNP as it is
spent on "support services" rather than on producing goods or even
providing other services which could be marketed. Democracy
sidetracks a large percentage of a developing nations financial
Based on that premise, take a look at India's voting statistics and it
is easy to understand the drag democracy has on the Indian economy.
1 - "The Indian registered voter base is 620 million, and the voter
turnout is approximately 65%. The number of people this represents is
equivalent to 1/10 of the world's population."
2 - "The number of election officials overseeing the process is 4.5
million--roughly the population of Ireland."
3 - "Because nearly 50% of India's population is illiterate, ballots
are printed with party symbols as well as candidate's names." - -
This, ewiar-ga covered quite nicely in the comments section so there
is little reason to repeat it here.
The above quotes are from the South East Asia Briefing Unit from the
Hunger Project Online :
( http://www.thp.org/sac/unit1/idemocracy.htm )
It is easy to imagine the type of resources drained from the
productive economy to support this kind of effort. In a wealthy
country such as the US, such expenditures trigger little else than
debates over campaign donation reform and in reality cost pennies per
citizen when averaged out over the total population.
In a less developed country, such expenditures may actually be a
significent percentage of the Gross National Product. And in these
same countries, the ever increasing cost of the political process may
even equal or exceed what growth in GNP there is. The political
system (democracy in this case) is the ultimate single consumer in
India, contributing little or nothing tangible in return.
An economy must be in a position to support the funding of democracy
as discretionary spending rather than having political parties as the
all consuming maul which eats up any economic growth. To put it
bluntly, under this scenario, democracy is not for the poor. It will
likely keep them that way, not out of "being bad" but because of the
very nature of the system.
Now when it comes to India retaining a high level of free enterprise,
we need to do a little defining again:
Is India a "capitalist" or a "free market" form of private enterprise?
We should know that capitalism and free market are two different
things. Capitalism is "the rule of capital" where anyone with capital
has more opportunities than anyone who does not have capital. The
dynamic is capital driven. But a free market is one where there is an
equal opportunity for any legitimate participant to generate capital
and have his/her/its demands met. It's dynamics are demand driven.
In India, dynamics are capital driven. Local demands are orders of
magnitude less lucratuve than foreign demands. And this creates a
skewed dynamic that is not demand driven. For example, for all the
hoopla made about IT and the big millionaries that IT has made,
India's internet population is not even 2 million -- about 0.2% of the
population. But a look at billboards in any major city would have one
believe that the whole country is wired together.
IT brings quick money (from outside) which has no correspondence to
value that has been added inside India. Sort of a "no growth,
Wealth redistribution is not a 'real ' issue for India. India has
experimented with wealth redistribution and socialism as part of its
democratic evolution. Even in the height of the socialist experiment,
India had far too much diversity and a far weaker centre to enforce
such a strong regime of controls. But India has been suffering from,
and continues to suffer from suppression based on might in many forms
-- be it religion, caste, language or social norms. In India, the
argument between capitalism vs socialism throws so little light on
India's many systems and cultures, for it to be considered in any
I hope what is here helps shed a little light on Indian democracy and
some of the reasons there is still an enormous gulf between the
wealthy and the poorest classes.
More information can be found at the websites containing sources of
material used above.
"Social Change, Marxism, Class Struggle, India, Pakistan..." - From
"South Asian Voice"
( http://india_resource.tripod.com/marx.html )
"The Truth About India's Independence" - From "Sword of Truth" online
"India Currents Forum" - From Indiacurrents.com
( http://www.indiacurrents.com/199911/forum.htm ) - This website
provides brief statements in support of both sides in the socialist vs
capitalist debate still taking place in India.
"Misunderstanding India" - Actually, this is a book review, but it
does contains some thought provoking information. - (
http://www.biblio-india.com/articles/MJ02_ar20.asp?mp=MJ02 ) - From
Biblio a Review of Books
"As India's democracy matures, so do the costs- June, 1998" - From
"The Worldpaper Online"
( http://www.worldpaper.com/Archivewp/1998/June98/bhatt.html ) - a
good explanation about how elections effect the Indian economy.
"A Culture of Corruption? Democracy and Power in India" - From -
"London School of Economics and Political Science"
( http://www.fathom.com/feature/122361 )
"India: A Dynamic Democracy; Embassy of India, Washington, DC" - Click
on "Political Structure" or anything else you want. The information
is good and of course reflects how India herself wants to be viewed by
( http://www.indianembassy.org/dydemo/dynamic.htm )
If I can clarify anything please let me know. I also realize that
Indian democracy is such a complex subject that this answer represents
only one of a multitude of different lines of reasoning possible to
answer your question, or for that matter, a multitude of reasonings
based only on the information I have given here, and most of them
would equally as valid (or not).
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