Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Democracy in India ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   8 Comments )
Subject: Democracy in India
Category: Science > Social Sciences
Asked by: halejrb-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 14 Oct 2002 03:16 PDT
Expires: 13 Nov 2002 02:16 PST
Question ID: 76315
Most people in India are poor, and yet India is a democracy.  How is
it that the rich in India manage to stay wealthy?  Why haven't India's
poor voted into power politicians who favor various wealth
redistribution schemes?  What percent of the poor actually vote?  How
has India managed to maintain a relatively high degree of free
enterprise, given the vast extremes of wealth and poverty in the
Subject: Re: Democracy in India
Answered By: digsalot-ga on 14 Oct 2002 23:24 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
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 :
( ) 

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
meaningful way.

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"
( )

"The Truth About India's Independence" - From "Sword of Truth" online

"India Currents Forum" - From
( ) - 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. - ( ) - From
Biblio a Review of Books

"As India's democracy matures, so do the costs- June, 1998" - From
"The Worldpaper Online"
( ) - 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"
( )

"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
the world.
( )

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).

Search - Google
Terms - india, democracy +in india, economic history +of democracies,
asian political evolution, socialism +in india, political history +of
modern india, embassy of india


Clarification of Answer by digsalot-ga on 15 Oct 2002 19:49 PDT
You said: "I also infer that the amount of wealth available for
redistribution is small compared to the population as a whole." - That
statement is a magic bullet which is almost universally overlooked by
'wealth redistribution' advocates.  That statement has been true of
every civilization since the Dawn of Man.

Those who are low in the economic totem pole almost universally
believe that the 'powers that be' possess virtually unlimited wealth. 
The truth is that 'economic reserve' has been shallow in all of
earth's civilizations.  It is eaten up quite readily.  The gold of
ancient Egypt, at the end, could do no more than pay for a few
mercenaries to hold off final collapse.  The Romans died as much from
spiraling taxation as they did from Germanic Hords.  The fall of the
Western Empire was not a burden to its citizens, it was a relief.

Even in modern America, if every asset of the top 25% of wage earners
were seized and distributed, it would amount to only a few dollars a
person.  If the same money were used to run the National Government,
the fed would have used it all in less than 12 days.

When dealing with the enormous sums of national economies, too many
forget, that only a very small portion of that figure is readily
available from the people.  Any class of people.
halejrb-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
This is certainly an impressive and detailed answer.  From your answer
it looks like most of the adult population in India is registered to
vote.  If the percent of registered voters who actually vote is 65%,
then this is higher than in the U.S.  The use of picture ballots for
the illiterate means that illiteracy is not a barrier to keep the poor
from voting.  The relatively small number of poll workers does leave
open the possiblity of fraud or accidental mistakes in the voting
process.  But this happens in the U.S. too, as in Bush v. Gore.  I
infer from your answer that the main reason the poor don't use their
majority status to vote for various wealth redistribution schemes is
because power in India is too decentralized to effectively enforce
such policies even if they become law.  I also infer that the amount
of wealth available for redistribution is small compared to the
population as a whole.  And finally, there is India's experiment with
socialism in the 1970s that yielded mixed results.  Once again, thank
you for an excellent answer.

Subject: Re: Democracy in India
From: oh_the_irony-ga on 14 Oct 2002 03:50 PDT
Why pick on India?

Let me paraphrase:

"Most people in the United States are poor (maybe not by Indian or
global standards, but certainly by comparison to the wealthiest
members of their society), and yet the USA is a democracy.  How is it
that the rich in America manage to stay wealthy?  Why haven't
America's poor voted into power politicians who favor various wealth
redistribution schemes?  What percent of the poor actually vote?  How
has the US managed to maintain a relatively high degree of free
enterprise, given the vast extremes of wealth and poverty in the
Subject: Re: Democracy in India
From: bobby_d-ga on 14 Oct 2002 04:05 PDT

I don't think there is a democracy on earth...
Subject: Re: Democracy in India
From: mwalcoff-ga on 14 Oct 2002 07:12 PDT
India actually has a long tradition of socialism. See and click on "Role of
Subject: Re: Democracy in India
From: secret901-ga on 14 Oct 2002 09:21 PDT
TO answer oh_the_irony's question:
Although many in America remain poor, the vast majority of them
believe that they can eventually become rich through their own
ability.  The United States is one of the very few countries in the
world where socialism and communism had never been a major force in
its politics.  Americans (at least in answering poll questions)
believe in equality of opportunity, but NOT in equality of wealth.
This also helps to expain why so many leave their countries to become
citizens of the United States, even when they had to leave everything
behind and start from scratch.
There is nothing mysterious about why the United States never employed
a (distinctly) socialistic scheme.
Subject: Re: Democracy in India
From: easterangel-ga on 14 Oct 2002 15:32 PDT
The Philippines and India have the same problem.
Subject: Re: Democracy in India
From: mvguy-ga on 14 Oct 2002 16:35 PDT
For what it's worth, even "egalitarian" countries such as the Soviet
Union, which purportedly was founded with the end of a classless
society in mind, had wealthy people.
Subject: Re: Democracy in India
From: halejrb-ga on 14 Oct 2002 17:36 PDT
In regards to Oh_the_irony's comment, I'm not picking on India.  India
is a fascinating country.  Hundreds of languages and a billion people.
 I just want to know how democracy works in such a country, and more
specifically how well it works.  I know there's a lot of religious
violence.  I've read the courts are corrupt.  I've read wives get
burned to death in "cooking accidents" if their family doesn't pay a
big enough dowry.  The U.S.A has a large middle class to prevent the
poor from voting their supporters into power.  But in India the
largest class is the poor.  So if India is truly a democracy, with no
hidden barriers to voting, why don't the poor vote their supporters
into power and take over?
Subject: Re: Democracy in India
From: ewiar-ga on 14 Oct 2002 18:41 PDT has posted online their "Freedom Index" which rates
every country in the world based on their political rights and civil
freedoms.  For many years India was rated 4,4 for political rights and
civil freedoms with 1 being the most free. Only recently has it
graduated to a rating of 2,3. India's claim to being the "world's
largest democracy" has been paid much lip service but in actuality has
ceased to be a meaningful description.  The CIA World Factbook at lists the Indian
literacy rate as 52%.  Those who are literate are of course far more
likely to be in the wealthier end of the spectrum and literacy is a
key ingredient to political awareness.  Those who cannot read or write
are much less likely to take part in the democratic process in all its
facets, be they writing letters to the editor in support of a
candidate or actually voting.  A second factor would be the
unwillingness of many to accept the secondary aims of candidates that
proffess a willingness to install wealth redistribution programs. 
Finally, as in the United States and indeed all democracies political
donations play an important part in setting the agenda for many 
parties.  The candidate that proposes stripping the rich of their
wealth is unlikely to be able to run an ad campaign nearly as
sophisticated as his opponent crowing about tax breaks for big
I hope this answered your question satisfactorily.

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy