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Is India Still the World's Largest Democracy?

Is India Still the World's Largest Democracy?

The failure of Delhi’s political institutions is rendering collateral damage upon the country’s social institutions.

The adulteration of key political institutions such as Parliament is on a dangerous slippery slope. The failure of elected representatives to respond to the wishes of the electorate, and the widespread public perception that politicians are corrupt and focused primarily on their personal gain, has led to retaliatory responses that will further undermine the legitimacy of Parliament and weaken its ability to correct the underlying problems. For example, in response to the endemic problem of corruption, the agitations led by Anna Hazare focused on establishing an omnipotent ombudsman, underscoring the view that even elected representatives could not be entrusted with the nation’s governance. Ultimately, this approach of holding the government hostage failed because it sought to circumvent India’s democratic machinery, rather than fix it. Such extra-constitutional efforts are dangerous for both sides of this debate. The loss of faith in lawmakers spurs such campaigns, but these campaigns may reactively spur a loss of confidence in civil society if splinter groups, factions and vested interests take it upon themselves to protest every law they find unfavorable. For example, more recent agitations by various castes and ethnic groups, though they reflect meaningful unaddressed grievances, also represent a use of undemocratic methods to demand a greater share of the economic pie. Fixing the country’s key political institutions and ensuring that India has the most qualified and visionary national leaders is the only way the country will be able to permanently address society’s underlying political, economic and social ills. Otherwise, the slope India has started down will only get steeper and slipperier.

Riju Agrawal is an engineer, former policy analyst and finance professional. He is currently with The Blackstone Group's Energy Private Equity team and was previously with Morgan Stanley’s Global Energy Group. He has also interned at the White House, where he worked on energy and climate change policy. Riju studied mechanical engineering at Harvard, where he also served as copresident of the Harvard College Global Energy Initiative and co-founder of the Harvard U.S.-India Initiative.