Note on Special Section: Comparative Assessments of Indian Democracy

Published date01 June 2023
AuthorRajeshwari Deshpande
Date01 June 2023
Subject MatterNote on Special Section
Note on Special Section:
Comparative Assessments
of Indian Democracy
This special section on comparative assessments of Indian democracy consists of three articles—comparing
Indian experiences of democracy with other countries of the global south. There were three broad start-
ing points to this exercise. The first, and the most obvious was about celebrating Indian democracy @75.
However, also obviously, the section moves beyond the occasional relevance of such celebrations.
Instead, it looks upon the current moment in the journey of Indian democracy (and that of global
democracies) as an important vantage point to undertake comparative assessments of the working of
democracy. On one hand, in the aftermath of successive waves of democratization all over the world—
we see the successful journey of Indian democracy as a moment that prompts us to revisit the dominant,
orthodox and selective readings of democracy. The established democratic theories of the global North
often legitimize and celebrate binaries in their understandings of the idea of democracy. Our larger
ambition in putting together this section is to transcend these binaries and instead encourage more con-
textual readings of the ideas and practices of democracy. In the initial, inaugural phases, the functioning
of Indian democracy attracted two sets of responses from scholars and observers. The first was dismis-
sive of it and apprehensive of its possible successes given the context of poverty in India and the presence
of deeply entrenched systemic inequalities. Later on, the track record of an uninterrupted routine of
electoral democracy in India led to another set of responses, which underlined its uniqueness among the
democracies of the global south and celebrated Indian exceptionalism. Fortunately, the expansion
and the deepening of Indian democracy—especially over the last few decades have led to more
vibrant, dynamic and nuanced assessments of Indian democracy and the current exercise hopes to
contribute to them.
And yet, there are hardly any comparative studies on Indian democracy. Barring a few notable
exceptions, Indian democracy (as well as other democratic systems) is either studied in isolation or, on
the other hand, comparisons are undertaken at the global level using large N research design woven
around set parameters of assessment. There is no doubt that such ‘variable-oriented’ cross-national
analyses of processes of democratization are useful and crucial for theory development. At the same
time, as the ideas and practices of democracy acquire vibrant contextual meanings across different
parts of the world, detailed and intricate case studies also play an important role in such assessments.
The present section adopts such a ‘case-oriented’ approach in its comparative assessments of Indian
democracy. Institutions, processes, (material) interests and ideas often become key aspects of the shaping
of any democratic system. The essays presented here reflect upon some such select themes to comment
upon the nature of Indian democracy. We, at SIP, (rather ambitiously) believe that such comparative
studies of Indian democracy will help us address both the contextual and the universal dimensions of its
working and provide directions towards rewriting the global histories of democracy.
The exercise of interrogating and rewriting global democratic trajectories becomes relevant at the
present historical juncture for yet another reason. While myriad and vibrant expressions of democracy
keep emerging in different regions of the world; the contemporary moment is also about multiple crises
Note on Special Section
Studies in Indian Politics
11(1) 8–9, 2023
© 2023 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230231168932

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