The emergence of India as the world’s largest democracy and perhaps the most vibrant one post the World War-II is indeed exceptional, a top Indian diplomat has said.
Part of India’s success lies in the historical tradition of people’s participation in governance. In that sense, democratic tradition was not completely a foreign one, Deputy Indian Ambassador to the US Santosh Jha told a Washington audience on Wednesday.
“India’s emergence as the world’s largest democracy, and perhaps the most vibrant one after the end of the second World War, is indeed exceptional,” he said in his keynote address at a day-long seminar ‘Delivering Democracy in India’.
The event, attended by over 150 prominent representatives from American media, academic institutions, US agencies and think tanks, was organised by the Embassy of India in collaboration with Indian Council for Cultural Relations and prestigious Hudson Institute think-tank.
“With the benefit of the hindsight of seven decades of Indian democracy, there is no doubt that democracy is perhaps the only way to natural way to govern India, given the diversity of its languages, religion, ethnicity, and culture,” Jha said.
Economist Surjit Bhalla said that only a democratic form of government can satisfy the interests of all the different sections of the society in India.
“That is why democracy has succeeded in India and why it will continue to succeed, it’s in the DNA.
“What I see happening in India today, and it started in 2014, and it concerns (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi, is that we are having a major transformation. One example of the transformation is that Indians no longer give the excuse, and this is through Modi, no longer give the excuse that we are a democracy so we can’t do it well. Now the refrain is if China can do it so can we,” Bhalla said.
Richard Fontaine, acting CEO, Center for New American Security noted that both American government officials and Indian government officials often tout the logic of close US-India ties by invoking this phrase: the bonds between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy.
“We should acknowledge these differences but see where the two countries could pursue a more values-based agenda that helps democracies defend themselves against authoritarian meddling, help nurture democratic practice where its emerged, supports democrats in places that lack fundamental rights and liberties.
“In a world where our competitors want to divide the democracies… we shouldn’t be helping do their job for them. Too much political division is dangerous. It’s not just unattractive, it’s not just undesirable, but in a world where it will be used and weaponised against us it is dangerous,” Fontaine said.
Senior BJP leader from Bihar Sanjay Paswan told the audience that top leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia, Dr B R Ambedkar and Deen Dayal Upadhyay have contributed immensely towards the development of democracy in India. The best of Indian democracy is yet to come, he said.
“Any state government that has attempted deep reforms, with the exception in the power sector of Gujarat, that has tried deep power reforms, has been voted out of office the next election, every single time that I’ve seen, deep reforms,” said Rick Rossow, senior adviser and Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Observing that India presents the most compelling example, certainly in the development world, of how to grapple with the problems of modernity in a democratic and open framework, Daniel Twining, president, International Republican Institute said that the dangers to India do not emanate from the democracies.
“The dangers to India, to the security of Indian people, emanate from either autocracies or mis-governed components in their neighbourhood,” he said.
Development activist Dr R Balasubramaniam told the audience that this narrative of powerful citizen engagement, very quiet subtle silent way of doing it, is indicating to the rest of the country and to the rest of the world that democracy might be noisy in India, but it is actually evolving.
“We have a leadership today which understands political stability and the value of political stability, it understands the rules that need to be framed or the rules that need to be repealed. In a democracy, the authorising environment is framed by enlightened citizens,” he said.